Critical Appreciation of Somerset Maugham ’s "Of Human Bondage": Epic Tale of Life



 Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage is considered as a great introspective novel if not truly autobiographical novel. It’s an account of an epic tale  of life enacted through the portrayal of the characters of the novel through appealing and integrated ways. They are the floating yacht in the stream of life.  Notably, Philip Carey  is the Maugham figure or, in the words of  Phillip Carey, is Somerset Maugham’s Hamlet. But such Hamlets live in every essence of his other characters too.

 Study in human relationship remain the chief concern of all the major novelists of English. So did Somerset Maugham. However, their approaches and methods of treatment were different. For example, Virginia Woolf discussed the human relationships in terms of husband and wife, mother and children, lover and beloved and between man and the universe. She differentiated between two kinds of truth in governing human relationship—intuitive truth and intellectual—logical truth.


Somerset Maugham discussed entirely different kinds of relationship. He considered them as bondage and called them as the bondage of birth, the bondage of body, the bondage of spirit, the economic bondage and so on. In his novel, Of Human Bondage, Maugham has discussed these bondage elaborately and revealed his belief in  finite meaninglessness of life. 

Again, Maugham’s  characters are  realistic and rational. His novels contain characters of cosmic origin, of different nationalities, castes and creeds. He chose the characters to fit the story. According to Maugham, "One great difference between the persons of real life and the persons of fiction is that the persons of real life are creatures of impulse." The best example is , of course , is Of Human Bondage. Here Philip Carey is in a large measure the protagonist of Maugham himself- the wanderer , the citizen of the world, in Paris and London and  they can be Mumbai, Sidney or any other modern city. His characters are like  broken soul,   damaged infatuation, or an  impossibly enameled by love. Here,  Maugham builds the basis for the plot and the characters slowly in  semi-autobiographical theme fest. Considered one of the greatest novels ever written,Of Human Bondage is tale of loss, lust, obsession, and the pursuit of beauty in a world dominated by war, greed, and poverty.  Here is a everymen's tale of  coming of age, changing thoughts on religion and philosophy, human nature, one-sided love and the pursuit of happiness.

Characterized by great narrative facility, simplicity of style, and a disillusioned and ironic point of view,  Maugham's novels ware influenced by Schopenhauer’s, doctrine of ‘Will-to-Live’. He considered self-assertion,  more influenced by his desires than by principles. In his thought-process rationalization was the watch word. According to him, rationalization of sex is done to preserve the civilization. He does not like the Jargon of the philosophers. He believes snore in the power of style and expression. He says that Nietzsche had influenced the world not through his profundity of thought but through his style and effective form. Extremely representative of inner conflicts of human beings Of Human Bondage is representative of  events, thoughts, emotions, the 'poor things' for other humans and it is the 'autobiography' of someone living in everywhere.  Life pattern is inscripted within the plot. Now coming to the hero's life once again, we find orphaned almost immediately after the book begins, Philip Carey and his club foot are placed in the late 19th century home of his aunt and uncle, a vicar, who are childless. He is sent to school where his previously sensitive, but agreeable self is tested. Thus his transformation from gregarious to introspective loner commences. The decisions about directions he should take with an eye to the future, lead Philip to change course more than once, and paralleling his career changes in direction are his romantic relationships, which also follow a meandering course. Among the issues in Philip’s life are some alluded to above, the changes and choices, the way being disabled affects his growing up and life, and the difficulties of being a sensitive, sometimes too sensitive, introvert and having meaningful friendships.

Maugham did not have trust in religious sayings. For him they are sentimental. He ridicules at the conception of hell and the suffering that await these for a sinner. His scientific discipline allowed him to develop a rational approach to the question of life and death. He neither does nor believes in the persistence of human consciousness after death. He does not consider the mystical experience as universal. According to him, “mysticism is purely personal.” Other issues include the importance and role of art, especially visual art, in his life, the interplay between impulses, emotion and philosophies of life in determining actions, the costs and benefits of being good-hearted and loyal, the effect of having or not having family, and those are all topped off by Of Human Bondage.

 On the other hand, Maugham’s women characters owe their allegiance to instincts and obsession. To Maugham, women and sex are allied. Woman is born with a sexual stamp on her. Economic necessity drives most of the women to pursue the motives that lead to free sex. In the female characters of Maugham sex and hunger arc the two prominent features. A woman can live a happy life only if she knows how to keep her husband satisfied in sex particularly. Man seeks all sorts of comforts in a woman, but over and above all, he seeks in woman satisfactory sex. Liza, Mildred, Norab, Fanny Price are some of Maugham’s famous female characters. After failing as an artist in France, sensitive Philip Carey returns to England to go to medical school. It is there that he falls in love with a cheap and worthless waitress, Mildred. Maugham managed to create tension every time Milred, the horrible object of young Philip Cary's obsession, enters a scene. Likewise, one dreads the financial demise of Phillip with equal tension. After she finally leaves him, he finds a comfortable love with a novelist. In many novels he shows the inherent nature of woman to cling to some man to get an identity. Summerset Maugham's main characters try to eschew flirtations, but ultimately they too yield to the economic and other pressures and become victims to sexual instincts.

Maugham believed that a writer cannot depict a character unless there are similarities in him which he wants to attribute to a particular character. He says, “I do not believe, Shakespeare could have begotten, Hamlet, Brutus and logo if he had not oneself been Iago, Brutus and Hamlet.” This was Maugham’s own theory about characterization.


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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