Synopsis on Of Human Bondage

Synopsis+on+Of+Human+Bondage

 

…I’m just asking for a friend. We hide behind this blanket to ask the questions we want to be answered but are too afraid to associate our face with them. Everyone hides their insecurities through money, makeup, or the internet. So many anonymous websites allow self-conscious individuals to get their embarrassing questions answered through an alias. People trap themselves into bubbles and isolate themselves instead of seeking help. Expression of insecurity allows for the quickest recovery. Somerset Maugham didn’t have access to the internet and didn’t have a way to blanket his insecurities because of his fame. Instead, he used the novel Of Human Bondage to vent his insecurities to the world. This novel is so powerful and relatable because of the overwhelming pathos throughout. The main character, Phillip Carey, bears an overwhelmingly similar life and background to Maugham. Both grew up orphaned, suffered from physical flaws, and had a hard time understanding love. The parallels emerge from the book after further research and provide the reader with a newfound appreciation for the novel. Somerset Maugham opened up his life through this book and that is the reason it is a masterpiece. Maugham understood that each person suffers from the bondage that is self-awareness and provided a voice of hope for all who suffer. 

The opening scene of the novel portrays a gray and depressive sky. Phillip Carey, the protagonist, loses his mother at a very young age. He is ripped away from everything he once knew. Phillip was brought up in the city, but his uncle and aunt live in a rural town. With his uncle and aunt, he received very little affection and love. He lacked the childhood he needed to build up his self-confidence because it would soon be torn down. Phillip Carey suffered from a clubbed foot and this disability brought hostility from his classmates. He was a social outcast from the first day which led to years of loneliness. He convinced his uncle and aunt to allow him to leave school and take a year abroad in Germany. His travels were funded by his late Mother’s inheritance because he had reached adulthood. Money was plentiful which led him to pursue a career in art in Paris after his year in Germany. These trips inspired his desire to live a life of travel. This dream made him realize art wasn’t a career that would bring him into financial stability, so he enrolled in medical school in England. His career was soon halted after he became infatuated with Mildred. She drained his bank account and led him into a state of self ruin. He had always hidden his club foot as well as possible, but he could not conceal his love for Mildred. Phillip was aware of the one-sided relationship he entrapped himself; however, he punished himself to make her satisfied. She would vanish from his life after destroying his apartment, running away with his best friend, and leaving him for a life of prostitution; he always took her back. His desire for travel and an honest career took a backseat to his obsession with Mildred. He discovered true happiness when he finally quit binding himself to self-degradation. He found a woman who provided him happiness and became his dream. Travel was a coping mechanism he used as a silver lining during his depressing life with Mildred. His newfound love became his escape and travel became irrelevant. The ending scene closed with him recognizing the sunbeam beating down. The polarity of the opening scene, a dull, grey sky, and the closing scene solidified the theme: contentment comes from conquering self-doubt. 

Not a stranger to self-doubt, Maugham had to cope with his stutter for the majority of his life. His disability led him to become a social introvert during school, like Phillip, and bury himself into books and solitude. Somerset Maugham is quoted saying, “I was withdrawn and unhappy, and rejected most overtures of sympathy over my stuttering and shyness.” Also, he described a situation where he was made into an outcast, “When a fierce master there asked him to translate a passage and he began to stammer, the boys burst out laughing and the master shouted: ‘Sit down, you fool. I don’t know why they put you in this class’ (Stuttering Foundation of America). Similarly to Phillip, Maugham hated schooling and traveled to Germany to escape the harshness he endured. This correlation between Phillip’s clubbed foot and Maugham’s stutter is a significant example of the autobiographical element to this novel. The pain felt by readers during the mistreatment of Phillip was experienced by Somerset Maugham. 

Suffering commonly occurred in Maugham’s formative years. He became orphaned at a young age following the death of both his father and mother in a short time span. He took these losses particularly hard and kept the same picture of his mother on the side of his bed till the day he died at ninety-one (PaperBack Swap). He lived with his uncle and aunt for the remainder of his childhood and received an emotionless home deprived of love (PaperBack Swap). His uncle and aunt had no children of their own and no experience with children. He suffered from their lack of knowledge; this and his clubbed foot both influenced his introvert lifestyle. His childhood bears a striking resemblance to that of Phillip Carey. Growing up without a strong support system had an impact on Somerset Maugham. The impact evident because of his clear disdain for his uncle and lack of a meaningful relationship with his aunt. Phillip received punishment for simply acting like a child while being a child . His uncle and aunt had developed a lifestyle, and Phillip wrecked their balance. After researching, I notice the same resentment from Maugham’s family. They saw a child as a chore instead of family. He grew up in a home that didn’t provide an example of love, so how is a boy supposed to recognize love? 

Maugham grew up in a house empty of affection and an unhealthy amount of self-doubt which stemmed from his clubbed foot. These are significant obstacles to overcome; also, he troubled in accepting his identity. Maugham lived much of his life attempting to suppress his sexuality. Later in life, he accepted his homosexuality, but he disguised his urges for the majority of his life. He famously said, “…I was three-­quarters normal and that only a quarter of me was queer” (“Biography and Fiction: Somerset Maugham and Of Human Bondage). He soon realized the latter was true. He married a woman and raised a child; however, he grew to hate his wife and love his child. He unfaithfully slogged through eleven unhappy years of marriage. His true identity became impossible to conceal. The homosexual themes in Of Human Bondage aren’t obvious, but they exist through undertones . Mildred is described as a rather grotesque figure with little feminine qualities. Phillip loved her more than she would ever love him; his love for her created self-inflicted suffering. In my opinion, Mildred represented Maugham’s homosexuality. He wanted to believe himself more heterosexual, so this would explain the negative imagery of Mildred and the imbalance of affection. His sexual preferences and desire to cover it relates to the self-inflicted pain Phillip caused himself throughout the novel. Also, Phillip distanced himself away from Mildred, but he remained close to develop a relationship with her child. Both were in confusing situations but a child bound them to a life of unhappiness. The connotations of homosexuality and self-sacrifice for children are the most compelling arguments in the autobiographical debate of this novel. The similarities with disabilities and upbringing are easily recognizable; however, the use of this novel to portray his real emotions and personal struggles with his sexuality is his most powerful example of suffering. He used this book to cope with his insecurities. Obviously, he would mask his darkest diffidence to maintain his public perception. 

Of Human Bondage intends to point out the obvious flaws in others because we tend to just drown in ours. Somerset Maugham used Phillip Carey as an alias for himself so he could tell his own experiences without public backlash. Connections between Maugham and Phillip through the disabilities both had to overcome and the struggles of growing up orphaned are obvious. However, the subtle theme of the fight against homosexuality and self-acceptance is most robust. If Maugham wanted to write an autobiography, he would have written one. He, however, felt shame for his true self. He disguised his homosexuality throughout the book to avoid public scrutiny and a lack of control over his sexuality. I believe this made the book even more relatable. The novel tells a tale of human struggle and the bonds people form with destruction. What’s more relatable than a novel about struggle written by an author who was bound to his insecurities while writing? People thrive off the suffering of others. Maugham coped with his self-doubt through the adversity Phillip overcame.

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