Book Dissection: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham


Of Human Bondage1

As promised, I will not only post a review of the book Of Human Bondage, but will also post as elaborate analyses as I could without risking spoiling the story. Below is the synopsis of the book, as written in the back cover of my copy, followed by the analysis of the first 50 pages.

Synopsis: One of the great novels of the twentieth century. Of Human Bondage tells a fascinating tale of sexual obsession. The story follows Phillip Carey in his search for freedom from the strict, oppressive Christian upbringing he suffered as an orphan in an English vicarage. Phillip sets out on a journey that leads him to Heidelberg and to Paris. But it is back in London that Phillip’s enthrallment with Mildred – the slatternly, pale waitress who makes him slave to her desire – awakens him to the world of obsessive love, deep passion, and true self-discovery. The unforgettable love story is as timeless as it is involving, an intimate tale of human relationships that Theodore Dreiser called “a work of genius.”

First 50 pages: From the first pages of the book, I feel that I have already formed a bond with Phillip, the protagonist. The boy of mere nine years loses his mother after having lost his father, and is taken under the custody of his uncle. The uncle is a Vicar; he and his wife lead a strict religious regiment in their household.

It’s evident from the beginning that the barren woman has more sentiment for Phillip than the strict uncle. However, it’s also noticeable that the woman is strict with herself — she doesn’t allow herself to sit in the comfortable chair her husband sits in, fearing she would become too lazy to get back to work. The writer describes the gender roles in that family vividly, and allows the reader to sense the conformity the couple lives in.

When Philippe is sent to school, his troubles worsen. He is placed in the catholic school with mean older boy who make fun of his birth defect — a club foot. The description of the protagonist’s torment almost reduced me to tears. Anybody would relate to an innocent boy being bullied and tormented the way Philippe is.

As an introduction to the novel, the writer achieves two important things in his first fifty pages:

1) He introduced us to Phillip, and directly makes us sympathize with him, (Phillip is an orphan, who has a birth defect; he is living in a strict household and is sent away to a strict school where he is bullied).

2) He weaves the tangled web of events which would lead Phillip to eventually rebel against the religious and archaic regiment of his uncle’s upbringing and society’s traditions.

I can’t wait to share with you the layers I peeled of the characters’ personalities. This is a book I can’t seem to be able to put down.

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4 thoughts on “Book Dissection: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham”

  1. W. Somerset Maugham wrote his masterpiece, ‘Of human bondage’, to free himself from the demons that haunted him from his heart wrenching, childhood and difficult young adulthood. The miserable vicarage where he grew up after the death of his adored parents, his embarrassing handicap, his humiliation by a lover, and his quest for meaning in life all appear in the story Maugham himself called ‘not an autobiography, but an autobiographical novel; fact and fiction are inexorably mingled; the emotions are my own’. In finishing ‘Of human bondage’ Maugham had hoped for catharsis, but he broke down reading the novel aloud thirty years later. Its impact on contemporary readers is just as moving. The obsession of the hero, Philip Carey, with Mildred, the waitress at the A.B.C. tea shop who treats him with contempt and nearly destroys him, seems to touch the feelings and fears of everyone who has ever loved irrationally and to despair.

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