Tag Archives: characterization

Book Dissection Part III: Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage1

Pages 90 to 135: In those few pages, Philip transitions from being completely immersed in the religious experience to becoming utterly repelled by it. When Phillip moves to Germany for a year and meets new friends who are not as religious as he had been, he starts to form new ideals. Those ideals led him to believe that one should not believe in a religion to begin with.

The author explains how his protagonist felt unbridled after shedding the necessity of belief, and how stupid he felt looking back at all the days and nights he went out of his way to satisfy his god. The author also explains how, after Philip stopped believing in religion, he still abode by the manner which Christianity taught him. It was as if he went out of his way to prove to himself that not all atheists had unethical behavior.

I would like to end this short post the same way I ended this section of the book, by quoting a certain passage that I especially enjoyed and found eternal wisdom in. It is written below in italic.

He did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveler through life comes to an acceptance of reality. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded. It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy; for the books they read, ideals by the necessity of selection, and the conversation of their elders, who look back upon the past through a rosy haze of forgetfulness, prepare them for an unreal life. They must discover for themselves that all they have read and all they have been told are lies, lies, lies; and each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life. The strange thing is that each one who has gone through that bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously, by the power within him which is stronger than himself.

Book Dissection II: Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage - W Somerset Maugham

Synopsis: One of the great novels of the twentieth century. Of Human Bondage tells a fascinating tale of sexual obsession. The story follows Philip Carey in his search for freedom from the strict, oppressive Christian upbringing he suffered as an orphan in an English vicarage. Philip sets out on a journey that leads him to Heidelberg and to Paris. But it is back in London that Philip’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.”


Pages 51 to 89: The first 10 to 15 pages aimed to point a transitional phase in the school which Philip attends. I was less interested in the way the school became more religious, and more intrigued by what Philip goes through during that phase which lasts a few years of his life.

Philip meets a new friend; his last name is Rose. And unlike all the other kids who make fun of Philip and his birth defect, Rose likes Philip. Without going into much details and spoiling the story, let me just say that I found myself in the pages I reference.

We have all experienced loneliness, and all of us cling to that one thing or person who makes us feel less lonely; hence, driving that person away. I love how Somerset describes his protagonist as he makes belief that he’s one of the popular kids, or when he over thinks about Rose’s innocent actions. Loneliness makes us oversensitive, and sometimes it even makes us mean to people as we overcompensate to being needy. The way Somerset describes this conflict of the human soul made me feel like I was back in high school when I was reading.

There’s another interesting description, which also resonates with me since I live in a strict and orthodox society, which is Philip’s relationship with religion. At first, Phillip’s pristine mind absorbs all the religious knowledge that is thrown at him. He begins to have high expectations from his relationship with God. Philip prays to God to eradicate the disability of his foot, but is met by disappointments. His uncle, however, relates those disappointments to the lack of Philip’s faith, urging Philip pray harder and face further disappointments. Isn’t this the vicious religious cycle we are all faced with?

There’s a point when Philip accepts that his defect is a test rather than a curse – a burden given for his broad shoulders to carry. And at the end of those lovely pages, the story takes a beautiful turn by Philip realizing that he doesn’t want the life of a pious man such as the one his uncle leads. He knows that there were far more beautiful things in the world; he read about those things in books, and heard other people’s stories about them. He is determined to live another kind of life.