Of Human Bondage

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade September 2001

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The Enslavement that a man suffers by letting emotion dominate the reason.

Of various themes in Somerset Maugham's book Of Human Bondage, one major theme arises as one of the greatest stories written about a man's bondage to love, or passion. In his book Maugham has depicted in a clear and unrelenting manner the obsession of one man to a worthless woman. Philip, the protagonist of the novel, was a club-foot orphan who had lost his parents at the age of nine and was taken to live with his aunt and uncle; the Vicar of Blackstable. As a cripple, he was isolated from society and too soon was forced to discover that he could depend on nothing but himself. On the crossways of his lonely and uneasy life, he met Mildred who at the time was a waitress in a tea-shop.

He fell in love with Mildred. It was an emotion so different from anything he had ever dreamed or read about that he was profoundly shocked when he was forced to identify it as love.

The fact that Philip saw how unhealthy, commonplace, vulgar and selfish she was shows that Philip's passion was irresistible. Despite that she had always been unconscious to him not caring how he felt. Despite that she was even low enough to ask money from Philip to date with another man by whom she had a baby, Philip masochistically continued to satisfy her every caprice. His passion was like beast that had trapped him and, because Philip had no control over it, there remained two ways for him to go on. Either the beast with finish him by chewing his soul bit by bit or it would grow tired of torturing him and go away leaving the terrible disappointment and emptiness in its place. Philip had the disappointment. He discovered that Mildred had become a streetwalker and had syphilis. He was disgusted. His old passion was gone. Philip realized that the deeper was a man's passion, the deeper could be the disappointment. But disappointment gave him wisdom and experience; it made him more natural and more circumspective. Although his passion for Mildred deprived Philip of the hope of finding a new true love, he eventually proposed to Sally, a girl from a close family, and they married. There are passages and scenes in the novel that no thoughtful reader can pass over without mentally writhing. How can a man sink so low in his passion, he may ask? And yet, at the same time, he will probably have an uncomfortable feeling that the same thing could happen to anyone, including himself. It is not a novel to be casually read and tossed aside, but there is a deep message in it that the reader can hardly ignore.