Of Human Bondage

Over the course of two weeks, I’ve been reading a very interesting book called, Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham. I love classic books that were written way back in the day. They usually have the best writing and intensely deep stories. Not to mention it was free on my kindle.

One thing I learned by reading this book is that you must start your story with something that captures the reader’s attention and makes them want to continue. Sadly, this book did not. I understand authors have to set the scene and describe everything going on before plunging into the action of the character’s lives, but this book bored me for several chapters before it started to get good. If I weren’t such a huge book nerd, I’d have put it down long ago and missed out on a very interesting story. I believe the beginning of a book is crucial in deciding if your reader will stay with it through the course of the hundreds of pages or discard it for something more exciting. As important as some say the last pages in a book are, so is the beginning. Anyone who doesn’t like to read would have skipped this book after the first couple of chapters. That would’ve been a mistake, for this is actually a story that can draw you in once it gets going. But enough about the negatives.

Of Human Bondage follows the character, Philip Carey, as he navigates through life, with all its difficult paths, human follies, hardships, loves, and deaths. He is an extremely flawed character, not just because he has a club-foot, but because he is so often given over to manipulation by women, greed, lust and other such sins of man. Yet there is also much good in him. Sadly, his entire life becomes a search for meaning, because he discards the Christian faith and God. Once he does so, he loses much hope in the purpose of man’s existence.

The book is extremely deep. If I were to compare it to any book, I’d say it’s along the style of something by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The way the characters are constantly shown searching for something more and trying to find pleasure in the cycle of life. The sad thing about this book is that Philip’s philosophy on life becomes skewed. Maugham writes of Philip’s conclusion about life, and it stood out to me as such a hopeless way to look at life, yet something that many people must have said or thought about once. Here is Philip’s newfound philosophy on life: “There was no meaning in life, and man by living served no end. It was immaterial whether he was born or not born, whether he lived or ceased to live. Life was insignificant and death without consequence. Philip exulted, as he had exulted in his boyhood when the weight of a belief in God was lifted from his shoulders: it seemed to him that the last burden of responsibility was taken from him; and for the first time he was utterly free. His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing. He was the most inconsiderate creature in that swarming mass of mankind which for a brief space occupied the surface of the earth; and he was almighty because he had wrenched from chaos the secret of its nothingness” (Maugham 478). It is such a sad way to see life, but without God, it’s easy to be brought to that disparaging belief.

It’s definitely a story that opened my eyes in some ways. Although I am a Christian, I can see where Philip is coming from. He loses faith in God as a child when he can’t seem to rid himself, no matter how much he prays, of his crippling foot. Sometimes life brings us across paths that seem so utterly unfair and we wonder does God even really exist, because if He did, we wouldn’t have these problems. But it just reminded me of the bigger plans He tends to have for us that are far better than we could have imagined if things went our way.

I recommend this book for its depth and heart and the way it so vibrantly exposes the search for meaning in life we all face at some point.

(Maugham, W. Somerset. Of human bondage. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1936. Print.)

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