Mayhew by W. Somerset Maugham

In Mayhew by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of freedom, change, independence, bravery, confidence, isolation, conflict and individualism. Taken from his The Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of freedom. Mayhew lives his life as he would like to. Something that the narrator considers to be a rarity. Where most people don’t have the freedom they would like in their lives. Mayhew is the opposite. Something that is noticeable when he decides to move from Detroit to Capri. Mayhew doesn’t give the matter much thought. However he knows that he can make the move to Italy due to his financial circumstances and the fact that he is prepared to change the course of his life. There is nothing to tie Mayhew down to Detroit. He is a free man. Answerable to nobody but himself. Which suggests that Mayhew may be independent of others. At no stage in the story is there a sense that Mayhew is reliant on anybody else. Hence his ability to move so quickly from Detroit to Capri. It is also noticeable that Mayhew is prepared to live in a world that he is not accustomed to. Which may suggest an element of bravery. There is no fear within Mayhew. Though he made his decision to move to Capri while under the influence of alcohol. In sobriety he does not change his mind.

If anything Mayhew is firm in his beliefs. Particularly his belief in himself and his ability to survive in Capri. This may be important as it suggests that Mayhew had an element of confidence about him. Unlike the other people that Maugham mentions in the story. It would appear that nothing intimidates Mayhew such is his high level of confidence. However there is one noticeable downside to how Mayhew decides to live his life. If anything he isolates himself from others when he is living in Capri. So engrossed is he in writing his book that he forgets the importance of socialising with others. Though he does make attempts on occasion to socialise with others for the main Mayhew isolates himself. It is as though his book and researching the book is more important to him than anything else. Mayhew cannot see a world around him that does not involve him writing his book.

In reality life is very different for Mayhew in Capri. He does not have his gentleman’s club nor does he have the friendships that he had while he was living in Detroit. The fact that Mayhew goes from being a healthy man to a frail one may also be important as Maugham may be suggesting that Mayhew is not looking after himself physically. It is as though he is fighting his body without realising that he needs his body just as much as he needs his mind. There appears to be an internal conflict within Mayhew. Something that he may realise himself. However he does nothing about it due to the fact that his mind is so stimulated by his desire to write the book. There is no balance in Mayhew’s life. Socially he has withdrawn from others and mentally he appears to be more concerned about writing his book than he is his with his physical health. What should have been an idyllic adventure for Mayhew turns out to be burdensome. It is as though he is unable to manage his life. He may have wealth and an appetite for study but the reality is Mayhew is killing himself and he does not seem to realise this.

The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator fully supports Mayhew’s actions. Considering it better that he died as he did rather than living his life as others might live theirs. Though some critics might agree with the narrator it might be important to remember that Mayhew did not achieve his goal of writing his book. Whereas someone who lived their life with a little more balance may have been successful. So involved was Mayhew with his book that he did not see that his own health was declining. He may have lived his life as he wished and how the narrator had wished Mayhew to live his life. However he paid a high price and was left with nothing to show for his endeavours. Which might be the point that Maugham is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that the journey in life is more important than the destination. That each man or woman should chose to live their life as they would like to. Without living in fear of the consequences. That freedom is something that is attainable by all should the individual attempt to free themselves from the lives they are living. Rather than joining the crowd Maugham may be suggesting that in life people need to be more individualistic. To take the risks that Mayhew took and tackle life full on. Without succumbing to the natural fear that comes with failure.


Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Mayhew by W. Somerset Maugham." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 30 Oct. 2017. Web.

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