Princess September by W. Somerset Maugham
In Princess September by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of confusion, identity, jealousy, resentment, freedom, trust, control and innocence. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of confusion. Several of the King’s daughters have had different names in order to suit the King’s whims. This may be important as a person’s name forms part of their identity and by changing some of his daughter’s names so often the King in reality is not allowing each daughter to discover who they may be. September on the other hand is sure of who she is. Unlike her sisters who are not only confused but all the name changing has made them bitter. This might be important as it is possible that September’s sisters are jealous of September. She has never had any other name apart from the name September and as such has not had to deal with the confusion of having her name changed so often. It is also possible that September’s sister’s jealousy stems not only from the fact that September has had only the one name but also because she has a bird that is unlike any bird that her sisters have. September’s bird is free to fly around the palace and September’s room and to leave when he wants. While the parrots that September’s sisters have are confined to a cage.
In many ways the parrots’ lives mirror that of September’s sisters. They too are trapped in a cage (the palace) and like the parrots are limited in what they can do. With none showing any real ability to do anything in particular. Whereas the parrots are meant to bring joy to September’s sisters the reality is that September’s sisters are most likely bored of the parrots. Which may be one reason as to why they tell September to put her new found bird in a cage. They dislike the freedom that the bird has which may be a reflection on the fact that September’s sisters themselves do not feel free. Rather than seeing September happy her sisters want September to feel as they are feeling, miserable and unhappy. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that any of September’s sisters are looking out for her. If anything they are preying on her innocence and trying to impose their own negative influence onto September. In reality it is clear to the reader that September’s sisters resent September.
If they themselves cannot be happy they do not think that September should be. It is as though each sister cannot see past their own self-importance or ego. Their number one priority is themselves. Though September is a happy child she still nonetheless at times needs reassurance and advice from her older sisters. However the advice given is not always for September’s benefit. It is as though September does not realise that she cannot trust her sisters due to the fact that they are jealous of her. September is different from her sisters because she has a bird that can sing sweet songs to her. Unlike the parrots that each of September’s sisters have which can only say two phrases. September’s mother is also an interesting if not cold character. She has no feelings when it comes to September’s parrot dying. She in no way comforts September. Though some critics might suggest that the reason for this is because the Queen has so many children it is more likely that the Queen is not a warm-hearted person just like her daughters (with the exception of September).
The fact that September marries a King and lives a happy life is also interesting as Maugham may be suggesting that should a person do good things. Like freeing the bird from the cage. Good things will happen to that person. Also should a person be open to change as September has been. She is after all the only one in the story who leaves the palace when bringing the bird for a walk. Then life will be full of good fortune. If anything by listening to the bird rather than to her sisters September has learnt the importance of freedom and what freedom means. She may have tried to control the bird’s environment when she put him in the cage but she changed and freed the bird. Who was allowed to sing as he wished to sing. How happy the bird was is noticeable by the fact that he returned to September which may suggest that not everything or everybody needs to be controlled. Free will is important. Something that September’s sisters would do well to learn. They have lived an ugly life in whereby they have attempted to control not only their environment but September’s too. The reader aware that each sister has been driven by jealousy.