The End of the Flight by W. Somerset Maugham
In The End of the Flight by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of revenge, fear, escape, control, determination, connection and failure. Taken from his 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 fear. The Dutchman has lived his life in fear after slighting the Sumatran. Though we never learn as to what the Dutchman has done it is serious enough for him to abandon his life and travel from place to place in order to avoid the Sumatran who is obviously seeking revenge. The fact that the District Officer considers the Dutchman’s story to be humorous may also be significant as the story itself is a grave one. If anything Maugham may be highlighting or suggesting that life itself may not necessarily be valued by some people. Particularly when it comes to the District Officer. It may also be important that the Dutchman feels the need to escape rather than attempt to resolve any differences he may have with the Sumatran. However in reality the issue between the Dutchman and the Sumatran may be too serious to resolve. At least in the Sumatran’s eyes.
The incident with the Sumatran has also taken over the Dutchman’s life. It is as though he no longer is in control of his life and is simply existing in order to avoid the Sumatran. Something that may actually contribute to the nervousness that the Dutchman feels when he first meets the District Officer. Though some critics might suggest that the Dutchman is paranoid it may be worth noting that everywhere that the Dutchman has tried to hide. He has been found by the Sumatran. Who appears to be relentless in his pursuit of the Dutchman. If anything the Sumatran is determined to exact revenge. He will not let go of what the Dutchman has done to him. The fact that as reader we do not know what the Dutchman has done in many ways lends the Dutchman the reader’s sympathy. Though it might not necessarily be right to do so. It is also noticeable that the District Officer himself is less than sympathetic towards the Dutchman. Though it is true he gives him lodgings the District Officer does not appear to be able to understand just how frightened the Dutchman is.
Which may be the point that Maugham is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that the District Officer is not only void of sympathy for the Dutchman but he can also not identify or appreciate the concerns that the Dutchman might have about his well-being. After all the District Officer does find the story of the Dutchman to be humorous. Which says a lot about the District Officer. The fact that the narrator is somewhat shocked by the story might also be significant as it could suggest that the narrator in some ways identifies or relates to the Dutchman. He after all is about to sleep in the same room as the Dutchman and like the Dutchman he has travelled by tramp and then smaller boat to his destination. It is as though there might be a connection between both men. They are also both Europeans and traveling through a part of the world in whereby they may be seen as being different. If anything the narrator may feel as though it could have been him rather than the Dutchman who had the misfortune to cross the Sumatran. If anything Maugham may be highlighting how perilous life might have been for a foreigner at the time in Asia.
How tough life might have been at the time for Europeans (or foreigners) is noticeable by the fact that the District Officer appears to have a heavy reliance on alcohol. It is as though he is using alcohol as a tool to escape from the life he is living. There is no mention in the story of any of the three foreigners engaging constructively with those who live in Asia which may suggest that foreigners are viewed upon with suspicion by local people. Foreigners may live in Asia but they might not necessarily understand the culture of the local people nor does it seem they wish to adapt to their environment. It is possible that Maugham is suggesting that foreigners have one goal and that is to control their surroundings just as they would control their surroundings when at home. However it is clear to the reader that the Dutchman, no matter how hard he tried, was unable to not only control his environment but he did not seem to understand it either. His final days where spent trying to escape from the Sumatran. Something that he failed to achieve and which cost him his life. A life that appears to have been of no importance to anybody.