The Happy Man by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Happy Man by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of uncertainty, happiness, change, humility and gratitude. 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 uncertainty. Stephens though full of doubt when he spoke to the narrator about a possible move to Spain has found complete happiness. This may be important as by having Stephens find happiness in Spain rather than in England. Maugham may be making comparisons about the quality of life in both countries. If anything Maugham may be criticising life in England and giving favour to a life in Spain. It is also noticeable that the narrator is hesitant to give advice not only to Stephens but to others too. There is a sense that he is uncertain as to whether any advice he gives to an individual will be of benefit to them. The reader aware that the narrator does not feel qualified to tell others how to live their life. This could be important as Maugham through the narrator could be suggesting that at the end of the day only the individual themselves can make a decision as to whether or not to make changes in their life.
Some people like Stephens will be successful while others might make the wrong choice or take the wrong path and only end up making their lives worse. If anything responsibilities for an individual to make changes in their life should be left entirely to the individual themselves. In that way nobody but the individual can be blamed for the decisions they have made. It might also be a case that Maugham is suggesting that everybody’s circumstances are different. What might work for one person may not necessarily work for another. It is for this reason that the reader suspects that the narrator declines on giving advice to others. He is also ensuring that he cannot be blamed should an individual’s life change negatively due to any actions they might take. Again responsibility for change rests entirely with the individual themselves. It is by following this directive that the narrator ensures that he will live a peaceful life and not be the one responsible for a new found calamity in someone else’s life. Mistakes are easily made and the narrator believes that it is better for an individual to make the mistakes for themselves rather than be guided by someone else.
The narrator himself, like Stephens, appears to be a relatively happy man. His guiding principle is that everyone is different and that he himself may not necessarily have a full insight into how another person thinks or why they act a certain way. In many ways some critics might suggest that the narrator is protecting himself from others and it may be a case that he does not want to bear the responsibility of guiding someone in the wrong direction. However it is also possible that the narrator is solid in his consideration of who he himself is. He is sure of himself if not confident without having to boost his ego by way of giving others advice. This could be important as it might suggest that the narrator has a degree of humility. He doesn’t need to involve himself with others or push his opinion on others. If anything the narrator appears to be comfortable in his own skin. Something that others may not necessarily be. While some might push their opinions on others the narrator does not feel a need to do so.
The end of the story is also interesting as Maugham appears to be exploring the theme of gratitude. Stephens has spent the last fifteen years living in Seville and when he meets the narrator he thanks him for his advice. Not only is Stephens happy but he appears to also accept his position in life. Something that was not the case when Stephen’s was living in London and working in the Infirmary. He may have divorced his wife but this does not mean that Stephens is downhearted in any way. He has found contentment with another woman, a Spanish woman and life appears to be idyllic for Stephens. He has taken the risk of changing his life and things have worked out for him. He may not be a rich man but Stephens does not appear to be driven by money. He sought out a life of happiness and by all standards seems to have found it. The reader aware that it was on the narrator’s advice that Stephens decided to make the decision and move to Seville. There is also a sense that the stress that Stephens felt while living in London has also disappeared. He seems to be more relaxed fifteen years later than when he was in the narrator’s home. Which leaves the reader suspecting that Stephens has made the right decision.