The Social Sense by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Social Sense by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of appearance, freedom, insecurity, independence, acceptance and control. 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 appearance. Though Gerrard has died Mary seems to be putting on a brave face. Though some critics might suggest that Mary is showing a lot of courage it is also possible that Mary knows the importance of appearance and can’t be seen to be grieving Gerrard’s death. He after all was not her husband and as far as Thomas had been aware Mary had not seen Gerrard in over two years. This could be important as it suggests that Mary at no stage of her relationship with Gerrard was ever able to let him go. Their affair lasted over twenty years though due to the circumstances they found themselves in they never publically admitted their love for one another. However Thomas was aware of Mary’s infidelities. As to why Thomas would stay with Mary when she doesn’t love him is interesting as it suggests that Thomas not only loved Mary but he may also have been reliant on Mary too. To reassure him of his abilities as a painter when Thomas may have lacked the commitment required to carry on. If this is the case then Thomas has stayed married to Mary due to his own insecurities.
Some critics might also consider Mary to be selfish considering that she is in a relationship with a man who is not her husband. However Maugham may be highlighting the fact that Mary is independent of Thomas. She does not rely on him as much as he relies on her. If anything there is more freedom in Mary’s life. There is nothing or anybody to stop her doing as she pleases. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the narrator (and others) are aware of the special relationship that Mary has with Gerrard. At no stage in the story do any of the characters mentioned judge Mary for her relationship with Gerrard. It is accepted as being part of who Mary is. Where some might expect Mary to pay a price for her infidelity this is not the case. Thomas is weaker if not more insecure than Mary and the reader senses that should everything become public knowledge. Thomas would remain by Mary’s side. She is the reason that Thomas lives the reader suspecting that Thomas though he might be displeased about Mary and Gerrard’s relationship. Will do as he is told by Mary.
Whereas many women live their lives controlled by the men in their lives. This is not the case for Mary. She has absolute authority when it comes to her marriage. Something that would have been unusual at the time the story was written. This may be important as Maugham may be highlighting for the reader Mary’s strength. Though the reader may not agree with Mary’s actions. She still nonetheless is able to commit herself to two men. One she married and one should would have liked to marry. The only downside for Mary is that she has to keep her relationship with Gerrard as secret as possible. Though the fact that the narrator knows about the relationship with Gerrard leaves the reader to assume that others do too. Though none have advised Gerrard who remains somewhat in the dark to his wife’s infidelities. Though Mary’s marriage would not be considered to be an open or liberal marriage. She does go against the grain for what would have been accepted at the time.
Both Mary and Gerrard know that they must meet in secret so as not to arouse the suspicions of their respective spouses. Though if anything by doing so there is a sense that both Mary and Gerrard are trapped. Their affair will not and cannot blossom due to the circumstances that Gerrard finds himself in. He may have a loveless marriage but he also has a commitment to his daughters. Something that prevents him from ever considering marrying Mary. The reader also suspects that Mary might not be as hesitant as Gerrard. Though she remains married to Thomas she may not necessarily feel the same about him as he does about her. He is not the success that people thought he might become and life if anything appears to bore Mary. At least when she is with Gerrard her mind is excited. She connects with him on an intellectual level. Something that does not occur with Thomas. It is also noticeable that Mary shows very little emotion when she discovers that Gerrard is dead. This may be important as Mary knows that she has to conceal how she really feels in order for others not to be suspicious. Again appearances are important to Mary.