The Taipan by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Taipan by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of wealth, appreciation, loss, racism, bitterness, arrogance and fear. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that the main protagonist doesn’t appreciate the life he lives. He may enjoy earning money but apart from that there is no real enjoyment in his life. He also treats the native labourers (coolies) with disdain as though they are subservient to him. They are at his complete beck and call. It is also interesting that the driving factor for the main protagonist is money. He knows that he earns good money. Money which he would be unable to earn in England. This might contribute to the fact as to why the main protagonist doesn’t want to return to England when he retires. Preferring a life instead of breeding horses. Which he knows absolutely nothing about. It is also interesting that the main protagonist is sure to be polite to his employers and those men that he meets in the Club. The main protagonist treats the native labourers different to others which may suggest that the main protagonist considered himself to be better that those who are darker skinned than the main protagonist.
It may also be a case that Maugham is comparing the main protagonist to a group of men who may have made their fortunes overseas. They would not mix with the locals and their primary drive would be to make money. As was often the case the locals were treated a sub-humans by many of the British or other European businessmen. Whose sole purpose was to make as much money as possible. It is also noticeable that the main protagonist does not appear to fully understand the culture of the city. Even though he is busy living in his own world and trying to make money. He also shows an inability to adapt to the culture around him. Real culture for the main protagonist is drinking in the men’s clubs. If anything the main protagonist is full of his own self-importance. If something is not of benefit to him he doesn’t want to know. At all stages of the story the main protagonist is driven by his own ego. He has a connection with England but it is not a connection he actively pursues.
There is also a sense that the main protagonist is bitter. For what other reasons would he be so cruel to other people. He may not have wanted to have been sent by his company to China and now has to live with the realities he faces. A reality that bores the main protagonist if it was not for his job. Culturally China would be very different to England and the main protagonist may have found it hard to adapt. There is no mention of the main protagonist having any real friends. Just acquaintances he meets in the club. Similarly the main protagonist has not tried to acclimatize to life around him. His main concern is his job and making money. Friendship is not something that sits well with the main protagonist which may suggest he is living a lonely life.
The dream that the main protagonist has at the end of the story may also be important as it not only frightens the main protagonist but leads him to believe that the grave he saw the native labourers digging is the main protagonist’s own grave. Symbolically the grave may be important as the main protagonist does indeed die and he writes a letter informing others that he wants to be buried back home in England. At the end of the story the main protagonist is driven by fear. He does not want to be forgotten and longs for his family to visit his grave in England. It is his home and where all his memories are. China on the other hand has been no more than a business opportunity. A place where the main protagonist has shown nothing but arrogance towards others. It is as though the main protagonist is developing a conscience. It is also interesting that the main protagonist does not fully admit that he has done any wrong doing. In his personal life or in his business life. Which may suggest that the main protagonist may not be contrite. He never really shows any contrition for how he has treated those whom he has come across in China. It is also possible that despite his wishes the main protagonist may still be buried in China. Much against his will. Any redemption for the main protagonist may have come too late. Whoever finds him will have the responsibility of burying him in England but it may be a case that due to the fact that the main protagonist is living in China. The reader of the protagonist’s note may not read English. Just as the main protagonist did not understand the Chinese. They too might not understand him.