The Force of Circumstance by W. Somerset Maugham
Guy, an administrator of a small British colonial outpost, has lived there for ten years. When he was on holiday in England he met Doris. They married and she returned to the station with him. At first they are very happy but then Doris notices a young Malay woman with three half-caste children hanging around the bungalow and annoying Guy very much. Finally Guy confesses that he had a relationship with the woman and that the children are his. Doris needs time to consider this shattering news, in the meantime they continue to live as before but Doris refuses to share her bedroom with her husband and the atmosphere is strained. Eventually Doris returns to England although she knows that Guy loves her and understands that he acted out of loneliness. But she cannot overcome her prejudices and cannot accept the idea that her white husband has had an intimate relationship with a native. Guy, unhappy and lonely, allows the Malay woman and their children to come back.
Structure of the plot
The story is carefully constructed like a five-act drama with tension rising to the climax of Guy’s disclosure speech. 1. exposition ---- introduction to the exotic scenery and the harmonious couple 2. rising conflict --- the confrontation of characters 3. climax ---- Guy’s monologue and Doris’s reaction 4. falling action ---- Doris’s long suffering and period of indecision 5. denouement ---- Doris’s leaving and the restoration of the former circumstances There are hints at the beginning which foreshadow the crisis and you will probably guess from the first mention of the half-caste boys what the conflict in the story is about. What creates the tension is the desire to know how Doris will cope with this situation. •
Doris says that she’s thankful Guy never had a Malay woman (p. 43 , ls. 1-2) •
D. cannot accept the excuses Guy makes for the behaviour of European men (p.43, ls.21-22) •
Guy’s unusual display of affection when he drew Doris to him as she passed(p.45.ls.27-28) •
Guy’s “deathly white” face(p.47, l.3) when he sees the Malay woman at the tennis court and his silent and bad play afterwards •
“there was a change in Guy” (p. 48, l.24)
Guy’s “ashy” face (p.50, l.10) after his servant has roughly turned the woman away. “He was nervous and irritable” (p.51, ls. 6ff.)
The story is set in the part of Borneo controlled by the British. Which area the story is set in is unclear and not of much importance, as Maugham uses the exotic setting to show the interaction between European and indigenous people and cultures. The newly arrived European woman views the surroundings with a mixture of fascination with the exotic and fear of the unknown. The tropical scenery is described in a way (esp. through colours and sounds) that reveals the mood of the characters.
the lead-up to the dramatic climax of Guy’s disclosure is accompanied by a heavy storm, reinforcing the rising tension
the disclosure is made under an open sky (“the night was starry”) sounds (as well as colours) gain an immediate presence, esp. the croak of the chik-chak, which appears at crucial moments in the story
Doris tries to import an English lifestyle into a home which until her arrival had contained mostly objects from the indigenous culture (p.44/45) ---- her wedding presents, playing tennis
Guy is a fun-loving, cheerful, ugly and noisy sort of person. He has a naturally optimistic nature and likes to laugh a lot. Doris cannot resist his charm.
Having lived all his life in the tropics and coming from a family tradition of colonial service, he seems to be the perfect type of colonial agent: he speaks the native language fluently and moves easily between two cultures. From his point of view there is nothing wrong with his ‘going native’. He...
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