“Home” – short story by William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

This is a mid-term essay that I wrote in English Literature class, analyzing the short story “Home” by William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) – a British writer famous for his novels, “The Moon and Sixpence“, “Of Human Bondage“, “The Razor’s Edge“, and “The Magician“. Maugham’s short stories are famous for the hidden satire, which sometimes requires us to know the British culture and history to comprehend.

I haven’t found the online version of “Home”, but here are some outstanding books that mention Maugham’s stories.

Penguin Outstanding Short Stories

Mind the Gap – Short story study guide, grade 12

Let’s Read and Discuss, by European Humanities University

Sixty-five Stories, by W.S. Maugham (“Mr. Know All” & “The Escape” are two stories taught at my school, the University of Languages and International Studies, VNU.

And, a good Blog about W.S. Maugham


 

Question:  In the story “Home” by William Somerset Maugham, captain Meadows was introduced by the narrator with respect and admiration. Do you share this opinion? Use details from the story to support your ideas.

 


 

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It is never easy to analyze a well-written short story, often because there is very little unfolded. This is true for William Somerset Maugham’s short stories, for his are often autobiographical and abundant of nuances. “Home” is an example of Maugham’s mastery storytelling. The main character, Captain George Meadows, appears in the second half of the story and is introduced quite favorably by the narrator. Nonetheless, the story ends with a solemn, yet satiric note, which makes us wonder whether the narrator truly respect and admire this man. Let’s go deeper into the character to find out the truth.

The story begins with a homestead lying “among the Somersetshire hills”. The family is traditional in that ever since the house was built, “from father to son they had been born and died in it.” Captain Meadows is introduced in a rather awkward situation: he had deserted home to live “an exile’s life”, and for more than fifty years, nobody ever heard of him. Now crippled with rheumatism and longing for home, he left the sea and went home to see once more the house where he was born and grew up in. Arriving home, the Captain faced the reason (or more correctly, the person) that he left for a sailor’s life: Emily Green (now Mrs. Meadows), once courted by Captain Meadows, chose to marry his elder brother.

The narrator, who was a friend visiting the family, felt that the story of Captain George Meadows was like an “old ballad”. Had we been in the narrator’s shoes, we would have felt the same. We would expect to see a rough man of profound naval experience. Both the narrator and Captain Meadows had been to China and the Oriental coasts; a heart-to-heart talk could be expected. Therefore, ours and the narrator’s first impression of Captain Meadows were that he was brave, strong-minded and had a lot of sea experience.

However, the rest of the story tells us very little about the narrator’s viewpoint. Rather, the real Captain Meadows was left to the reader’s interpretation. This is not a surprise because in Maugham’s novels as well as short stories, there is hardly anything purely good or purely bad, purely saint-like or purely evil. In order to conclude, we have to put the characters and the events in the complexity of the environment surrounding them.

We see that Uncle George Meadows (Captain Meadows) did not have an easy life. Even though he was brave and adventuresome, in the mind his family, he was not a man of high stature or stability; he was wild and indecisive; and for many years overseas he had done everything but “to make a fortune.” This made him a less desirable man to Emily Green, who sought stability and firmness, a shoulder she could rely on.

Captain Meadows came home in a rather weak condition: toothless, crippled, old and penniless. This image might have inspired sympathy from the narrator. It might have inspired admiration and respect for the glory of Captain Meadows’ life. But does this kind of admiration and respect resonate with the admiration we come across in the story’s beginning? the kind of respect for a man of adventure and thrill-seeking? It might not. By now Captain Meadows seemed like a burden to his family; his many experiences became meaningless. The strong man could now barely walk with his own two feet.

In my conclusion, the “admiration and respect” that the narrator felt for Captain Meadows changes as the story proceeds, but subtly. We cannot look at the outer layer, the glowing skin of the matter and judge somebody’s opinion. In the end, Emily Green had made the right decision to marry Tom Meadows (Captain Meadows’ brother). “Fate had been kind: death had written the full stop in the right place”. Captain Meadows died at home where his past generations had been born and died. The narrator at this point might have had another kind of “respect and admiration”: for a man who valued his family’s tradition and who made his final, and perhaps most sound decision in his adventurous life. Who can tell?

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