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.
exposition – introduction to the exotic scenery and the harmonious couple
rising conflict – the confrontation of characters
climax – Guy’s monologue and Doris’s reaction
falling action – Doris’s long suffering and period of indecision
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 regards the native woman as an inferior person who fulfils his physical needs and helps him overcome his loneliness, only to be pensioned off when she is no longer needed. He feels no affection for his children, natives are treated as though they had no feelings or rights.
Doris is a pretty, honest person. Before marriage she had a not very important post as secretary to an MP and cared for her widowed mother. Her decision to marry Guy after knowing him for only a month may have been forced by the prospect of a more interesting and exotic life and material and social betterment. Doris is described as self-contained, competent and has ‘deft hands’.
She dislikes Guy’s carelessness and is shocked by the behaviour of European colonizers and by her husband’s insensitivity to such immorality. Reasons why Doris will in the end decide against life with her husband:
she is shocked at his strategy of hiding his former life from her
she is hurt when she learns the reasons why Guy married her
she cannot tolerate the irresponsible manner with which he treats his black family
she cannot stand the idea of him touching a black woman
Doris is unable to overcome her middle-class British prejudices and instead of adapting to the new circumstances, of tolerating a certain degree of assimilation toward the native culture, she gives up a relatively happy marriage and returns to the purity of unhappiness and poverty.
The Malay Woman
She is never called anything else but ‘the Malay woman’ or ‘the woman from the kampong’ and she never speaks, but her physical presence is strongly felt through her persistent gaze and the way she intrudes on Guy’s life. She is a powerful figure, determining the course of action to her advantage, finally taking over the role of the female in Guy’s home. Unlike Doris she is not humiliated by the existence of another woman and proudly claims her position as wife and mother. She is the stronger of the two .
White men actually had a general fear of ‘going native’ which means adapting to the native way of life. So many white men in the colonies insisted on wearing European clothes or retained their typical European lifestyle.
They were afraid to lose their own identity in having too much contact with the natives which would threaten their authority and power. According to imperialist ideology they felt superior and an intermingling of the races had to be avoided. In fact it was very difficult for the white men in the colonies to resist the temptation of the native women because they were the only females around and their exoticism was very attractive. Isolation and loneliness often made the white men forget the standards of behaviour and their fear of ‘going native’.
Daily Life in the Colonies
importation of the British lifestyle to the colonies ( tennis and cricket, afternoon cocktails, and leisure clubs )
contact with the homeland is kept up by newspapers and letters — the tropical climate structures the rhythm of the day: they get up early to make the most of the cool morning, they indulge in long afternoon siestas and enjoy social engagements orThe Force of Circumstance sport towards the evening.
Point of view
The third-person narrator tells the story from an unlimited omniscient point of view, moving freely in and out of the protagonists’ minds. He observes, but does not make judgements.
A large portion of the story is taken up by dialogue, another theatrical element, and as there are few long descriptive or reflective passages the plot gains speed and concentration. The language used especially in the dialogues is informal and sometimes ironic The informal vocabulary, the relatively short, simple sentences and the passages of dialogue resemble spoken language. The descriptive passages of the landscape and the characters make use of more figurative language ( images and metaphors, similes, alliteration and inversion )
Maugham’s travels in the Pacific region were a turning point in his life for there he met a completely new type of person. ”It seemed to me that these men had more vitality than those I had known “. To him it was refreshing to discover people who did not live according to conventional European standards. Although in his colonial stories M. depicts the moral damage done to colonial agents as well as to natives, he never questions the colonial system as such.