Rain by W. Somerset Maugham

I have read this story 5 years ago when I was in Uni. I forgot the title of the story but I can still remember the outline of story very clearly. I have referred to this story in my other book review more than once. I like Maugham’s short stories more than his novels. A month ago I decided to buy a full collection of his short stories so I can reread those I once read. I spent $30 on a 2 vol copy published by Doubleday in 1953.

Rain is a very controversial story that revealed the ugly side of Christianity. It is pretty common for Christine missionary to go oversea, esp the New world and Islands to preach. They thought it is their duty to save the savage from evil, teach them to follow the common practice of western way to be civilized, and eventually be true Christians. While they tried their best to achieve their goals, they destroyed the tradition and belief of other people. These savage, instead of being saved from evil, they became unhappy and sunk into poverty and irreversible misery. Missionaries might think it is right to impose harsh punishment on these people in order to let them understand the love of Jesus. However, they didn’t realize they were committing sins and they will be punished by God.

1, Characters

In this story, the 3rd person Dr.Macphil, introduced Mr and Mrs Davidson into the story. The writer has first described Dr. Macphil and his wife, then Mrs Davidson, finally the central character, Mr. Davidson. Why? The writer wanted us to feel and guess the character of Mr. Davidson through the talk of the wives, through the observation by Macphils and through the personality of Mrs.Davidson. It is very important for us to get familiar with Mrs.Davidson if we want to understand Mr. Davidson.

Readers will know there are kind of bias and feeling of superior of White people from the talk of Mrs.Davidson:

“You know, their marriage customs when we first settled in the islands were so shocking that I couldn’t possibly describe them to you.”

“Can you wonder that when we first went there our hearts sank?You’ll hardly believe me when I tell you it was impossible to find a single good girl in any of the villages.”

“The native dance…it is not only immoral in itself, but it distinctly leads to immortality. However, I am thankful to God that we stamped it out, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that no one has danced in our district for eight years.”

“Mr.Davidson said in one of his reports: the inhabitants of these islands will never be thoroughly Christianized till every boy of more than ten years is made to wear a pair of trousers.”

Readers can see Davidsons were stiff and harsh people who never thought they are wrong. Now we can see how Mr.Davidson looks like:

“He had so cadaverous an air that it surprised you to notice how full and sensual were his lips. He wore his hair very long. His dark eyes, set deep in their sockets, were large and tragic; and his hands with their big, long fingers, were finely shaped; they gave him a look of great strength. But the most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you of suppressed fire…” We should remember his facial expression if we want to understand why he was seduced.

2, Mr.Davidson’s faith

Mr.Davidson’s faith was more like Puritanism, but he is obstinate and don’t listen to other opinion. He strongly believe one can be forgiven by god only via punishment and confession.

He said:

“If the tree is rotten it shall be cut down and cast into the flames.”

“And I think that was the most difficult part of my work, to instil into the natives the sense of sin.”

“We had to make sins out of what they thought were natural actions. We had to make it a sin, not only to commit adultery and to lie and thieve, but to expose their bodies, and to dance and not come to church.”

He hated amusement and pleasure which is normal for most of Puritans and missionaries but he went too far, too extreme. He is like a tyrant, a dictator who rules his people (ie the islanders) without mercy. But people are rebellious, esp the islanders who get used to their own way and had their religion for thousands of year. How could he make people understand the concept of sin and obey his will? He achieved this not by love and generosity; he instituted fines and if people refused to pay, he isolated them and prevented them from normal trading, in another saying, to starve them, break their mind and force them down to be no more than beggars.

That is terrible. You can image how many lives were ruin during the years of his missionary. But he didn’t know because he never listen and never try to understand and thus never respect others and leave other people alone. His stiff mind led many people to devastation and at the end walked himself into the hell. After hard work of purifying the prostitute, he was “seduced”. Now he believed the only way of avoiding punishment by god is to severely punish himself. Moreover, how could he face himself? His idealistic world was crashed, light was disappeared and there was no hope at all than suicide (suicide is one of the sin).

3, Why Mr.Davidson was seduced?

Yes Mr.Davidson hated dancing, exposing bodies and prostitution. But it doesn’t means his nature, his true self hated these. He reckoned all these were sins because he thought that is what he learnt from the Bible and that must be the right way.

Looking back at the quote mentioned in the previous discussion, he was healthy man in his prime year who care himself a lot. And he has “suppressed fire”. Without all the dressing of Morality and Christianity, he might be a murderer, a sadist, an abuser. During the time of accompanying and preaching of Miss Thompson, he suppressed his desire. But in his dream of Mt. Nebraska which the huge mole-hills look like a woman’s breast, it reveals his sub-consciousness—his tremendous sexual desire.

If his wife was not as stiff and cold as he was, he might not be so worse. With the feminine love and affection, women can soften the heart of men and their behavior can be less aggressive and extreme. Men would not think their sexual desire is a sin if women regard it as natural as eating and sleeping. But we can see his wife was boring, cold hearted, arrogant and discriminated. I feel sorry for Mr.Davidson but I don’t feel that to Mrs.Davidson. She was so fake and encourage the fakeness of his husband. She was cruel to other people but weak in front of her husband.

With this boring wife, I can guess they might not have satisfied sexual life. It won’t be surprise to see him seduced by a woman who knew all the weakness and desire of men. Miss Thompson was not beautiful and not young but she had a matured body and sad face which can make a man feel pity and willing to come closer. Like a lion on a deer, men might have the impulsion to conquer their prey, mostly through normal intercourse or rape in worse cases. From the sexual criminal records, it is not unusual to see the criminals to seek huge satisfaction and self-consciousness through raping or hurting of helpless victims (young boys and girls, single/poor/old/pregnant women…). This kind of impulsion or desire can not be refrained by sense or praying. It will happen suddenly with help of all the accumulated force.

It looks ridiculous but it is not if we understand human nature.

4,Miss Thompson’ change.

Some readers thought Miss Thompson was playing game of pity and purposely seduced the missionary. She did it to escape the fate being sent back to her country and the possibility of being in jail, as some reader claimed. But I have doubt on it. From her despised looks and spat, her yelling “You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”, I have feeling that she didn’t except these.

After trying what she could do, she was casted into the deep of desperation. “She was cowed and broken.” She started to believe she was punished by god and she was the sinner. And there were no way around than putting herself under the feet of Mr.Davidson. She might think it is right to do whatever the missionary want and thoughtfully remorse for all her sins. She has no help and she can only gain encouragement and mental support from Mr.Davidson.

While she placed her trust and faith on Mr.Davidson, she didn’t expect he want to have sex with her. From my guessing, he raped her without asking consent. She said with hatred that “You’re all the same.” From this we can guess she might thought Mr.Davidson was different from other men—he was so pure, so much devote to truth and goodness and scarifying himself to leading the sheep to the right way. But to her disappointment, he had done the same as other men. She might thought the missionary had planned this and ill use her—he was worse than men who come straight for buying sex.

He first humiliated her, and drove her customers away and put her in great risk of being in jail; then he played the good and raise her hope of washing off the sin and be a new, good woman; However, at the end, she saw the dark side of human nature and the uncontrollable desire, she won’t believe in anything from then on and she hated the hypocrisy of men.

Instead of luring Dr.Davidson, I thought Miss Thompson was more like a victim, just like the poor islanders who submit to the tyrannical ruling of the missionary.

  5,What is evil and what is right?

There are a little argument between Dr.Macphail and Mr.Davidson:

D: I want him to do what’s right.It shouldn’t be necessary to persuade a man to do that.

M: But there may be differences of opinion about what is right.

D: If a man had a gangrenous foot would you have patience with anyone who hesitated to amputate it?

M: Gangrene is a matter of fact.

D: And Evil?

In comparison, Dr.Macphail’s opinion was more compassionate and more humanistic. He thought, if other people need help, he should help them; but if they are doing wrong, it is better to leave others alone and don’t put nose into other people’s business as long as they don’t do harm on him. But Mr.Davidson had a different view. He thought sins are what are written in the Bible teaching and should be rid of without mercy.

But the problem is, what is evil?

As we have different life style and personality, our understanding of evil are different. To force people to accept an established system and sole set of moral system is useless and sometimes has more harm than good. There are no standardized criteria of good or wrong.

The weakest point of religion is paralyzing self-consciousness and natural desire and turn one’s mind into the shape guided by Bible and teaching from priests. But there are always something in human nature that can not be explained and governed by religion. Human nature is complicated and larger than the religion we created. Don’t forget that it is we human create and wrote the Bible. Bible can be a way of learning being good but it just represents one way or other. It is not ALL.

To live like a human and embrace our human nature and understand ourselves could be more important than being heavenly good?

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