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Summing Up Maugham's OF HUMAN BONDAGE

BOOK | FICTION | LITERATURE
OF HUMAN BONDAGE
by W. Somerset Maugham

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

W. Somerset Maugham
W. Somerset Maugham

I suppose the easiest, and quickest, way to sum up Maugham’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE would be to write something along the lines of “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” which is certainly the case for the story’s protagonist, Phillip Carey.

If, however, that was all I wrote, then not only would I be overly brief in this review (which probably is not a bad thing), I would also be overly unoriginal since we all know the above quote belongs to the great Henry David Thoreau.

Unfortunately, because I do not have Thoreau’s genius for writing simply (which requires skill and patience that most writers, to include me, do not possess), I will have to deploy many more words than just Thoreau’s for my own summing up of Maugham’s masterpiece.

But what Thoreau wrote so poetically is undeniably what the essence of Maugham’s story is about:

 

Carey, born with a clubbed foot and who grows up to be shy and insecure because of it, lives a life yearning to be someone he can never be, to love someone whom he can never love, and to be somewhere other than where he happens to be.

His yearnings, we find, go mostly unfulfilled.

What I enjoy most about the story is Maugham’s descriptive ability. His writing magically places me deep within the England and the Germany and the France of the early twentieth century. I can hear the cart wheels rolling along the cobble-stoned streets. I can see the crowded, smoke-filled cafe. I can taste the absinthe and feel the immediate allure and rush as it blissfully numbs away the bite of reality.

What I enjoy least about the story is Carey’s excessively drawn-out infatuation with Mildred Rogers, the cruel and insensitive simpleton who fancies herself to be of a station in life much higher than the one she is unable to escape, no matter how hard she tries. While she does not have the capacity to improve her lot in life through earnest devices and effort, she does have enough smarts about her to understand early on in her relationship with Carey that she has a power over him from which he is also unable to escape no matter how hard he tries. She uses and abuses Carey with her power so often and for so long that I found myself becoming impatient and bored with, not only Carey’s unbelievable weakness, but with the story as a whole. However, by that point, I was already deeply hooked, addicted to the tale and desperate to know whether Carey would find a way to ween himself from his deadly addiction to Rogers, or if he would die unfulfilled and, as Oliver Wendell Holmes writes in his poem “The Voiceless,” with his music still in him.

While I find the tortuous, one-sided love affair between Carey and Rogers to be a bit too much, through it I am reminded that any unhealthy dependency, be it our dependency on love, on money, on drugs, or on whatever, often takes us down a long and troubling path that, if we stay on it, will eventually lead us to the point of our destruction. And it usually is not until we nearly reach that point that we are finally able to realize just how destructive our dependency, our yearning, really is. Only then, if we are lucky or blessed or both (for unfortunately, many are unable to stop before reaching the point of their destruction and continue helplessly, fatally on), can we find the strength to separate ourselves from that which is destroying us and begin on a path to recovery.

But I guess that’s how life goes, and how it has always gone throughout the desperate ages — if we do not somehow find a way to come to peace with our satiated yearnings, our unrequited desires, they will most likely be the sad and desperate songs we sing until we finally, and at last, are placed within our cold and lonely graves.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read
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Summing Up Maugham’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE

BOOK | FICTION | LITERATURE
OF HUMAN BONDAGE
by W. Somerset Maugham

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

W. Somerset Maugham
W. Somerset Maugham

I suppose the easiest, and quickest, way to sum up Maugham’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE would be to write something along the lines of “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” which is certainly the case for the story’s protagonist, Phillip Carey.

If, however, that was all I wrote, then not only would I be overly brief in this review (which probably is not a bad thing), I would also be overly unoriginal since we all know the above quote belongs to the great Henry David Thoreau.

Unfortunately, because I do not have Thoreau’s genius for writing simply (which requires skill and patience that most writers, to include me, do not possess), I will have to deploy many more words than just Thoreau’s for my own summing up of Maugham’s masterpiece.

But what Thoreau wrote so poetically is undeniably what the essence of Maugham’s story is about:

 

Carey, born with a clubbed foot and who grows up to be shy and insecure because of it, lives a life yearning to be someone he can never be, to love someone whom he can never love, and to be somewhere other than where he happens to be.

His yearnings, we find, go mostly unfulfilled.

What I enjoy most about the story is Maugham’s descriptive ability. His writing magically places me deep within the England and the Germany and the France of the early twentieth century. I can hear the cart wheels rolling along the cobble-stoned streets. I can see the crowded, smoke-filled cafe. I can taste the absinthe and feel the immediate allure and rush as it blissfully numbs away the bite of reality.

What I enjoy least about the story is Carey’s excessively drawn-out infatuation with Mildred Rogers, the cruel and insensitive simpleton who fancies herself to be of a station in life much higher than the one she is unable to escape, no matter how hard she tries. While she does not have the capacity to improve her lot in life through earnest devices and effort, she does have enough smarts about her to understand early on in her relationship with Carey that she has a power over him from which he is also unable to escape no matter how hard he tries. She uses and abuses Carey with her power so often and for so long that I found myself becoming impatient and bored with, not only Carey’s unbelievable weakness, but with the story as a whole. However, by that point, I was already deeply hooked, addicted to the tale and desperate to know whether Carey would find a way to ween himself from his deadly addiction to Rogers, or if he would die unfulfilled and, as Oliver Wendell Holmes writes in his poem “The Voiceless,” with his music still in him.

While I find the tortuous, one-sided love affair between Carey and Rogers to be a bit too much, through it I am reminded that any unhealthy dependency, be it our dependency on love, on money, on drugs, or on whatever, often takes us down a long and troubling path that, if we stay on it, will eventually lead us to the point of our destruction. And it usually is not until we nearly reach that point that we are finally able to realize just how destructive our dependency, our yearning, really is. Only then, if we are lucky or blessed or both (for unfortunately, many are unable to stop before reaching the point of their destruction and continue helplessly, fatally on), can we find the strength to separate ourselves from that which is destroying us and begin on a path to recovery.

But I guess that’s how life goes, and how it has always gone throughout the desperate ages — if we do not somehow find a way to come to peace with our satiated yearnings, our unrequited desires, they will most likely be the sad and desperate songs we sing until we finally, and at last, are placed within our cold and lonely graves.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read
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In Honor of the End of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy

An offering from POEMS FROM THE RIVER, a collection of my poetry that will soon be released.

~~~~

We War

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.
The decayed and degraded state
of moral and patriotic feeling
which thinks that nothing is worth war
is much worse.

The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight,
nothing which is more important than his own personal safety,
is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free
unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

~ John Stuart Mills

We war, don’t we
We warriors
We worriers for the world

You, Red Death Warrior
You mobilized
You sanitized
Purified to perform ancient rights of battles
And to stake patriot claims of fragile freedom
In hearts alien, hearts eternal,
Hearts ignorant of all you know

You know
You know

You know, noble warrior,
While you wander through the heaven of Hell
Raking the shit scattered pieces
Of bitter and broken promises
Into neat, heaping piles made ready
For the devil’s dusty full bin,
I, Warrior of The Forgotten Peace
Arming my chair of flaccid command
Long for the glory fight that I never had
The fight I will never know
The fight you will never forget

You know
You know

~~~~

I would like to congratulate and thank all who courageously sacrificed their identities, and in some cases, their lives, in order to proudly and honorably serve their nation while Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was national policy.

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September 20, 2011

September 20, 2011, will be a historic day for our country, and a special day for me.

It will be historic because the United States’s discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy will finally be put to rest.

And it will be special to me because I hope to release my novel THE SEA TRIALS OF AN UNFORTUNATE SAILOR on that day in honor of the historic event.

But, like the cup half empty kind of guy that I am, I won’t believe either will happen until I actually see them happening…

But I’m hopeful it will all come true.

I can hardly believe that DADT is finally coming to end because it has been a powerful presence in my life since my decision in 1994 to work outside my career field of telecommunications, and outside of my comfort zone, to become a navy Equal Opportunity Advisor. My duties as an EOA required me to become thoroughly familiar with the DADT policy and to facilitate seminars and focus groups regarding it at navy commands throughout the Western Pacific. A key element of my training was not to just remind sailors that they could not ask about someone’s sexual orientation, but also to make it very clear since it had become an issue in the military that, just because their values or stereotypes or perceptions or prejudgments motivates them to do so, doesn’t mean they can harass or abuse or murder someone who they perceive has a sexual orientation that is contrary to their beliefs. I use the word “perceive” because rarely do homosexuals violate DADT policy by telling others, especially others hostile to their lifestyle, about their sexual orientation. Consequently then, the most likely way a homophobic person can be motivated to act upon his or her (mostly his) homophobic tendency to want to harass or abuse or murder is by perceiving a service member to be a homosexual based upon the perceived homosexual’s behavior or personal characteristics. Facilitating the discussion of such a sensitive, and often combative, nature for three years was very challenging, yet very rewarding for me.

If I can hardly believe that DADT is finally coming to an end, I can only wonder how one feels who loves his or her country so much that he or she was willing to join the military knowing that the DADT policy required him or her to suppress his or her identity and sexual orientation in order to serve. (Normally, because I am a man and because I choose a male identity for myself (It’s a gender thing, you wouldn’t understand…probably.), I would not bother with all the “he or she” and “his or her” distraction; I would simply just write “he” or “his,” just as I would expect a female writer to just write “she” or “shis,” I mean, “sher,” I mean, “her,” but I feel in this situation, it is important for me to highlight and reiterate the fact, in an effort to remind everyone, that both men and women have chosen to make this enormous sacrifice for their country. Talk about Patriots. All you heterosexuals out there go ahead and try imagining what it would be like to not only not be allowed to tell others who you love, but also to not be allowed to completely express your love to the person whom you do love. Hard to imagine, isn’t it, since it’s our privilege to not have imagine such an absurd way of life?

And I can hardly believe that my novel is finally going to be released because it, too, has been a powerful presence in my life for nearly as long as DADT has been. Consequently, I find it hard to believe that in a few short days I will finally be able to call the project complete.

And I also can hardly believe that my novel is going to be released on September 20, 2011, since it is only a few short days away and, because of a few issues I am contending with, I still have yet to complete the publication review process with the publishing service I am using. So, at this point, September 20, 2011, is more like a target release date than a set release date. But we’ll see.

Regardless of whether my novel is actually published on September 20, 2011, or not, the date will always be special to me since it was DADT, or more specifically, since it was all the harassment and abuse and even murder that was inflicted on so many service members because of DADT, that provided the unfortunate impetus for why I wrote the novel to begin with.

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Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

I joined the navy in 1983, which means that I served for about ten years when it was illegal for homosexuals to enter the military.

Even though it was illegal, I think it is safe to assume that there still were homosexuals serving during that time; but back then since I was young and singularly focused on doing all those things that sailors have always been renowned for doing…you know what I’m talking about: a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum and all that other fun stuff (wink)…I did not pay the issue of homosexuals in the military much mind.  And as far as I can remember, neither did any of the sailors I hung out with back then.

Thinking back, I remember working with several individuals during the first ten years of my enlistment who were assumed to be gay, but it was no big deal.  It was no big deal to me, to my friends, or to the command where we all worked.  The assumed homosexuals came to work and did their job the best they could, just like everyone else and that was pretty much it.

The only time when  my group of friends and I did talk about homosexuals in regard to their homosexuality was probably when we were making juvenile fun of what we saw as their eccentricities.

I am sorry about that.  I guess I could try to excuse  my behavior back then on the fact that I was young and a victim of a cultural socialization process that bent toward homophobia.  However, while my opinions and attitudes have evolved since then, unfortunately, I am still not completely guilt-free when it comes to occasionally behaving in a juvenile manner, even though I know that this type of “harmless” behavior may be enabling someone elses more aggressive, dangerous behavior.

Evolution is a slow process.

Still, as far as I can tell, for the first half of my navy career, most sailors really didn’t pay the issue of homosexuals in the military hardly any mind.

That all changed under President Clinton’s watch, however.  Once he made allowing homosexuals to serve in the military an issue, it became an issue for all service members — a big one.

Prior to Clinton’s presidency, I have no recollection whatsoever of there being any open hostility or harassment towards homosexuals in the military.  I am in no way saying that there wasn’t any open hostility or harassment towards homosexuals for the first ten years of my career, I’m only saying that if there was, it did not leave an impression on my internal google, for I cannot pull up any recollections; nor has it left an impression on the external google, for I cannot pull up any major stories or websites profiling open hostility or harassment towards homosexuals in the military prior to President Clinton making it an issue.  (My definition for major is at least a story or a website that makes it on the first page of google’s search results. If I have to dig deeper than that then to me it must not have been a major event. I know, that’s a weak rationale for a lazy research method but it’s what I’m going with.)

But it seems that once homosexuals in the military became a national issue, folks of all over the country began to take notice, especially the closet homophobes.

Soon afterward, open hostility, harassment, and even assaults towards homosexuals began making the news.

Presidential candidate Bill Clinton made allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military an issue throughout his 1990-1991 presidential campaign.

This sailor was stomped to death in October 1992.

President Clinton issued Defense Directive 1304.26 which became known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in December 1993.

This college student was pistol whipped and tortured to death in October 1998.

This soldier was beat to death with a baseball bat in July 1999.

And now, with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and with the nation’s attention focused more than ever on the issue of homosexuals in the military, we may wonder if there will be additional hostility, harassment, and assaults toward homosexuals.

I am afraid we may already have our answer.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama made allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military an issue throughout his 2007-2008 presidential campaign.

Democrats began ramping up their efforts to repeal the ban in Congress in March 2009.

This sailor was gunned down and burned in July 2009.

This civilian was beaten by two marines in July 2010.

Maybe it’s a stretch to try to link these deaths and beatings to the fact that the nation is focusing on the issue of homosexuals serving in the military, maybe it’s not.  Regardless, we all should hope for the best when the repeal is finally lifted sometime this year and homosexuals are allowed to openly serve.  But while we are hoping for the best, we should also remain vigilante to the possibility that the risks toward our newly liberated brothers and sisters in arms may significantly increase as the nation continues to focus on this issue for the foreseeable future.