W. Somerset Maugham’s short story ‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard’’ was published in The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands in 1921 (available from Replica Books). The story is principally about two young men from Chicago, Bateman Hunter and Edward Barnard, who have been friends since their college days. They are in love with the same woman, a Chicago socialite named Isabel Longstaffe. For reasons of business, Edward travels to the South Sea island of Tahiti. He is expected to return in two years and marry Isabel. But after a while, Edward discovers that he likes living on the island, and he has no plans to return. Bateman travels to Tahiti and tries to persuade Edward, whom he believes to be wasting his life, to return to Chicago. But Edward, who has discovered a new set of values in Tahiti, refuses to change his mind. He plans to marry a Tahitian girl and spend the rest of his life in this tropical paradise.
Thematically, ‘‘The Fall of Edward Barnard’’ deals with a clash of cultures between East and West. Maugham uses much irony to ensure that the East, where life is lived closer to nature, is seen in a better light than the materialistic West, as represented by Bateman and Isabel. The story also presents ideas about the role the social and cultural environment plays in shaping human character, and it illustrates Maugham’s dislike of conventional morality.