Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
When a measles epidemic temporarily prevents the Davidsons and the Macphails from continuing their journey to Apia, Western Samoa, they find themselves stranded in Pago-Pago. Though the two couples have socialized on shipboard, they are very different: The Davidsons, who have been absent from their medical and religious mission north of Samoa for a year, are religious zealots whose single aim in life is to convert Samoans to Christianity. They are a drab and humorless pair who associate with the Macphails only because the rest of the ship’s passengers seem “fast” by comparison. Though the women find much to talk about, the men share only an association with medicine, for Dr. Macphail is a shy, contemplative man to whom religion means little.
When it is announced that they will be unable to leave the island for at least ten days, the energetic Davidsons take action. Through his influence with the governor, Davidson is able to find them rooms in the establishment of Mr. Horn, a local trader. Mrs. Davidson, with characteristic efficiency, helps the rather ineffectual Macphails settle into the boardinghouse, determined to make the best of things in spite of the bleak environment.
Soon Macphail learns that another of their shipmates will be lodging at Horn’s, a second-class passenger named Sadie Thompson. Sadie, en route to Apia where a job supposedly awaits her, has been judged “fast” by Mrs. Davidson and Mrs. Macphail for dancing with the ship’s quartermaster at the shipboard party the night before the landing at Pago-Pago. Vulgar in appearance and speech, Sadie is a friendly and vivacious sort who seeks, in the ensuing days, to enliven the depressing boardinghouse by giving frequent parties, loud and raucous affairs attended solely by the island’s sailors. One evening the couples’ dinner conversation is interrupted by especially loud noises coming from Sadie’s room on the floor below. As they try to talk over the din, Davidson has a sudden revelation: Sadie, who boarded the ship at Honolulu, must be a denizen of Iwelei, that city’s notorious red-light district, which has only recently been shut down through the efforts of Hawaiian missionaries. Further, she must be plying her trade here in Pago-Pago—just below them in her room at Horn’s.
Over the objections of Macphail, who considers Sadie’s actions none of their business, Davidson insists on storming into her room and trying to break up the party. As his wife and the Macphails listen, Davidson is thrown out of the room by the sailors. After the Davidsons go to their room, the party starts up again, even louder than before.
The arrival of the ship in Pago-Pago has coincided with the beginning of the tropical rainy season, and rain falls almost ceaselessly during the time period covered by the story—torrential, oppressive rain, which depresses the Macphails and greatly adds...
(The entire section is 1183 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Originally titled “Sadie Thompson,” “Rain” was the second story in Maugham’s collection, The Trembling of a Leaf: Stories of the South Sea Islands (1921). Clearly his most famous short story, in 1925 it was turned into a highly successful drama, adapted by John Colton and Clarence Randolph, that ran for 648 performances on Broadway. The story is a finely tuned satire in which Maugham depicts the hypocrisy of conventional morality in devastating terms. He found his material for “Rain” on a trip he took with Gerald Haxton in 1916. The two sailed from San Francisco, first to Hawaii, then, aboard the Sonoma, to Pago Pago in Samoa. Among the passengers on board was a Miss Thompson, a prostitute from Honolulu who had, as it turned out, fled Hawaii after a police raid on the establishment in which she worked. She hoped that she could ply her trade in Western Samoa.
Using Miss Thompson’s actual last name and giving her the first name “Sadie,” Maugham wove an exceptionally well-balanced story involving two couples, Dr. and Mrs. McPhail and the Reverend Mr. and Mrs. Davidson, who became fast friends on a long, transpacific journey. They share a condescending attitude toward their fellow passengers, particularly those not traveling in first class. Dr. McPhail, a medical doctor, is about forty.
When the Sonoma is quarantined in Pago Pago, the McPhails and the Davidsons are housed, with their fellow...
(The entire section is 514 words.)