Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Setting is central to the effectiveness of “Rain.” Probably the most famous of W. Somerset Maugham’s numerous tales set in the tropics, “Rain,” like others of its kind, is an exploration of what happens when East meets West in a tropical setting. The clash between Pacific and European cultures informs every aspect of “Rain,” and for each Anglo-Saxon character, the tropics represent some different and alien reality. The Davidsons see the South Seas as a vast pagan chaos waiting to be colonized and Christianized. For Sadie Thompson, the islands represent an escape, a place to begin life anew, far away from the repression exercised by Davidson and his kind. Even the even-tempered Macphail is affected by the strange world of the tropics: Appalled by the squalor and disease of Pago-Pago, he is driven to distraction by the unremitting rain. Much like “The Letter” and “The Outstation,” two of Maugham’s other South Seas tales, “Rain” is a study of the bizarre behavior that results when a European temperament must face prolonged exposure to tropical climates and customs.
“Rain” is also a bitter indictment of intolerance, both political and religious. The Davidsons are self-righteous and authoritarian, accomplished destroyers of Samoan culture. Mrs. Davidson is a cold and prudish woman to whom even European-style dancing is immoral, and it is little wonder that Davidson seeks sexual satisfaction from a prostitute. Davidson himself is...
(The entire section is 308 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Rain Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The colonial theme is prominent in numerous stories and novels by Maugham, who sought in his travels to find eccentric and interesting colonials to serve as models for fiction. Usually such characters seek to retain and advance English standards and mores while living in lands far different from their homeland. In "Rain" Maugham demonstrates that the efforts made by colonial settlers have brought significant disadvantages to people living in the South Pacific. Mrs. Davidson emphasizes to the skeptical Dr. Macphail that Mr. Davidson had great difficulty bringing a sense of sin and guilt to South Sea islanders. A related theme concerns the inability of Europeans to retain their cultural values in an exotic setting. By presenting the clergyman as a rigid extremist on sexual morality, Maugham prepares the reader for his lapse. For readers this outcome represents high irony, not without comic overtones. But for Mr. Davidson the fall is so devastating that suicide seems his only recourse.
(The entire section is 158 words.)