Critical Context

The Razor’s Edge, completed when its author was seventy years old, was the first book in which Maugham used an American cast of characters. The book is in many ways a product of Paris in the 1920’s, when many Americans who had experienced World War I at first hand were forced to reconsider their basic philosophical orientation and fled the United States to go to Paris, where they hoped to find themselves.

More important, perhaps, the book was one of the first to deal with the kinds of problems that reached a crisis point in the 1960’s as a result of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam and the social dislocation that went along with that period. Maugham understood well the conflict between material and spiritual quest, and in pursuing this conflict in The Razor’s Edge, he anticipated the concerns of books such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums (1958). Perhaps he also sensed that an upcoming generation was going to revolt against the materialistic orientation that the Great Depression had imposed upon many people.

As a Bildungsroman, The Razor’s Edge is in a class with Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe (1904-1912), Roger Martin du Gard’s Jean Barois (1913), J. D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye (1951), and Hermann Hesse’s Demian (1919) and Siddhartha (1922). (Maugham’s Larry Darrell, however, is a bit...

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