Part of the meaning of The Razor’s Edge is found in the passage from the Katha Upanishad (c.1000 B.C.) from which Maugham drew his title: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over: thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” Larry seeks answers, but the Eastern text from which Maugham derives his title clearly indicates that answers are not easy to find.
The Razor’s Edge is concerned with the conflict between one’s quest for material things and one’s quest for an understanding of the self, of the universe, and of the relationship of the self to the universe. On the one hand is Larry, an exile from the materialistic Chicago society in which he was reared. On the other are people such as Isabel, Gray, and Elliot, people who will leave the world little of worth when they take their leave of it, but people who, in society’s eyes, live well.
Maugham, who puts himself into the book as the narrator, understands the superficiality of most lives. His book at times seems to undertake a quest for meaning, while at other times it seems to be little more than quite delicious and tantalizing gossip about people who in a later age would be classified with the jet set.
Maugham’s novel was one of the first significant modern novels to focus on a dropout in society, Larry Darrell, whose quest leads him to seek non-Western solutions to his encompassing questions. The Beat generation that...
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