Apart from the disparate attitudes represented by Neilson and Red, the story underlines the prominent place that irony plays in human life—a theme that Maugham emphasizes in many of his works. The crowning irony is that the sensitive European, who loved in vain, is telling the story of a beautiful love affair to the very man who cast the love aside. Further, Sally and Red do not even really notice each other after the lapse of years, even though they once were intensely in love, which compounds the sadness and the sense of fruitlessness and despair that assails Neilson. This profoundly romantic man had been overpowered by his notion of idyllic love, personified in the romance between Sally and Red. But, his attempt to live in such a delightful atmosphere fails; and his sense of loss only suffers the more from his discovery that the man he has envied so many years is now fat, repellent, and coarse—so far away from the beautiful, graceful young man whom Sally had adored.
Perhaps Maugham's own experiences in the tropics caused him to develop an unsentimental attitude about romantic love, at least as it was found during his generation. Maugham seems to suggest that, while Red's callous disregard for the girl who loved him so deeply is reprehensible, Neilson's frustrated attempt to achieve a reciprocal love with her is inevitably bound to fail and cause him grief. Neilson may, in a way, have been trying to re-create the sort of romantic liaison that Sally...
(The entire section is 346 words.)