Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Rain” is told primarily from the point of view of Macphail, an intelligent and modest man to whom the world of the Samoan Islands is entirely unfamiliar. Thus, the reader shares with Macphail the sense of newness, of exoticism of setting and climate so central to the story’s effectiveness. Macphail’s viewpoint controls the reader’s perceptions in other ways as well, particularly as concerns the relationship between Sadie and Davidson: Because Macphail is basically an agnostic, willing to live and let live, he serves as an obvious foil to Davidson, and the reader comes to share with Macphail an impatience with the missionary’s religious authoritarianism. Like Macphail, the reader ignores hints of what is going on between Davidson and Sadie until the end of the story when, with Macphail, the reader must reinterpret past events in the light of Davidson’s suicide. This masterful use of a limited point of view ensures that the surprise ending delivers a strong perceptual shock.

Maugham’s prose is famous for its directness, its urbanity, and its polish. Like much of his fiction, “Rain” is written with a minimum of ornamentation, concentrating almost unflinchingly on the narrative line. Maugham thought of himself primarily as a storyteller rather than as a literary artist, but “Rain” belies such modesty. Not only is it a highly entertaining morality play about temptation, sin, and salvation, but also, at its best, it is an incisive and even allegorical critique of the white man’s colonial impulse.