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by W. Somerset Maugham
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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614

Hypocrisy of War

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Maugham reveals the hypocrisy of governments that recruit young men to fight wars for the honor and glory of their country. Sydney explains how Englishmen initially believed that “every sacrifice was worth it.” At the end of the war, they were convinced that those who died did not do so in vain. Men “who were broken and shattered . . . were buoyed up by the thought that if they’d given everything they’d given it in a great cause.”

Yet, Sydney insists, these men were “the dupes of the incompetent fools who ruled the nations.” They were, he concludes, “sacrificed to their vanity, their greed, and their stupidity.” He worries that “they’ll muddle us all into another war,” and declares that if they do, he will go out into the streets and yell, “it’s all bunk what they’re saying to you, about honour and patriotism and glory, bunk, bunk, bunk.” Maugham shows how these men have been abandoned by their government and stripped of their glory, as they struggle to endure the physical and economic hardships as a result of the war. Sydney must endure his blindness and his total dependence on his family. After his celebrated service in the British navy, Collie has been left no options other than to try to make his small business succeed. When it fails, he sees no recourse for himself except suicide.

Class Consciousness

The rigid British class system in this era restricted the lives of the upper and lower classes. Men and women who married beneath their class brought shame to their families and tensions to their marriages. Gwen accurately captures the conventional attitude toward such arrangements when she notes, “It’s always a mistake to marry out of one’s own class. It’s never a success.” Ethel’s marriage to the drunken, philandering Howard proves her point. When she married a tenant farmer, she embarrassed her family who have watched her “grow old and tired and hopeless.” And her husband, who has grown tired of always looking up to his wife, now looks elsewhere for a bit of “fun.”


The rigid class system, coupled with an endemic sexism, severely limits the options for women in the play. Howard reflects the traditional attitude when he declares, “no place like home, and home’s a woman’s place.” Eva is trapped in her home, relegated to the traditional role of caretaker as she devotes long hours attending to Sydney. Her only hope for escape, as is the case for all of the women in the play, is through marriage. When all of her avenues for escape are cut off after Collie’s suicide, Eva’s mind cracks. Ironically, sexist attitudes also ruin Collie when he refuses Eva’s offer of help because he cannot accept money from a woman.

Lois is not forced into marriage in order to escape the limiting life in the country, yet the only other option available for her is to accept Wilfred’s invitation to run off to London with him. Facing the reality of life for aging women, she agrees to this arrangement because she does not love Wilfred. If he leaves her for a younger woman, she will not be heartbroken.

Gwen’s life will be destroyed when Lois runs off with Wilfred, for as she recognizes, she is “too old to be left alone.” She, like Ethel, accepts her husband’s philandering because she has no other choice. At fifty, Gwen is too old to find a new husband, and so she must do everything she can to try to hold on to him, including humiliating herself by begging assistance from others.


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