Task: What are our first impressions of the Davidsons from the opening pages of Rain by W. Somerset Maugham. Rain, by W. Somerset Maugham. If you were to type this information, these few words into a search engine on the internet, one such as ‘Goggle’, you would find a huge amount of information. This may not be surprising to some people, due to the huge amount of advertising that this technology has received.
However, the mass array of information that would come up; is around three thousand nine hundred web sites, all about Somerset Maugham, and his short story Rain. This gives us an indication about how popular this story was, and, how it is. ‘Rain’ by Somerset Maugham was also turned into an hour and a half movie in 1932; another indication of its popularity. But we have to ask the question, why is this short story, part of a collection of books (sold as The Trembling of a Leaf in 1921, and now as The Collected short stories Volume 1) such a popular story?
The way that Somerset Maugham is so experienced, in writing as well as life, as many know of his exciting and eventful life, of a spy for British Military Intelligence (MI6), a surgeon, working in the Red cross, and much more, is reflected in his writing. The way that Somerset describes medical conditions for example; shows that he has training in Medicine. Also, due to the fact that ‘Rain’ is a short story, everything that is said, in dialogue or in description is there for a reason. The way that W.
Somerset Maugham describes the characters is skilful, because it is done in quite a fast way to save more time for the actual plot, but the reader does not immediately pick up on this while reading the story for pleasure. He also describes characters in a very descriptive fashion, and uses interesting words for dramatic effect. The characters that we are introduced to in the first half of the story are the Doctor and his wife, and two missionaries, Mr and Mrs Davidson. Immediately we are given a picture of the state of their marriage, the attitudes and a physical image of the two characters.
The first image of the attitudes of the Davidson’s is one of closed social interaction, an attitude that we not usually expected from Christians in society. This comes at the second page of the story. ‘”Mrs. Davidson was saying she didn’t know how they’d have got through the journey if it hadn’t been for us,” said Mrs. Macphail, as she neatly brushed out her transformation. “She said we were really the only people on the ship they cared to know. “‘ This shows how snobbish and bigot the Davidson’s are in regard to social class.
The next description in the text that includes the Davidson’s is a description of Mrs. Davidson’s appearance. ‘Mrs. Davidson came and stood beside him. She was dressed in black, and wore round her neck a gold chain, from which dangled a small cross. ‘ This description is very important in the reader’s judgement of Mrs. Davidson. The way that Maugham has dressed her in black is significant because this colour is very serious, boring and sombre. This gives the reader the impression that she is a very boring, and serious woman.
I think the jewellery she wears is very important in our impression of her, although it may not seem important at the first glance. The way that she wears a Gold chain, instead of silver, shows that she likes to have the best and gives us another impression of her snobbery. Also the way that she has a small cross shows that she is subtle with her jewellery. She is also austere with her jewellery and it is very simple and serious. The next description of her also continues our impression of her serious and austere nature. ‘She was a little woman, with brown, dull hair very elaborately arranged,’
The way that she is described as a little woman is interesting, because in text we would imagine a little woman as timid and shy, but yet, we can already tell that she is not any of these things, and the device of her being a little woman shows us that her height is no hindrance on her character. The way her hair is described as being brown, but also dull. Many people have brown hair, and we would not associate brown with the word dull. The word dull here is used to reflect her character, as we would associate a serious woman with dull hair.
‘Elaborately arranged’ would not seem to flow with the description of Mrs. Davidson in our society, but when this story was written, Women put their hair up as a sign of sophistication, if a woman was to leave her hair down, as we see Miss Thompson, a prostitute, do later on in the story; it is a sign of them being unrefined. So the way that Somerset has used this is to show her sophistication. The next to devices are important as they show her alertness, and seriousness again. ‘and she had prominent blue eyes behind invisible pince-nez. ‘
Prominent blue eyes makes us think of alertness, and this makes the reader think that she is very aware. The interesting feature here however is the image of pince-nez, which we know are very serious glasses. This is not the only reason that Somerset Maugham has used these though; the glasses are very stereotypically associated with harsh, strict teachers. So the author has used these to give us the image that Mrs. Davidson is like a strict teacher, and we also get an image of what her teaching style as a missionary to the native people is like.
The next part of Somerset Maugham’s extremely detailed and thought out description of Mrs. Davidson uses similes to put across a final impression of her to the reader. ‘Her face was long, like a sheep’s, but she gave no impression of foolishness, rather of extreme alertness; she had the quick movements of a bird. ‘ The way that she is referred to as a sheep is interesting, because it is an insult towards the character, this would mean that Maugham himself doesn’t like the character and is himself encouraging us to not like the character.
He also uses this as a simile to show how her face is long like a sheep’s, but unlike sheep, who are thought of as being very foolish, she is not, more like a bird. Somerset uses Bird as another simile to show how quick her reactions are and how clever she is, as we know, that birds are very agile animals and are very quick. ‘The most remarkable thing about her was her voice, high, metallic, and without inflection; it fell on the ear with a hard monotony, irritating to the nerves like the pitiless clamour of the pneumatic drill. ‘
This is the last part of the description that we are given of Mrs. Davidson, and therefore Somerset Maugham makes very insulting, strong comments about her. He also uses similes again to create this image. The way that her voice is described, make the reader flinch, as all of these qualities are not appreciated in someone’s voice. Without inflection means that it is almost a monotone. The word irritating is a very strong word, and Somerset Maugham uses this word because he knows that it aggravates the reader, and therefore making the description of Mrs Davidson even more annoying.
The last word in the description is ‘Pneumatic drill’ a very loud, annoying, irritating, drone; and this simile is very strong because it makes the reader think of pneumatic drill, and think how her voice must sound. The way that it is used as the last image of her in this description, makes it ever worse, because this image is then recalled every time that she appears in the story. We are given many images of Mrs. Davidson throughout the story, but an attitude she has, that is mentioned many times, is her racist attitude. ‘”But among white people it’s not quite the same,” she went on,’
This quote is from when the doctor and Mrs. Davidson are talking about marriage customs. The way she talks about white people being different is a very racist attitude I feel. She also has a very snobbish attitude, and at one point she will not even say the word feet. ‘”This is the season for them. When you’re asked to a party at Government House at Apia you’ll notice that all the ladies are given a pillow-slip to put their – their lower extremities in. “‘ This is from when she is talking about mosquitoes and how to cover their feet. The first time that Mr.
Davidson is introduced is in the 6th page of the story. We are told about his views and what he says by his wife, but we are not actually introduced to him until this page. From what Mrs. Davidson talks about him, the reader already has an impression that he is very unsociable, committed to his work, and that he thinks very highly of himself. ‘He had been polite enough to the Macphails during the journey, but he had not his wife’s sociability, and had spent much of his time reading. ‘ This confirms the readers (assumed) impressions of Mr. Davidson.
This quote confirms that he is a very unsociable person, and the way it says that he was ‘polite enough’, hints to the reader that he did not enjoy socialising with the Doctor and his wife. The next few sentences build up to the reader an image of what Mr. Davidson looks like. Somerset Maugham uses very interesting language, and by the end of the few sentences, it is quite repulsive to think of the image of Mr. Davidson. ‘He was a silent, rather sullen man, and you felt that his affability was a duty that he imposed upon himself Christianly; he was by nature reserved and even morose.
‘ Somerset immediately goes into very strong language. It is quite possible that Maugham is using strong language, and sometimes quite repulsive and offensive language towards the Davidsons to create a quite bias view of the reader against them. The word ‘silent’ is used, I think, to make the reader confirm their views about him, that he is a recluse. The word sullen is then used directly afterwards, meaning; to be unwilling to talk or to be sociable. In the first seven words, Somerset Maugham has confirmed the reader’s expectations, and also built upon them.
This is a very important device in the story, because if Maugham did not create images quickly, it would not leave much room for the plot of the story. The next phrase used is interesting, because it gives the reader the hint that Mr. Davidson is really a very cold-hearted man. ‘and you felt that his affability was a duty that he imposed upon himself Christianly; he was by nature reserved and even morose’ By this Somerset Maugham is saying that his attitude, of being nice and kind to people, was fake, and he only adopted these characteristics because he felt he should because of Christian morals.
Then he goes on to say that really he was very reserved, quiet, didn’t like socialising, and really he was ill tempered, unwilling to talk to anyone. This makes the reader think that Mr. Davidson is really a very two faced person, and it makes the reader think also that this is not a typical image of a Christian, especially a missionary. We then get very strange and irregular pattern of information about how Mr. Davidson looks. Somerset Maugham uses very emotive language in his description of Mr Davidson to create a very important image of him. His appearance was singular.
He was very tall and thin, with long limbs loosely jointed; hollow cheeks and curiously high cheek-bones; he had so cadaverous an air that it surprised you to notice how full and sensual were his lips. The first thing that we get here is the word singular. In this context this means that he is odd, and builds even more on this strange image of him. It is also quite interesting because he is so much different than his wife. It is also strange for the reader because they do not expect a missionary to look like this. ‘Tall and thin’ is clever because it builds upon this repulsive image of Mr.
Davidson. The word thin is important here because it is quite a negative term. The word that could have been used is slim, however slim is a compliment and is a nice thing, whereas thin sounds more negative. ‘Hollow cheeks, high cheek-bones’ these two images are opposites. Hollow cheeks are quite a repulsive image, whereas high cheek-bones are desired by many people, and many people choose to pay thousands of pounds to have their faces cut up and sown back together to obtain these. The author then continues with the strange arrangement of phrases with the phrase ‘he had so cadaverous an air’.
The word cadaverous means pale and thin and this does not fit in with the healthy desired image of high cheek-bones. However he continues to write completely opposite images when he writes about Mr. Davidson’s ‘Sensual lips’. This is quite an ugly image when put together and the ‘sensual lips’ image is used at the end of the sentence to make the reader think about the whole thin, hollow, thin and pale image, with deep red sensual lips. This of the lips is very desirable, but the way that he puts it in the context of these pale ugly images, makes this once desirable image, very revolting and unattractive.
The image of Mr. Davidson continues, and Somerset Maugham builds on the disgusting image that he has already built up in the readers mind. He wore his hair very long. His dark eyes, set deep in their sockets, were large and tragic; and his hands with their big, long fingers, were finely shaped; they gave him a look of great strength. The first sentence says that he wore his hair very long. This is another quite odd feature, as most men would have wore their hair very short then, very long hair, on a man gives an impression of scruffiness and it makes him seem as though he doesn’t care much about his appearance.
Dark eyes; this is quite a mysterious image, the way that Maugham doesn’t specify a colour is quite interesting, as many people say, you can tell a person by their eyes, the way that the author doesn’t however gives another impression that he is a very enclosed person. He goes on to say that his eyes were set deep in their sockets, and were large and tragic. This is quite a strange image, again, Maugham uses language of a very attractive image, and a unattractive image in the same sentence. Tragic eyes here is the pleasant image, but eyes deep in their sockets, is unpleasant, especially the word sockets.
An image of large hands with long fingers is then used. This image is quite repulsive as long fingers is usually heard of with the word ‘spindly’, which is a negative word. The last image of Mr Davidson, uses the same device as used in the description of Mrs Davidson; the author gives the reader something to think about while continuing to read the rest of the story. ‘But the most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you of suppressed fire. It was impressive and vaguely troubling. He was not a man with whom any intimacy was possible. ‘
This last image is strange. The text says that he has been holding something in. This is used for the very reason, to make the reader think. We get an impression that he cannot express himself. I think that as a couple, the Davidsons, do not have a healthy marriage, but both of these characters are too head strong to admit this, to themselves or each other, or so we can guess this by the vibe that is given of from the way they react around each other. ‘”It’s early to go to bed yet, isn’t it? ” said the doctor. “We have a good deal of reading to do,” explained Mrs.
Davidson. “Wherever we are, we read a chapter of the Bible before retiring for the night and we study it with the commentaries, you know, and discuss it thoroughly. It’s a wonderful training for the mind. “‘ This shows that the Davidsons seem to rarely be intimate. We also get the impression that Mrs. Davidson herself is quite timid of her husband. ‘”It would be a brave man who tried to stand up against Mr. Davidson,” said his wife, tightening her lips. ‘ The way that Mrs Davidson tightens her lips, I think, makes her sound quite afraid of her husband.
In conclusion, the way that Somerset Maugham can write is amazing, it is no doubt that this story was the base of a feature film. The way that character descriptions are written is very clever, and the use of emotive language, similes, and the use of longing images to keep the character in the readers mind, is a very good use of English. The image of Mrs. Davidson is one of a very judgemental, critical, and snobbish woman. She is very stuck in her ways, and will not change. She is also very serious, and shows this by her clothing and jewellery, and likes to think of herself as sophisticated, and shows this in the way that she styles her hair.
Mr Davidson has an image of a very unsociable, abrupt, ugly, frightening character. The image that Somerset Maugham gives us while describing him is a very thin, pale, unhealthy, ill person with very strange features. As a couple, I think that they do not love each other, but I do feel that Mrs Davidson has respect for her husband. I think that they are too headstrong to admit that their marriage is not working, and would not split up the God binding marriage that they have between each other.