Of Human Bondage: Metaphor Analysis

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Life as Collective Crucifixion
Each new generation looks for its truth to correct the errors of the past. Philip is a seeker after truth and changes his philosophy constantly, looking for some final wisdom about life. A new philosophy, however, does not guarantee that humans have left their ignorance behind. They just call it something else. Philip suffers in his youth at the end of the repressive Victorian period from the narrow beliefs and stifling lifestyle at the rectory and at school. He is constantly held back from life and what interests him by the social norms in the 1880s. Religion is held over his head as a threat. When he escapes to Germany to finish his schooling, he is free for the first time to discover various points of view and modern thinking on religion and art. The 1890s feel more liberated. Hayward tells Philip about the beauty of great poetry. Philip is excited to throw out the old religion he had been taught by his uncle as the truth and embrace the aesthetic views of Hayward—that beauty is the measure of truth. The feeling of liberation is short-lived. He becomes disillusioned when Hayward visits prostitutes, proving that humans do not outgrow but perpetuate their ignorant cycles. People seem bent on crucifying themselves, generation after generation, though they dress it in different clothes, adding more pain, instead of lessening it: “They [the young] must discover for themselves that all they have read and all they have been told are lies, lies, lies; and each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life. The strange thing is that each one who has gone through the bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously by the power within him stronger than himself” (Chpt. XXIX, p. 130).
Love as a Parasite
 
Philip loved his mother passionately. She was beautiful and refined and loving. She is the measure of woman for him. He is attracted to nourishing women when a boy. As an adult, however, Philip is astonished to find love so bitter; it destroys his interest in everything. He had been waiting for this experience to fulfill his life, envying the love of Lawson and Ruth Chalice, for instance. He wants to be overwhelmed with the romance of sexual love. Instead, when he falls for Mildred, love strikes him like a disaster. He can find no comfort in beauty or books anymore. He is bored by Mildred but restless without her. She awakens his sexual appetite, but does not satisfy it. She is cruel and unaffectionate. She uses his desire to trap him and keep him hooked. His life is eaten up, as though he had been attacked by a disease. It is appropriate that he describes love to be like a parasite, for he is a medical student at this time, but he knows no cure for such pain. “Love was like a parasite in his heart, nourishing a hateful existence on his life’s blood; it absorbed his existence so intensely that he could take pleasure in nothing else” (Chpt. LXII, p. 326). Maugham thus shows the other side, the dark side of love that takes away life. The ways in which love can be a canker is the main theme of the book, only cured at the end by the example of the Athelny family whose love is natural and healthy.
A Person as a Closed Bud
After Philip meets a number of young men, who at first seem brilliant to him, he begins to see they do not have the final answers any more than he does. With Cronshaw as a mentor, he learns he must find his own answers. He reads everything he can find. He has experiences and relationships, each of which tell him some new truth about life. When he meets Hayward again after many years, he sees he has never gone beyond his first investigation of life. Hayward had absorbed ideas as a whole cloth from books and never modified them. Philip, on the other hand, has learned to think for himself, and he keeps learning. He describes an organic process of individual growth to Hayward: “You see, it seems to me, one’s like a closed bud, and most of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there” (Chpt. LXVII, p. 350). The narrator makes a point of singling out characters who grow and learn, such as Philip, Norah Nesbitt, and Athelny, and those who don’t, such as Mildred, Hayward, and Philip’s uncle, the vicar.

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