Maugham, William Somerset - British Colonialism in Maugham´s Stories

Pre-University Paper, 2000

12 Pages, Grade: 13 Points

Free online reading

1. Introduction: The author´s life & his attitude towards writing

“ In my twenties the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was competent, and now in my sixties they say I am superficial. ” (Maugham: "The Summing Up", p. 37).

This is a summary by W. Somerset Maugham himself of what critics had said about him throughout his life. And it could be true although the adjectives that are used - like “brutal”, “flippant”, “cynical”, “competent” and “superficial” - doesn´t seem to belong to the characterization of one and the same man. But Maugham had always been a very contratictory personality, no matter whether he talked about the motive of the author or the purpose of telling a story. On the one hand he despised men who write a book because they want to make money but on the other hand he claimed that autho rs have to release what the market demands because of their financial situation. He also kept on saying that his purpose of writing is purely for the entertainment of the reader and that his stories are not to compare with the real life. He stated that he didn´t want to criticize or even comment on the people or the set in his stories because by doing that the art will be destroyed. Anyhow, later he praised an author called Rudyard Kipling who is famous for expressing his criticism in his stories (Green: "Listen to your Maugham").

But what was it that made W. Somerset Maugham become a writer whose stories are queer and unusual but at the same time realistic and fascinating? I think it was the interest in people of different cultures as his travels around the whole world show and probably his gift to observe: “ Most people cannot see anything, but I can see what is in front of my nose with extreme clearness;(...) ” ("W(illiam) Somerset Maugham", p. 1).

His childhood was not as extraordinary as most of his stories. He was born in Paris in 1874 as the youngest of six children of the solicitor to the British embassy. His parents died when he was ten years old and from then on he lived with his uncle who was a clergyman. After gratuating from King´s School in Canterbury he went as a student to Heidelberg and participated philosophy, history and literacy lectures. Later he decided to study medicine and qualified as a doctor in London but he had never practiced. With his successful first novel “Lisa of Lambeth”, published in 1897 his amazing career started. Novels, playwrites and short stories followed and made him be the “ highest paid author in the world in the 1930s. ” ("W(illiam) Somerset Maugham", p.1). During World War I Somerset Maugham worked as a secret agent and later became a Companion of Honor before he settled at the French Riviere and started his travels throughout Asia and Europe. Aged 91, he died in 1965 (Maugham: "Collected short stories, Vol. 2").

During his journeys through the British Empire he got a lot of impressions of what life is like in the British colonies and he used it to write most of his animating short stories. In the following part I will try to explain what “colonialism” is and what it meant to the affected people by giving you the historical background and allowing you to take a look inside the colonies through the eyes of William Somerset Maugham.

2. Main part: Colonialism


What really is “colonialism”? According to the Data Becker lexicon colonialism is the expression for the expansionist policy in less developed territories since the middle of the 16th century that was persued for the purpose of economical exploitation ("Das große Lexikon: Kolonialismus”). But if you want to study colonization from the historical side you will find out that you can go back further in the history than only to 1500 AD. One of the first colonies ever was Karthago which was founded by the Phoenicians in 800 BC and also the Greeks had early colonies at the Aegean Sea and in South Italy. Much later new colonies were founded by Spain and Portugal based on the discovery of unknown countries like Brazil or South Asia. Only in the 17th century Central European countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands became colonial powers followed by Germany, Russia and Japan in the 19th century ("Das große Lexikon: Kolonisation"). Fortunately the mania of conquering more and more countries began to decline at the wake of the 19th century which led to the decolonization of many nations.

2.1.1. British colonialism Before 1815

Great Britain is known as the most forceful colonial power in the 19th century whose colonies could be found all over the world. But it has not always been like that. Till the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 Spanish possessions in America, for example, were much more important with regard to their wealth and population (Fieldhouse: "Kolonialreiche...", p. 50). Of course, Britain also had its colonies overseas. In 1655 Oliver Cromwell captured Jamaica and dur ing the 17th and 18th century British people settled in thirteen colonized states of the American east coast. The first settlers are known as the Pilgrim Fathers who came to America for a free practising of religion because they had been persecuted at home. Other people followed to escape the poverty in Britain and to try their luck in the goldmines of Virginia (Hill: "British economic and...", p. 127). In all you can say that the American colonies were taken mainly for settlement - just as the ones in Australia, which were founded by Captain Cook during his voyage of exploration (1769 - 71) - but also for the exportation of raw materials like timber from Massachusetts. In 1776, after the war, America declared its independence and Britain lost some of the early colonized territories. But after all they also gained new colonies like Bengal in 1757 which became “ (...)the first extensive British-ruled territory in India. ” (Trevelyan: "A shortened history...", p. 397). Another important colony was Gibraltar which was the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea for Britain. New laws, like the Navigation Laws in 1651 which said that “ (...)all goods shipped from any country to Britain or to British colonies must be carried in vessels which are British or colonial or belonged to the country concerned,(...) ” (Hill: "British economic and...", p. 128), were passed after the discovery of making money through trade. Trade was the most common reason for the capture of new territories in the early times. Mostly it was the trade of things like food or raw materials but unfortunately it was also the trade of human beings - slaves. The slave trade by the English started in the 16th century and continued growing till it was abolished in 1833 throughout the British Empire. It is unbelievable that in the 1770s about 100. 000 Africans were exported every year and the profits went to respected and rich merchants in England (Hill: "British economic and...", p. 59).

In conclution, the characteristic of the British colonial empire in the early years was the extension of the Motherland. All the colonies used the same political system as Britain and the inhabitants became British citizens. But after the loss of the thirteen American colonies, after the capture of India, and especially during or after the new share out of the colonies between the beginning of the Seven Years War and the Conference of Vienna in 1815, the British Empire became bigger and the variety of the colonies concerning the places as well the political systems brought up problems for Britain as you will see in the next chapter. After 1815

In the 19th century “ (...)the vast and ever-increasing Empire of white, brown, and black communities, presented diverse and complicated problems, each one recurring in a new guise every few years under the stimulus that modern economic conditions give to social and political change. ” (Trevelyan: "A shortened history...", p. 14)

Colonies from Canada to Gibraltar, British India, protected states like Malaya, protectorates in Africa and of course the United Kingdom itself - they all belonged to the British Empire of the 19th century. Some of them were self- or half self- governing states and others were completely governed by Britain. The disunity led to the demand of the colonies fo r independency and the United Kingdom wasn´t even very disinclined to the idea because the defence and the external affairs of the colonies increased the taxes that the British citizens had to pay. This shows one of the most important differences between the colonial policy before 1815 and afterwards. The colonies were no longer meaningful as sources of money but their significance lay in the demonstration of prestige (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth..., p. 22/23). Anyhow, in the 1870s the mood of the people changed. The heretofore quite critical thought of the Empire changed to a positive one. The interest for foreign countries aroused by the explorers led to the “ (...)missionary concern for backward peoples(...) ” (Hill: "British economic and...", p. 135). Another reason for the sudden change of the public mood were writers that supported the idea of imperialism. One of them was Rudyard Kipling who glorified the imperial reliability in his publications. But no matter how the English folk was thinking, some of the colonies still demanded their self- governing and the British government had to find a peaceful and for both sides acceptable solution. This is how the idea of the Commonwealth started. Finally, in 1926 the phrase The British Commonwealth of Nations was introduced at the Balfour declaration. To define that new expression was problematic because it was ambiguous. At times it was used for the whole area which was called British Empire before but for some people it included only the self- governing territories (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth..., p. 12) which I think is the better definition because the Commonwealth was simply an economical union of independent countries like India, the Federation of Malaya, Nigeria, and others which had once been part of the British Empire. But it did not mean that all the former colonies were members of the Commonwealth but some, for example the Republic of Ireland and Burma, withdrew when they received their independence. The decision whether the countries retained their status as a colony or became independent mostly hinged on their colonial meaning for Britain. On the one hand colonies that were captured for settlement in the early years often became independent members of the Commonwealth but on the other hand annexed territories for the expansion of power weren´t released. Nevertheless, at the apex in 1933 the British Commonwealth of Nations covered more than 31, 6 million square kilometres which is equivalent to 23, 8% of the earth´s surface that was inhabited by almost ¼ of the world´s population (Fieldhouse: "Kolonialreiche...", p. 215). But after World War II Britain was no longer the leading power of the world and during the post-war years it lost most of its remaining colonies overseas - the last British colo ny that was handed over on June 30th 1997 after 156 years under British rule was Hong Kong.

South East Asian history As a colony

The history of South East Asia is not easy to describe because each of the islands you can see on the map above has its own history. In some points it matches - they´ve all been colonies, for example - but in other points it doesn´t - most, but not all have been colonized by Britain.

It was during the 16th century when Europeans, mainly from Spain or Portugal, first arrived in South East Asia. Their motives were to control the spice trade as well as to use the ports for international trade in general. The influence on the natives wasn´t of a bad character then. It was limited to intermarrige within the Portuguese and the natives which led to the adoption of Portuguese words into the native language (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 109).

In 1641 the Portuguese had to leave Malaysia in favour of the Dutch who ruled the country until the British occupied Malacca in 1795. But the Dutchmen still came back in 1814 to annex the territory. Finally, in 1824 Malaysia was ceded to Britain together with Singapore which was “(...) built by Sir Stamford Raffles on an uninhabited island,(...) ” (Hill:"British economic and...", p. 136). From there on, Britain enjoyed absolute priority in South East Asia based on its possessions in Indonesia (Java, 1800), British New Guinea and the British protectorate in Brunei - both of them were captured in1888 - and of course the colonies of Malaysia and Singapore. Only the Philippines were not occupied by the British but by the Spanish and later, as from 1898, by the Americans. While Singapore was developing favourably, the education level of the other territories was low (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 84). With the Japanese victory over Russia in 1904 the attitude of the Asian people towards the dominating white race changed (Trevelyan:"A shortened history...", p. 509). Educated Asians became hostile and anti-colonialism organisations were founded all over the continent. But the revolts didn´t show any success and with the beginning of the 20th century only the Philippines were autonomous since they declared their independence from the United States in 1899.

Whether independent or not, during World War II the whole countries of South East Asia were captured by Japan. With the end of the war, Indonesia and the Philippines became independent, Brunei and New Guinea achieved internal self-governing. The other states - Singapore and Malaysia - returned under British rule ("Das große Lexikon: Singapur, Malaysia, Neuguinea, Brunei, Philippinen, Indonesian”). After receiving partly internal autonomy in 1955, Singapore became independent in 1963. Malaysia obtained independence in 1957 afte r the guerilla warfare. According to Bianco´s "Das moderne Asien", the reason for the British opposition to an earlier release of Malaysia was the importance of the colony for the sea route to Australia (p.163).

The next chapter will demonstrate the recent developement of South East Asia where colonisation has lasted for centuries. After the independence

After such a long time of being ruled by other countries, receiving complete independence created serious problems for the newly formed governments. A lot of people may have thought that all their political and economical problems were caused by the British but they had to find out that independence alone was not a solution.

In search of an appropriate form of government the countries of South East Asia tried various forms that failed. An apparatus of state that offered decentralisation as well as respect for the cultural and administrative self-employment of the minorities was needed (Bianco:"Das moderne Asien", p. 285). The countries also had to change their economy which till then had mainly been used for the kind of production and export that supported Britain´s prosperity. Now the economy should contribute to the well-being of the nations and their inhabitants. But despite all these problems the former colonized countries developed well.

Malaysia, for example, is today´s largest producer of rubber, palm oil and pepper which is used all over the world. And Brunei that only became independent in 1984 is the homecountry of the world´s richest man - the Sultan of Brunei who owns an estimated amount of US$ 100 billion. The wealth of this country whose workers receive the highest salaries in the whole Asia is led back to the huge oilfields in this region ("Das große Lexikon: Brunei”). But the country that developed faster and better than others is Singapore. The city state is the leading nation in South East Asia with regard to the service and industrial sector and it is also seen as the most important trading centre. “ From rags to riches(...) ”, this is how the web-article “Singapore” (p. 4) describes the country; and it is true. Thirty years ago, most of the population were illiterate and now its infrastructure is outstanding in Asia which helped to lower the rate of illiteracy to 10% ("Das große Lexikon: Singapur”). The per capita which is now US$ 33, 600 is a twenty one - fold increase regarding the per capita 25 years ago ("Singapore", p. 2). Some years ago Singapore was voted “The best city for business” which is a worthy title for the towering nation. To complete the history of South East Asia after the independence I also have to present some of the political actions that took place during that time. In 1965 Singapore separated from the Federated Malaya States because of race problems between the Chinese and the Malaysians. And in 1967 Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand founded the Association of South East Asian Nations which was joined by Brunei in 1984.


Inspired by his far travels throughout the Empire W. Somerset Maugham started writing short stories which were mainly set in the British colonies at a time when colonialism has not yet been abolished. He described the situation of the British colonels that were working in the offices as well as the life of the planters that had emigrated from Europe and their living together with the natives. If you read his stories you´ll have the belief that he has experienced all the things that he is writing about, and he has even stated once that experience is the basis of a good story although he withdrew the statement later by saying that imagination is the most important feature of a storyteller (Green:"Listen to your Maugham...", p. 7). I think that the second declaration is more appropriate regarding Maugham´s way of writing because he mostly wrote about the common man who was obviously very much unlike him. According to Green´s article (Green:"Listen to your Maugham...", p. 7) Maugham “ (...)was always armed with letters of introduction and stayed with local governors and bureaucrats. His journeys through Asia were conducted by rented boat or on the backs of elephants, while the common man carried his baggage on his shoulders. ”

2.2.1. Englishmen Their everyday life

This chapter introduces you to the English people that lived and worked in the colonies. Of course, not all of them were alike - for instance, they had various reasons for emigrating to the East and the jobs they practised there were different from each other - so I cannot make a generalized statement but I´ll try to give you an insight in people´s life for you to understand their situation.

Roughly you can divide the European colonials in Asia at the beginning of the 20th century into two different groups. Group number one contained people whose families originally came to South East Asia after the Napoleonic Wars when over- population and unemployment dominated Britain (Trevelyan:"A shortened history...",

p. 465). Most of these people were agricultural labourers and their descendants that we´ll meet in Maugham´s stories carried on this tradition. In the beginning their population was too small to create an English society in the foreign country which explains the close tie between the English people that have already been born in Asia and the country itself. Guy, the main figure in Maugham´s "The Force Of Circumstance" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2) who is not just a simple planter but an office worker is dedicated to the country and he´s even going further by stating: “ England ´ s a foreign land to me. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 43). His home is Sembulu where he has been born and where his father had worked for thirty years. Guy speaks the native language as well as English which was not seldom then. People like him loved the free life in the unconventional East. But also men that I would count to the second group that stands for new immigrants who came to Asia recently to acquire reputation (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 31) got to know the advantage of living outside Britain although they may not forget their English manners and education. One of them is the colonel Warburton (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, "The Outstation" ). He´s a snobbish English gentleman that wears suit for dinner every evening (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 345) despite the tropical climate and reads the Daily Times for breakfast although he gets it with a delay of six weeks. But he likes the country and the Malays whose language he learnt to speak without accent. His reason for coming to the East was simple and common: “ When a man of his set had run through his money, he went out to the colonies. ”

(Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 344). However, I think that he´s a rare example. Most migrants who came for financial reasons couldn´t wait till the time of their retirement reached so that they could go back home. The rubber-planter Mr Gallagher (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, "P & O") is happy to be on his way home to Ireland and needn´t come back to the Federated Malaya States where he had lived a lonely life far away from civilization. For the 25 years he had worked and made money in South East Asia he has never stopped making plans for his life in Ireland after retiring (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 89). As you can see the colonials were different but nevertheless, in one way or the other, they resembled each other and differentiated themselves from the natives. In "P & O" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4) Maugham shows the difference between Europeans and natives very well: “ The car raced on, driven by a reckless Malay, with its white passengers, past Malay houses that stood away from the road among the coconut trees, sequestered and taciturn, and through busy villages where the market-place was crowded with dark-skinned little people in gay sarongs. Then towards evening it reached the trim, modern town, with its clubs and its golf links, its well-ordered rest-house, its white people, and its railway-station from which the two men could take the train to Singapore. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 99).

The natives lived their simple life in villages with small houses and the English inhabited the modern towns. This developement forged ahead fast when the number of English colonials increased at the end of the 19th century and the consequence was the formation of an English society. After work the people met in clubs to play bridge or they went to play tennis which were typical English leisure activities. At the end of this chapter I have to tell you an important aspect that you should always have in mind while reading this essay. In his stories Maugham describes the situation before World War II when the colonials were almost cut off from England. That changed alot with the invention of the steamship and the aviation. Now England was, so to speak, around the corner and the migrants were more influenced by their home country. Their behaviour towards the natives

“ If the ignorant, selfish, and irresponsible ways of the white men with the native were any longer to be continued, civilization was heading fast for disaster. ” (Trevelyan:"A shortened history...", p. 444). This quotation will give you an idea of the way the English treated the natives. But that doesn´t mean that all the natives were beaten and maltreated but especially the women were able to improve their life standard with the help of the white men. The bad treatment mostly was not physically but psychologically. Natives, both women and men, were made dependent on the English so that they could be used to the Englishmen´s advantage. In Maugham´s stories the relationship between white men and native women is well described. The living together of an Englishman with a native woman can be found in almost every of Maugham´s stories and it also has a long historical tradition. When the first Europeans came to Asia it was impossibe for them to take their wives along because of the risk and danger of such a journey, so they took natives as wives or at least mistresses (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 30). In "The Force Of Circumstance" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2), Guy´s staying together with a native woman has led to three half-caste kids but when he went home he still got married to an English woman and sent his Malay family out of the house. He has never loved the native girl and he doesn´t even have any positive feelings for his own children (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 56). The English didn´t feel guilty by treating the women like that but they were even thinking that they helped them. Indeed, they did help them in a way. When the women were sent away they were given money and maybe a house in their village so that they didn´t have to work again in their life. The English also provided for their half-caste children and made it possible for them to receive a good education and later get employed in the administration. But how brutal they determined the life of the women and how less they cared about them can be seen in the following statement made by an Englishman in "The Force Of Circumstance": “ (...)if you don ´ t like her you send her away. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 54). The white men didn´t take the nati ves as individual human beings but as things that they can make use of and then throw away when they´re not needed again. The only exception I´ve found in Maugham´s stories is Goeffrey Hammond in "The Letter" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4). He seems to prefer a Chinese woman - “ (...)the only woman who really meant anything to him(...) ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 337) - to an English. In comparison, the situation of the native men was not much better. Most of them worked as servants in the white men´s houses and they were - just like the women - vulnerable to their masters´ arbitrariness (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 342).

In "The Outstation" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4) Maugham describes two different types of colonels: Cooper who treats the natives like slaves and Warburton who feels sympathy for the Malays. Cooper, on the one side, really is a bad guy who blackmails his houseboy by not giving him his salary so that this one will continue working in his house despite the bad conditions. On the other side, Warburton who knows the right way to treat the natives, is proud that the Malays - in his eyes they are more admirable gentlemen than the English - trust him and see him as a friend (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 346). Although he´s always polite and kind to them he still shows his superiority: “ (...)I make a point of having a proper dinner served to me every night. It keeps the cook in practice and it ´ s good discipline for the boys. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 341). I think that the English behaved like that to maintain their respect. Probably they were afraid that the natives would overcome them if they didn´t show their power and make them remain obsequious.

2.2.2. Natives Their life

The so called “natives” in South East Asia are people of various races like the Malays, the Chinese, the dark-skinned Tamils, the Bengalis and the Japanese. When the Europeans came to the country the lumped all of them together and used the word “natives” for them, ignoring that the character and the culture of these folks weren´t the same. There was an order of rank in between the different races - “ (...)fairer-skinned people were the rulers and the darker-skinned the slaves. ”

(Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 29) - even before the Europeans interfered and when they meddled in this order it caused trouble. The English soon found out that the Chinese people seemed to be more intelligent and hard working so they got a privileged status although the Malays claimed a special position as the first settlers. Maugham mentioned this issue in "P & O" when he describes the Malays as “ (...)natives of the soil(...) ” and the Chinese as “ (...)supple, alert, and industrious(...) ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 86). In W. Somerset Maugham´s stories one finds mostly Malays as houseboys and servants but Chinese men as clerks and cooks. While the Malays are described as obedient but passionate and revengeful when one provocates them (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 361) it is said of the Chinese that they are sharper and more clever. It is important to know that the natives were poor - the families even sold their daughters to the Englishmen to get some money (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 54) - and mostly illiterate because the education level was very low. To earn money they had to work in the houses or on the fields of the white men although the working conditions were bad (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 82). I think Maugham embellished the situation of the servants in his stories. In "The Force Of Circumstance" the duties of the Malay houseboys are to carry water (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 50), to serve food for their master or to keep the house in order. They do their work in such a patient and relaxed way that you get the impression they are just helping Guy because they like him and not that it is there job or that they are forced to do it. The only story that describes the hard life of the servants is "The Outstation" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4) where Cooper wants his houseboy to do all the work alone after the other servants have run away because of bad treatment. But in the same story the opposite is shown, too. The servants of colonel Warburton are not afraid of their master - once he has even saved one of the boys life (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 353) - but they obey him almost without argument and they rarely say their own opinion. In general, you can say that the Malay servants were able to live a life free from worries if their employer was understanding and fair. But if such a life satisfied them could be questioned.

In the opposite, the Chinese clerk that works in the office of the lawyer Mr Joyce (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, "The Letter") is well educated and has a great influence on his chief as I will show you in the next chapter. Their attitude towards the Englishmen

In "The Letter" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4) Maugham describes the Chinese people as outwardly friendly but deceitful inwards. The Chinese clerk who works for Mr Joyce seems to be loyal and helpful but if you take a close look you´ll find out that he´s doing everything to his own favour. He´s telling his employer about the existence of a letter that will incriminate his client who is supposed to be innocent (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 317). The only way for the lawyer to prevent the publication of the letter is to get hold of it and to do so he has to pay an enormous amount of money to the owner of the letter, a chinese woman (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 328). Probably the clerk will receive his own rake-off for making the connection. This story shows the cohesion of the Chinese people and their mental superiority over the English. Because of their loyalty and solitarity to each other they had a great advantage over other ethnic groups in Asia. Maybe this is the explanation for the better education and the higher life standard of the Chinese. After all the clerk speaks fluent English - the Malays probably understand the foreign language but they don´t speak it - and he´s dressed in the local fashion wearing a diamond ring and golden accessories. Anyhow, not only the Chinese but also the Malays revolted against the English by blackmailing them. The Malay woman who has once been his mistress forces Guy in "The Force Of Circumstance" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2) to pay her money so that she will not tell his English wife about the former relationship to her and the kids they have together (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 55). These are examples for what Maugham called restive behaviour against the British rule (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, Preface) which was not very common at the time he wrote his stories. The fact that at this time most natives respected the English and didn´t do them anything bad has a simple explanation. In the beginning of British rule and settlement the natives probably feared the white men or even took them for gods because of their power and their knowledge which must have been very impressing for the backwarded native people. But later they “ (...)began to know more of the world across the mountains and the seas, whence the English and others came, and to understand that the phenomenon of white rule was a fact of history and science, not a sending of heaven. ” (Trevelyan:"A shortened history...", p. 508). In brief, you can say that at first the natives were obedient and compliant. They endured and tolerated the English as their rulers. But after becoming familiar to the Englishmen´s customs and rules they found cunning and provitable ways to deceive them.

2.2.3. Effects of colonialism British influence on the natives & the colonized country

It is not easy to talk about the effects of British colonialism on Asia because nobody knows how the country would have developed without British i nterference.

Fact is that in 1958, shortly after most of the British colonies had received their independence, the population of the British Commonwealth that had been joined by some of the newly released countries was over six hundred million. Out of this, only one hundred million were English speaking while the people with European origin counted 85 million (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p.15). Even the Christians were a minority in the Commonwealth with a population of 100 million although Christianity was the preferred religion in Central Europe. According to these numbers the influence of the British concerning the language and religion wasn´t too serious. Another reason why the intervention in the native culture didn´t leave a permanent damage is that the Asians had had a high level of culture “ (...)based on the Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Chinese civilizations(...) ” (Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 36) even before the Europeans entered the country. In Maugham´s stories there is also no evidence that the English tried to influence the thinking of the natives neither in the culture nor in their way of life. Of course, they introduced a new political system to the country including the separation of powers and the administrative struc ture (Bianco:"Das moderne Asien", p. 92). In "The Letter" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4) Maugham describes the English lawyer Mr Joyce who works in Singapore and as I found out of the story the legal system there resembles the one in modern Europe which leads to the conclusion that it has been brought in by the Europeans. In Mr Joyce case all the persons involved are English but naturally the European law applied also for the natives as you can see in "The Outstation" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4). At the end of the story, when Mr Cooper has obviously been killed by his Malay servant, Warburton sends for the supposed murderer because “ Justice must be done. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 365) although he might even be satisfied with this incident.

The English also improved the life standard of the population regarding the medical care and the level of education. They provided hospitals and schools which, however, were mainly used by Europeans. In Maugham´s stories there is no indication that the natives went to school to learn English but the opposite is depicted: “ I spoke to them, but they didn ´ t know a word of English. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2: "The Force Of Circumstance" , p. 45).

Another interesting theory about the consequences of British colonialism is mentioned in the article “History of race relations in Malysia”. The author suggests that the most terrible aftereffects of British interference are the racial tensions that last till today between the Chinese and the Indians - that have been privileged by the British - on the one side, and the Malays on the other side ("History of race relations...", p. 12).

I come to the conclusion that South East Asia has certainly been influenced by the British in one way or the other. But the question whether the influence has mainly been of a positive or negative character and if British meddling is still detracting the country´s developement process is difficult to answer. The influence of the natives on the British

You can surely not say that the natives in South East Asia had an important economical or political influence on the British. Although their belonging to Britain helped the motherland to improve its trade policy which effected the country´s economy in a very positive way. But I would call that a passive influence because the natives didn´t do anything but they let everything happen.

The influence of the native people was limited to the cultural sector which included the language and their way of life. As it is shown in Maugham´s stories, most people that had stayed in the colonies for a long time understood and spoke the native language well. Even the women who had come to the East after marrying a colonial tried to learn the language fast to communicate with their native servants. In "The Force Of Circumstance" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2) Doris who lately arrived in the Federated Malay States is studying the Malay language in her free time (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 2, p. 50).

But the Englishmen didn´t only gain practical knowledge like the native tongue but also emotional impressions. “ And little by little he conceived a deep love for the Malays. He interested himself in their habits and customs. He was never tired of listening to their talk. ”

(Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4: "The Outstation", p. 346). Colonel Warburton experienced the kindliness of the natives and changed from a superficial English snob to an understanding ruler that doesn´t look at the colour but at the character of somebody. I think men like him helped alot to reduce the prejudices against coloured people. Although they did not actively fight against racism they contributed to the changes in public attitudes towards foreigners because their meeting with the natives was of a positive nature and this is what they passed on.

In "P & O" (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4) Maugham describes the spiritual habits of the Asian people that upset most Europeans. They were confused whether voodoo is really working and whether the gods of the natives existed. Gallagher is on his way from Malaya to his home country England when he suddenly gets hiccups which he can not stop again. Some passengers on the ship are rumoring that a spell has been casted on him by his Malay mistress which is denied by others that don´t believe in witchcraft. But when Mr Gallagher can not be cured everybody on the ship starts panicking and in the end they even try to safe his life “ (...)by a sacrifice to the strange gods of the East. ” (Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, p. 106). The story shows the disagreement of the English about the existence of native religious power. They were not sure whether things like spells and curses could affect them which made it easy for the natives to influence them. As a long-term effect of the colonization of South East Asia on Britain you can mention the trade relations between the British and the Asians although globalization has led to international exchange of goods. But even shortly after releasing the countries of South East Asia Britain kept on importing especially foodstuff like tropical fruits or spice from its former colony.

3. End: Maugham´s description of colonialism & my own opinion about it

I hope my composition helped you to get an impression of what colonialism is and what it meant to the nations or people involved. It was a matter of concern to give you an idea of how life in the colonies looked like and I chose some of William Somerset Maugham`s stories to explain it to you. You have to know that his stories are not objective which should not be criticised because he has always declared that he did not want to comment on the political situation and therefore influence the reader but his only purpose was to entertain (Green:"Listen to your Maugham...", p.

1). Of course, all the stories show the attitude of the author which I think is not anticolonial. Maugham describes the relationship between the Europeans and the natives as pleasant and satisfactory for both sides. I do not really agree with this because I think oppressed tribes that are forced to adopt foreign rulers and their laws can not be too delighted. In my opinion Maugham conveys a false impression of the British who are depicted as heroes without whom South East Asia wouldn´t have been civilised. One can easily recognize the author´s way of thinking in the preface of "Collected short stories", Vol. 4 where he writes: “ The British gave them justice, provided them with hospitals and schools, and encouraged their industries. ”

(Maugham:"Collected short stories", Vol. 4, Preface). Maugham has always mentioned the great deeds of the colonial rulers but forgot to talk about the bad ones. According to a historical book “ (...)British rule and British capitalists should not be praised for what they had done but should be blamed for what they had not done. ”

(Jennings:"The British Commonwealth...", p. 82). I like this quotation that stands in marked contrast to Maugham´s statement. The British conquered, ruled and exploited the country before releasing it into an uncertain future. The natives who were supposed to rule the country did not have any experience after they had been ruled for such a long time without even having had the right to take part in political decisions in their parliament.

I´ve come to the conclusion that colonialism in general did not help the colonized countries in any way but even aggravated their situation. The colonial powers often destroyed the culture of the native tribes and created a feeling of rivalry which led to tribal wars after the independence. Till today many former colonies have not yet recovered from the disastrous consequences of the colonial time as you will find out by checking the political and financial situation of African or Asian countries. Theoretically they are independent but practically they still depend on the help of their oppressors.

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Maugham, William Somerset - British Colonialism in Maugham´s Stories
Real Centro Universitario Maria Cristina
LK English
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Maugham, William, Somerset, British, Colonialism, Maugham´s, Stories, English
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Kathrin Onyiaorah (Author), 2000, Maugham, William Somerset - British Colonialism in Maugham´s Stories, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 12/9/2003

    Ja servus.


    gut gelungenes Essay wie ich finde. Anbei finde ich aber, dass der britische Kolonialismus ein wenig zu negativ dargestellt wird. Denn Charaktere wie Warburton gab es viele, insbesondere im britisch-indischen Militär aber auch generell in Süd-Ost asiatisch-britischen Administration. Aber Warburton fühlt sich in der Tat in einer erhöhten Position - ob das daher rührt, dass er einfach der "Chef" ist, oder viel mehr durch sein Rassenbewußtsein geschieht, ist dann Auslegungssache.
    Was jetzt noch "der Knüller" gewesen wäre: Ein Ausblick/Vergleich oder was auch immer zum im Moment sehr aktuellen "The Quite American" von Greene. Denn da geht es ja um ähnliche Inhalte.

    Aber auch so in jedem Fall lesenwert, well done. :)

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