The Happy Man Short Story Analysis

«Life is full of compensations» Somerset Maugham

William Somerset Maugham is one of the best known English writers of the 20th century. William Somerset Maugham (1874-1966), a well-known English novelist, short-story writer, playwright and essayist, was the son of a British diplomat. He was born in 1874 in Paris and educated at King’s School in Canterbury, studied painting in Paris, went to Heidelberg University in Germany and studied to be a doctor at St. Thomas Hospital in England.Although Somerset Maugham did not denounce the contemporary social order, he was critical of the morals, the narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of bourgeois society.

Maugham became internationally celebrated; his plays were performed all over the world. Now independent and well able to enjoy life Maugham began to travel. He traveled a lot and spent long periods in the United States, the South Seas and China. But his favourite country was Spain and a great deal of his works devoted to it. For instance «The Happy man» that was written in 1927.

Somerset Maugham’s style of writing is clear and precise. He does not impose his views on the reader. He puts a question and leaves it to the reader to answer it. When criticizing something he sounds rather amused than otherwise. I’d like to analyze the text, which is entitled “The happy man”. The author is William Somerset Maugham, an English writer. He wrote novels, short stories and plays and most of them had a great commercial success. He is known to have explored many professions including doctor, spy, and playwright.

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There are many biographical details in his stories and characters, for example in the text “The happy man” the narrator and the second main character are the doctors; and the narrator is, at the same time, a writer, because he wrote the book about Spain, and the story itself in some way concerned with the process of travelling. The genre of the story is narration. The theme of the novel is the act of giving advice. At the beginning of the story the author reflected on the subject of life, destiny and the problem of giving advices.He stated that it was dangerous thing to order the life of others. Anyway, the author knew that once he had advised well. One day a stranger visited him, his name was Stephens and he was a doctor. Because of the fact that the narrator wrote a book about Spain, Stephens wanted to figure out information about it, he planned to live there. Stephens told the narrator the story of his life; he wanted to change it and asked the narrator to give him advice. The narrator told him if he did not care of money but was content to earn to keep body and soul together then he could go.Stephens left him and the narrator forgot about that episode. Many years later the narrator was in Seville and had to see a doctor because of some indisposition. The doctor happened to be Stephens. The narrator learnt of outcome of his advice. Stephens thanked him, because he followed the narrator’s advice and was satisfied with his life. The plot structure shows the actions of the characters, presenting events in chronological order. The exposition in the text is the philosophical reflection given in the first paragraph.Inciting incident is the visit of Stephens in order to talk to the narrator. The risking actions, such as development, are the monolog of Stephens about his life, the explanation why he wanted to visit Spain. Climax is the act of giving advice. The falling actions are the event when the narrator went to Seville, the need to see a doctor, because of the narrator’s indisposition, the second meeting of two main characters. The resolution is the process of getting knows the outcome of the act of giving advice, that it was a good outcome, the description of happy Stephens.The denouement is made up of Stephens’s thoughts about his life. Speaking about the main characters, there were two main characters: the narrator and Stephens. The narrator of the story was described indirectly and Stephens – directly and indirectly. The direct description means that the author himself tells us what this or that character is like. The indirect one is when the character is revealed through actions, thoughts, speech and appearance.The narrator was a round and dynamic character, that indicates the idea that his character was complicated and exhibited numerous traits, he seemed like a real man; his dynamics was seen in the structure of the text: in the first paragraph there was stated that giving advice is a dangerous thing, but the whole story showed the positive outcome of the act of it. The narrator, first, was willing to give the advice, he was a little bit careless, but in the introduction he decided that it was a dangerous thing, he changed his views. The narrator was a doctor, but he did not practice. Instead of it he travelled and wrote a book about Spain.I can say that he preferred writing to medicine, he was versatile, liked to try new things and feelings, and he was interested in life. Some time later he did not want to give advices, so he was not eager to take responsibility for other people’ lives; it does not mean that he was a coward; it means that he did not want them to do unchangeable mistakes in their lives. He was observant, because he managed to define each feature of Stephens’s appearance and behavior, each detail of Stephens’s consulting room. He liked to listen to other people stories of their lives, he was not indifferent.He gave a good advice to Stephens, so he was wise enough. He creates the image of the writer. The writer, who likes to travel, because he needs to find new themes for his novels, he is interested in life, that is he is not indifferent and he reflects a lot. Stephens was a dynamic character; he changed by events, by interactions with other characters. As the narrator said Stephens seemed a trifle embarrassed, so Stephens was shy. He dropped his umbrella – he was clumsy and he was not confident. His quick, sharp movements were stand for his being nervous and absent – minded.His apologetic laugh and the way he talked to the narrator (“I hope you don’t mind my coming…”, “I hope you won’t think it very odd for a perfect stranger…”) showed that he was polite. It is interesting that Stephens told the story of his life to a perfect stranger. It makes us thing that he was somewhat careless, or may be was so dissatisfied with his life, he wanted to change it, but could ask for a help only “a perfect stranger”. He used 7 sharp, short sentences in his monolog, 4 of them were negative – it proves the fact that Stephens was very unhappy, he decided that the negative things prevailed in his life.There was repetition in his speech, this repetition made the readers feel the boredom of Stephens’s life. He mentioned only facts, spoke using personal pronoun – it shows Stephens’s self – centrism. These monotonous sounds, expecting of better life, the feeling of boredom illustrated a person who is completely fed up, there were no emotions in his monolog about the life. But when Stephens spoke about Spain, he spoke differently: the sentences were affirmative, impersonal – it signifies that in Spain he tried to find the solution of his loneliness.Stephens compared sunshine with warmth, wine with cheerfulness, colour with interest, emotions, air with freedom – all that let us see how Stephens was despite and how he did not like his life. We should say that Stephens’s dreams were illusive, but still down to earth; they were close to the material world. A contradiction of the nature of Stephens’s dreams signifies the instability in his inner state. Stephens talked differently about his present life and life he hoped to have in Spain, this contrast stands for the suggestion about the instability of his character.As we have mentioned Stephens was a dynamic character, his dynamics is clearly seen through the text. There were 3 stages of Stephens’s development. The first was presented before Stephens decided to visit the doctor; his life was boring and uninteresting. He worked a lot, there were no emotions in his living, and he could not stick it anymore. The second stage was observed in Stephens’s being doubt, hesitated, and at the same time courageous. He was not sure that had decided right about Spain, he was on the edge and that is why he came to the narrator.The last stage was seen when the narrator was in Seville, he met absolutely another Stephens. Stephens who was a happy man, he had an “entirely sympathetic appearance”, he smiled a lot, may be he was not a very qualified doctor (the narrator thought that one might have hesitated to let Stephens remove his appendix, but one could not have imagined a more delightful creature to drink a glass of wine with), but he was a good companion, he became an extravert and he was in harmony with surroundings. So to sum it up, Stephens creates the image of a dreamer.A dreamer is a person, who gets an illusive idea of happiness, it is not material, it is life in harmony. Now let’s pass over to the style of the text. It is complicated and emotional. Firstly, neutral, formal and literary words prevail in the text, for example: “to surmise”, “to errand”, “to dissipate”, “trifling indisposition”, “to perceive”. They are used mostly by the narrator, and it shows that he was educated. Secondly, a few stylistic devices can be found in the text, such as epithets, simile, metaphor, irony, parallel constructions which are used in order to attract more attention to the story.The epithet, represented by adjective, characterizes an object, some of the properties or features of the object and displays the writer’s emotional attitude. For example: “a perfect stranger”, “a bullet – shaped head”, “a bacchanalian smile”. The epithets create more colourful description of Stephens’s appearance. Simile characterizes one object by bringing it into contact with another object belonging to an entirely different class of things: “as though he knew a good bottle of wine…”; “he had somewhat the look of a young Silenus”. These examples stand for the fact that Stephens has changed in Spain, he became cheerful and merry.Metaphor based on the principle of identification of two objects, it is transference of some quality from one object to another: “the look of a young Silenus”. Moreover, the author uses metaphors in the narrator’s speech: “a prisoner in the solitary tower”, “the dark cloak of Destiny”. Parallel constructions presented in Stephens’s speech: “I was brought…I’ve never been…I’ve never done…I’ve been…I have…” – they create a monotonous tone of Stephens’s speech; “there’s sunshine there, and there’s good wine, and there’s colour, and there’s air you can breathe” – they create atmosphere of Spain, it is some kind of wonderful place.Irony produces a humorous effect. It is based on contrary concepts, on the simultaneous realization of two logical meanings, but they stand in opposition to each other. For instance, the narrator uses irony in Stephens’s behavior during their first meeting: “He seemed a trifle embarrassed. I offered him a cigarette and he had some difficulty in lighting it without letting go off his hat. When he had a satisfactory achieved this feat I asked him if I should not put it on a chair for him.He quickly did this and while doing it dropped his umbrella”; then when the narrator met him in Seville: “You might have hesitated to let him remove you appendix, but you could not have imagined a more delightful creature to drink a glass of wine with”. The stylistic devices make the text more expressive and vivid. Additionally, the third element of the style is syntax. It is complicated. The author through the narrator’s speech reflected on the subject of life, destiny and giving advices and because the paragraph was a philosophical one he used composite sentences, they show complicatedness of the author’s thoughts.We found simple sentences in Stephens’s monolog – they have simple, uninteresting ideas of his life; 4 of sentences are negative, they mean denying of the facts. The main idea of the story can be expressed like this: giving advice is dangerous, because people are different, they have their own individuality, if your advice is a bad one, it may cause disharmony between Destiny and Life, and the result of this conflict is unhappiness, if the advice is good, then everything is visa versa (a good advice creates harmony, Destiny finds the correct realization in Life and this composition brings happiness).All concepts, such as Destiny, Life, Harmony, Happiness, Unhappiness, Giving advice, are interconnected and interrelated. Stephens came to the narrator for a piece of advice, he was unhappy, he decided to change his life. The narrator did not care much of the dilemma if his advice would be a good one or not. He did not think that it might change Stephens’s life, and that could cause disharmony between Destiny and Life.Fortunately, the story has a happy end, because the narrator’s advice was good, Stephens changed Life, but Destiny found right realization in it, it brought Harmony, which caused Stephens become happy. In my opinion, it is an interesting story, as all the stories of Maugham are. The author’s style is exact, economical and expressive. Maugham knew how to keep readers’ attention. It was interesting to read how one man decided to change all his life, give up a good safe job for his dream. While reading I was glad that Stephens went to Seville and became happy there.Moreover, this story made me think that one who gives advice should know the person and the situation very well before doing it, because everyone needs an individual care. If your advice won’t be a success then a bad outcome will be yours mistake, so you should feel responsibility of the fact that you may change one’s life. Precisely, I enjoyed reading this story. Realistic portrayal of life, keen character observation, and interesting plots coupled with beautiful, expressive language, simple and lucid style, place Somerset Maugham on a level with the greatest English writers of the 20th century

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The Happy Man Short Story Analysis. (2018, Jun 08). Retrieved from

The Happy Man Short Story Analysis
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