Subscribe to Christianity Today

By Melvin D. Hugen & Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Naked and Exposed, Part 1

Near the start of Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage," the nine-year-old Philip Carey enters King's School, Tercanbury, and discovers that it is a house of torment. Philip suffers from talipes (clubfoot), a deformity that fascinates the other boys and turns them into mimics and voyeurs. On his second day at school, Philip is assigned to be "pig in the middle" during recess, a role that calls for him to roam the center of the playground, tagging boys who dash across it. Philip tries miserably to tag some of them, but they are quick and he is clumsy. Worse, after watching Philip struggle, one of his classmates gets the brilliant idea of clumping exaggeratedly across the playground, adopting just the right degree of awkwardness so as to be able both to mock and elude Philip. This spectacle sets off the others. Soon they are all limping and hooting their way past the frightened Philip, dragging one foot and then the other, "screaming in their treble voices" and choking with merriment.

That night in the dormitory, a boy named Singer approaches Philip: "I say," Singer whispers, "let's look at your foot." When Philip refuses, jumping into bed instead and balling up the bedclothes around his legs, Singer calls for another boy, and the two of them pin Philip's arm and twist it. They ask again: "Why don't you show us your foot quietly?" After a third boy appears, adding more pressure, a gasping and horrified Philip finally thrusts his foot out from underneath the covers. The three boys then take their time to inspect it, remarking how "beastly" and "rum" it looks. Singer touches it with the tip of one finger, curiously tracing the outline of the deformity, treating the foot as if it were a thing apart from Philip.

When the headmaster appears, the boys scamper back into their own cubicles, and Philip turns into his pillow, clamping it with his teeth in order to contain his storming soul. Maugham says this: "He was crying not for the pain they had caused him, nor for the humiliation ...

To continue reading

- or -
Free CT Books Newsletter. Sign up today!
Most ReadMost Shared

Seminary/Grad SchoolsCollege Guide