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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The major character of the novel, Philip, spends most of his life in two places, which become the dominant settings for the book. From the time he becomes aware of the world around him until his adolescence, Philip is found in Blackstable and its neighboring town of Tercanbury. Even after he goes abroad to study, he keeps coming beck to Blackstable during the holidays and whenever he feels the need for a change.
In the process of establishing his identity, Philip visits London twice and spends the major part of his mature years in that city. Returning back from Heidelberg, he goes to London to become a clerk in the company of Chartered Accountants. When he realizes he has no aptitude for accounting, he returns to Blackstable. However, after leading the life of an artist for a few years in Paris, he resolves to establish a career in medicine and is admitted as a student to St. Luke's hospital in London.
Heidelberg and Paris have an importance in the novel, especially Paris. Philip leaves for Paris to study art and learns to appreciate the beauty of nature as well. Although he experiences the joys of freedom in Paris, he also becomes aware of his responsibilities. Paris, thus, helps him to explore and find himself.
The novel is set at two contrasting levels: bondage versus freedom. Philip's childhood years and his life in London are the years when he is in bondage. At Blackstable, he is bound by the customs and traditions of Catholic society. At Tercanbury, he is bound by his handicap to his surroundings and further restricted by love. In London, he is also in bondage to love, which restricts his progress in life.
Philip, in an attempt to free himself, escapes to Heidelberg and Paris. These two cities provide him the joys of freedom and allow him to discover himself. Maugham, thus, presents his protagonist in two different settings: the places of bondage and the places of freedom.