W. Somerset Maugham • “P&O”
There are six tasks — D.1 through D.6 — in this unit about W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “P&O,” which debuted in 1926. Each of the tasks is explained on this webpage.
Begin <W. Somerset Maugham • “P&O”> on Monday, July 15th, 2019. Complete the six tasks in the unit no later than 11:00 pm Eastern on Monday, July 22nd, 2019. Late work will receive a grade of zero.
Read Maugham’s “P&O”
Can Be Done Concurrently with Task D.2
For Week Four, the penultimate week of our Literature and Humanities course, we’re focusing on humanistic aspects of William Somerset Maugham’s “P&O,” which is the second of six short stories in The Casuarina Tree, a collection that the exceptionally popular literary author published in 1926. Born in France to English parents — his father worked as a lawyer for the British embassy in Paris — Maugham became orphaned relatively early in life. From that point, he was raised by his father’s brother, an Episcopal (Church of England) priest, in coastal southeastern England. Prior to his parents’ deaths, Maugham spoke mainly French. In fact, he displayed considerable facility with languages; and certain of his dictional (i.e. word) choices in “P&O” suggest that he had at least a passing acquaintance with Gaeilge, Ireland’s indigenous language.
“P&O” and the other five tales in The Casuarina Tree center on the British expatriate community — the colonists — in a zone within the early-twentieth-century British Empire called the Federated Malay States (or F.M.S.). With the development of the automobile as a mass-market product, international demand for natural rubber exploded. The King of Belgium, Leopold II (who reigned from 1865 to 1909), had in his personal possession the prime rubber-producing region of Africa: the Congo. U.S. corporations controlled much of the production in northern South America, another zone capable of growing rubber trees. Eager not to be excluded, the British Empire and British companies sought to develop British colonial lands on the Malay peninsula into commercial rubber plantations. Thus, they consolidated four of the native states there into the F.M.S., which ultimately became part of the present-day independent nation of Malaysia, a constitutional monarchy with an elected king (or queen). Another of the Malay peninsula’s natural resources, tin, was also of value to the British.
Maugham traveled extensively in the Orient, and his interactions with British colonists in the F.M.S. over five months in 1921 became the basis for the half-dozen short stories in The Casuarina Tree. The collection’s title refers to an oriental tree whose roots stabilize soil that might otherwise erode. Maugham saw this phenomenon as a metaphor for positive aspects of the British presence in the F.M.S.; however, he could also be critical of that colonial project. Maugham acknowledged that his setting was “little known to the majority of readers,” and he articulated as his goal the interrogation of “the reactions upon the white man of his sojourn in an alien land,” especially his “contact with peoples of another race.”
For the first task of Week Four — Task D.1 — read W. Somerset Maugham’s “P&O.” Here it is: Maugham’s short story “P&O” as a PDF. (The link opens in a new tab.) The last few pages of the PDF contain a very brief biography of Maugham. While I highly recommend that you read the biography, doing so is optional. An attentive reading of the story is mandatory, however.
Take an Answer-as-You-Read Quiz over “P&O”
Can Be Done Concurrently with Task D.1
When students in a literature course engage in reading an assigned text, they sometimes wonder about what aspects of that text are most relevant to the learning outcomes for the course. An excellent way to prevent anxiety on that score is to take an Answer-as-You-Read quiz, and that’s precisely what’s mandated as Task D.2. In effect, the 33 straightforward questions in this quiz guide your reading of W. Somerset Maugham’s “P&O.” The first question highlights material from the incipit (i.e. start) of the story, and the final question deals with content from the concluding phase of the text. Some of the questions are fairly long, but only because they seek to instruct you in information relevant to understanding the text and its contexts. Think of the quiz as a form of lecture peppered with simple questions. Now and again, you’ll have to do a bit of external research, but any facts being sought will prove easy to find online.
In essence, “P&O” is the story of a sea voyage on an “old” passenger vessel belonging to the P&O shipping company, which provided a considerable quantity of the British Empire’s non-military maritime infrastructure. One of the tale’s leading protagonists, a middle-aged man named Gallagher, is Irish. (The author, Maugham, was a French-born Englishman, but some biographers claim that the Maugham family had Irish ancestry.) The vessel sails from the Malay peninsula, with Europe (perhaps London) being its ultimate destination. For Gallagher, the voyage is essential to his returning to his native County Galway, Ireland, after a decades-long career in the East, latterly as the manager of an “up-country” (i.e. remote) rubber plantation in the Federated Malay States (F.M.S.). He has retired from the rubber industry and now seeks a new, leisured life. Also traveling is Mrs. Hamlyn, who has just left her husband, an English silk-merchant in an oriental city, because he wants to live with another woman without facing the social shame that would come with a divorce from his wife. Fairly soon into the voyage, on the Indian Ocean, Gallagher becomes ill, and his condition proves hard to diagnose and challenging to cure.
The quiz consists of 32 questions worth 0.3 of a point each and one question worth 0.4 of a point. The total point-yield for the quiz is, thus, 10 points. Those 10 points constitute half of the 20 Quiz Points available for Week Four. The remaining Quiz Points for Week Four come from Task D.4, which is based on your listening to and absorbing content from a podcast.
The reading quiz — Task D.2 — is posted on our course Folio page. Although Week Four doesn’t begin until 8:00 am on Monday, July 15th, 2019, the quiz is available from 8:00 am on Thursday, July 11th, 2019. As with all test material for Week Four, Task D.2 remains live on our course Folio page until 11:00 pm on Monday, July 22nd, 2019; after that, it closes.
This open-book quiz is not time-limited. In other words, there is no limit on how long you can take to complete it. However, the quiz is “live” and available to take only until 11:00 pm Eastern on Monday, July 22nd, 2019. After that hour, it closes.
Listen to a Podcast
Can Be Done Concurrently with Task D.4
For readers in 1926, exposure to an Irish protagonist (Gallagher) leaving a rubber plantation would, almost inevitably, have brought to mind one of the most celebrated humanitarians of the early twentieth century: Sir Roger Casement. Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1864 (the year before William Butler Yeats’s birth in the same city), Casement gained famed — and a knighthood; the title of “Sir” — as a result of his exposing to the general public extreme human-rights violations in the employment of native laborers on rubber plantations, both in the Belgian Congo (i.e. King Leopold II’s lands in the Congo region of central Africa) and in the Amazon region of Perú in South America. One can draw a simple “Irishman-Rubber” parallel between the real-life Casement’s engagement with rubber while working for the British Government’s diplomatic service as a consul in the Congo and Perú and Gallagher’s engagement with rubber while working for an unidentified agri-industrial corporation as a plantation manager in the Federated Malay States (F.M.S.).
As we conclude the tasks for Week Four, we will use our Week Four Lecture/Exam Notes — and our 30-point Week Four closed-book Exam over those notes — to more closely knit together Roger Casement and Gallagher. However, a critical first step is to learn more about Casement. Vast amounts of data are available, but for our purposes in this compressed summer term a simple and effective strategy is to listen to a 40-minute podcast, produced by Ireland’s public broadcaster, Raidió Teilifís Éireann (R.T.É.), and first broadcast in March 2016. The podcast is available here: R.T.É. webpage containing the podcast entitled Roger Casement’s “Apocalypse Now”: Africa and 1916. (Link opens in a new tab.) As you’ll learn early in the podcast: Having concluded his humanitarian work in Africa and South America, Casement devoted himself to physical-force Irish nationalism. Among other endeavors, he ran guns from Germany to Ireland for the arming of Irish rebels. His capture by the British authorities on Good Friday (April 21st) 1916 led to his trial for high treason and — on August 3rd, 1916 — his execution to become the last of the “Sixteen Dead Men” of the Easter 1916 Rising.
Task D.4 is a straightforward “open-book” comprehension quiz (without time limits) about the Roger Casement-focused podcast. You may find it time-effective to attempt that quiz while listening to the podcast — i.e. while prosecuting Task D.3.
Take a Comprehension Quiz about the Podcast
Can Be Done Concurrently with Task D.3
To help you get more out of the Roger Casement-focused podcast detailed in Task D.3 (above), you need to take a quiz over the podcast’s content. That quiz is Task D.4 for Week 4, and it will be available on our course Folio Page no later than 11:00 pm Eastern on Saturday, July 13th, 2019. It’s “open book” in nature and not time-limited. The questions in the quiz follow the order in which the podcast presents its material; thus, you can attempt it while listening to the podcast. The total point-yield for the quiz is 10 points. Those 10 points constitute half of the 20 Quiz Points available for Week Four. As explained above, the remaining Quiz Points for Week Four come from Task D.2, which is based on your reading of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1926 short story “P&O.”
As with all test material for Week Four, Task D.4 remains live on our course Folio page until 11:00 pm on Monday, July 22nd, 2019; after that, it closes.
The quiz is not time-limited. In other words, there is no limit on how long you can take to complete it. However, the quiz is “live” and available to take only until 11:00 pm Eastern on Monday, July 22nd, 2019. After that hour, it closes.
Study the Week Four Lecture/Exam Notes
As we have no live class sessions, either in-person or virtual — and as we have no recorded lectures — we’re relying on illustrated notes to convey much of the essential lecture content for this course. As has been the pattern throughout the semester, we consolidate the major analytical pieces for each Week of the course in a set of Week-specific Lecture/Exam Notes. Please find here a PDF with the Week Four Lecture/Exam Notes. Studying the document attentively constitutes Task D.6, which is your penultimate work obligation for Week Four.
Take the Exam about “P&O”
Having thoroughly studied the Week Four Lecture/Exam Notes about W. Somerset Maugham’s “P&O” (see Task D.5), you need to go to the course Folio page and take a multiple-choice exam about its contents. The exam becomes available no later than 11:00 pm on Tuesday, July 16th, 2019. The exam is time-limited; in other words, you must complete it within a certain (generous) length of time. In addition, the exam is closed-book. In other words, you are on your honor not to use any outside material, including (but by no means limited to): (1) the Lecture/Exam notes provided in task D.5; and (2) the full text of “P&O” provided in Task D.1. Your instructor has no way to check if a student cheats by violating the closed-book requirement. Simply put: The university expects you to observe its Honor Code (link opens in a new window). Ultimately, if you cheat, that must be between you and your conscience.