Rain is probably the best short story written by Somerset Maugham – in its length and characterization it is more like a novella but of course it conforms to Maugham’s formula for a story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end.
The story’s popularity has sustained over the years as it has been made into movies and plays. Sadie’s role of a prostitute out to have a good time has been portrayed on-screen by Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Rita Hayworth. The short story has often been selected for anthologies and is prescribed reading material for students attempting to master modern English literature.
The adventure begins off on simple terms. A ship headed to Apia is stranded near Pago Pago as a Cholera epidemic is suspected and a quarantine enforced to prevent an outbreak. Most of the travellers are ordinary folks headed on business and personal trips.
Our attention is drawn to two couples who are travelling First Class and feel that they are a cut above socially than the remaining junta. Robert Macphail is a good-natured doctor who prefers to take things quietly and not poke his nose in other people’s affairs. His wife tends to follow his lead. However the Davidsons are altogether different fish – they are missionaries who are on their way back to their work – and they are vociferous in their views about the morals and habits of the local folks.
Drama is surely in the making when the presence of Sadie Thompson is detected by the couple. Sadie occupies the lower floor of their common accommodation and is seen to be socially active and boisterous. Her evening parties are raucous and she entertains many men to much merriment. Without getting into specifics it dawns on Reverend Davidson that Sadie is immoral and leading a life of sin.
His initial attempts to make her mend her ways lead to derision and dismissal on part of Sadie. This provokes a ferocity in Rev. Davidson that is masked by his missionary zeal. He employs all his will and schemes to organize for Sadie to be sent back to San Francisco where it is indicated that she at large from Law and likely to face a prison sentence.
Sadie is at her wit’s end and seems resigned to her fate of having to board her ship to San Francisco when it arrives in about a week’s time. She has a change of heart and decides to mend her ways. In fact she takes a sharp u-turn towards spiritualism and Rev.Davidson willingly takes on the role of her mentor.
The situation seems to be well under control and the Davidsons are a self-satisfied lot. Dr.Macphail is a bit skeptical and puzzled by the turn of events. He even has a premonition of something evil in the making though he cannot quite put his finger on it.
Things pass on uneasily as Rev. Davidson is found to spend days at a stretch with Sadie in his bid to reform her. Outward appearance seem to show that he is succeeding in his cause. Sadie is so remorseful and submissive and she has accepted the need for her to be sentenced to prison.
The cloistered environment of the island and the boarding house is reinforced by the relentless rain that pours throughout the day. It seems to echo the message that there is simply no escape from what is ‘pre-ordained’ and nature must take its course.
And it indeed turns out to be precisely that – on the night before Sadie is to leave she seduces Rev. Davidson who succumbs to human frailties. Shocked at his fall from grace he commits suicide. Dr. Macphail provides an amazing insight when he breaks the news of Davidson’s suicide to his wife – instantly she knows what has led to it. The guilty knowledge betrays the murky past that Davidsons must have had before they turned to their current path of waging a war against sin.
Not to leave anything vague and hanging in the reader’s mind, Maugham throws it in our faces when Mrs. Davidson confronts Sadie about the tragedy. Sadie spits on her face and Mrs. Davidson beats a hurried retreat. Dr. Macphail confronts Sadie to know what is happening and she retorts, “You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”. Suddenly things are as clear as rain in the mind of Dr. Macphail and the average reader. Indeed a sardonic classic tale by a writer whom many critics chose to call a cynic.