The Outstation Background

The Outstation Background

The Outstation” is a short story published by Somerset Maugham as part of his 1926 collection The Casuarina Tree. “The Outstation” is, like the others, a self-contained narrative that unifies the book by virtue of presenting a narrative of what like was like for British citizens during the peak of colonialism in the Far East.

“The Outstation” fits comfortably within the collection’s theme through its tale of a jungle outpost on Borneo and the conflict which arises between the only two white men to be seen for miles. George Warburton at first seems like a the stereotypical out-of-touch Oxford graduate slumming it far away from home who is intent on preserving even the most ridiculous in appropriate conventions of British life back home. In fact, he turns out to be quite an efficient administrator who nevertheless clashes with a young subordinate from a lower economic class.

What is especially interesting about this peek at colonialism and class snobbery among the natives is that the conflict between the two Englishmen takes a violent turn at the hand of a native servant, from whom the subordinate has withheld wages due. It is the British Warburton who intuited the likely outcome of this decision. Even more fascinating is that the real meat of the story is the decision by Warburton not to become an active agent in preventing the course of events he can clearly see coming.

“The Outstation” thus winds up becoming one of the most bitterly corrosive allegorical fictions about the true nature of British colonialism being all about preserving the English way of life for as long as possible more than it is was about anything ese.

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