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The Conflict Between Madness and Rationality in Maugham’s Masterpiece “The Moon and Sixpence”

  ”The Moon and Sixpence” is one of the masterpieces of the British novelist William Somerset Maugham. Somerset Maugham’s short stories are known for deeply analyzing and interpreting the weaknesses of human nature in a calm and objective way. “The Moon and Sixpence” vividly reflects Maugham’s distinctive creative style. “The Moon and Sixpence” depicts a picture of various characters living in British society in the 19th century. It expresses the author’s criticism of the current social situation at that time, his strong call and desire for “human beings”, and reveals the contrast with “nature”. The limitations of “rational” civilization on human nature. This article will start from the perspective of symbolism to deeply interpret and analyze the strong conflict and contradiction between madness and rationality shown in the work.
  1 Concept review: Symbolism Symbolism
  is a genre of literary creation that emerged in France in the mid-19th century. It focuses on describing personal inner feelings with the help of hints, foils and other techniques, and denies empty rhetoric and blunt preaching. It is an innovation of language, style, and literary structure model, aiming to restore the relationship between meaning, emotion and literary form, find new rhetoric and expression methods, explore the deep psychology of the unconscious, and create new literary value [1].
  In “The Moon and Sixpence”, the titles “Moon” and “Sixpence” are the two images that are most rich in symbolism art throughout the whole text. In the annotations of many researchers, they believe that the “moon” is the ideal world and art, and “sixpence” is the real world and secular values. However, the symbolic meanings of “moon” and “sixpence” are actually more universal. They not only symbolize the pursuits between different characters, but also reflect the deep psychology and destiny of different characters. The connection between reality and ideals shown in the work from a symbolic perspective is only superficial. The key is the strong conflict between madness and intelligence caused by different characters pursuing different symbolic bodies.
  2 The symbolic ontology and symbolic background in “The Moon and Sixpence”
  ”The Moon and Sixpence” mainly tells the story of Strickland, a securities broker who suddenly became obsessed with art. He abandoned his wife and children, gave up what others thought was a prosperous and happy life, and went to Tahiti in the South Pacific to pursue the pursuit of art. The story of art. Throughout the text, the author seems to be presenting the reader with the story of a crazy wanderer. The protagonist in the wandering story is wandering and wandering, but at the connotation level of the work, there is always a symbolic image that is full of profound meaning. The philosophical meaning shows the huge tension between human nature’s strong sense of freedom and social constraints and rational suppression. The two specific things in the title, “moon” and “sixpence”, have undoubtedly become the most profound philosophical symbolic entities that form this tension. They expand the symbolic scope throughout the text and shape this work. Unique connotation.
  Strickland in “The Moon and Sixpence” is a character modeled after the French post-Impressionist master Paul Gauguin. It can even be said to be an interpretation of Gauguin’s famous painting “We”. Where did it come from? who are we? Where are we going? ” explanatory work. This painting has a primitive sense of the beginning of chaos in its intuitive expression impact. It is Gauguin’s interpretation of his own life. It bears the imprint of modern civilized people, that is, subject to the constraints and limitations of “rational” culture, he can only At the spiritual level, pursue the human paradise in your own soul [2]. Its theme is highly consistent with the pursuit of “The Moon and Sixpence”, and has profound philosophical and practical significance. Strickland is a character constructed by Maugham that Gauguin desires in his heart. The two are closely related and inseparable. Therefore, it can even be considered that the work “The Moon and Sixpence” is a symbol, an interpretation of Gauguin, and an analysis and exploration of his life of “Where did he come from? Who is he? Where are he going?” , that is, “The Moon and Sixpence” is Gauguin himself, showing a life course of his inner self-explanation. The entire work can also be considered as the epitome of Gauguin, creating a grand and implicit symbolic literary background for the work and adding to the philosophical meaning of the work.
  3 The correspondence between symbolic bodies and characters and their symbolic meanings
  ”The Moon and Sixpence” contains a variety of representative character types in the context of French social changes at that time. The author uses distinctive symbolic techniques to vividly demonstrate the conflict between self-ideal realm and secular rationality. At the level of symbolic imagery, there have been further breakthroughs and innovations in the correspondence between the signifier and the signified.
  First of all, Mrs. Strickland is a decent, hypocritical middle-class woman, and she can also be said to be a shrewd businessman. In the society at that time, she could be called a completely “intelligent” person, and everything she pursued in life was based on secular and rational thinking. Henri Bergson once made this comment on “intelligence”: “Intelligence, first of all, values ​​oneself and not other things.” As far as Mrs. Strickland is concerned, it is reflected in her being a self-interested person. Activists. In her daily life, she also seems to have elegant artistic pursuits and is keen to make friends with writers, painters and other people who are engaged in art. However, this is just a way for her to disguise herself. Her strong vanity makes her disguise herself as a A person who has a pursuit of life. She would rather believe that her husband left her because of his cheating than to believe that Strickland left her for her own ideals. After Strickland became a famous painter, she hung textiles all over the walls, but she felt that She knows nothing about the ideals in the painting and the burst of human freedom… Various examples show that she is not interested in real art at all. After all, the “moon” she pursues is just when she occasionally passes by a pool while picking up sixpence. , just a false “moon” reflected in the pool. Mrs. Strickland judged everything by its worldly value. She is completely integrated into the torrent of rationality in the social background, isolating people’s inner self-desires, and follows the value principles of society to shape herself. She is a product of society, existing in a symbolic society, trying to survive by relying on a symbol or institution. She seems to adapt to society and integrates well into it, but in fact she has lost her self-awareness in the material society. She is The representative of the symbolic social products in the book.
  Secondly, for the character of Stroeve, many readers have felt pity for his bottomless kindness, felt angry about his cowardice, and felt sad about his ending, but in the end they experienced another kind of sublimity. In summary, Stroeve is a mediocre painter and a brilliant connoisseur who pursues “sixpence” while also yearning for the “moon”. He is a man who is limited by reason, but is in a state of self-regression and crazy behavior. Character representative of the “enlightenment” state. Before he met Strickland, he and his wife Blanche lived an ordinary and happy life. Their focus was more on life, and art was just for life. However, after meeting Strickland, his humility, cowardice, and bottomless kindness were all revealed, and he began to transform into a crazy image. He took Strickland in when he had no other choice, and suffered cynicism from him, but he still admired and worshiped Strickland; he was ruined by Strickland, but he still took care of him with all his heart. He did not even complain, but blamed himself… During this transformation from rationality to madness, Stroeve suffered great pain, but when he returned to his “Tahiti”, He finally felt relieved and returned to society and started his life again. All signs indicate that Stroeve also had traces of madness, but it was only a short period of madness, and he eventually returned to what seemed to be normal social life at the time. He understands Strickland’s art, and sympathizes with the paintings in a vague way. He is a great art connoisseur, and he lets go of the lost sixpence because of the moon he sees when he looks up, which is full of tragedy. He represented those people in British society at that time who had a budding awareness of returning to nature, struggled with inner conflicts, and finally returned to reason and society. It implies the author’s sad pity for this kind of people and criticism of their retreat and return to the flood of social rationality, which further highlights the certainty of Strickland’s character and his pursuit.

  Finally, there is the character of Atta in Tahiti. She is just a local aborigine who also lives in the world, but is completely different from Mrs. Strickland. She lives in a society of a different nature. Strickland describes her in the book, “She never interfered with me and provided everything I needed.” She allowed Strickland to spend the most free and enjoyable period of his life on Tahiti. The reason is that Atta lives in the primitive pure land far away from material society [3] that Strickland pursues. He is in nature, and what he symbolizes is what Strickland pursues wholeheartedly. “moon”. On the idealized island of Tahiti, the local people are not dominated and influenced by the age of reason. In their eyes, Strickland is not a crazy existence, he is just “a painter who paints all day long.” A painter who paints but doesn’t know what he is painting.” Strickland was considered crazy, but when he returned or escaped to the world of self-pursuit, the same traits were no longer defined as madness. The author affirms that the environment in Tahiti is very important for humanity to return to nature. and the prominent role of free consciousness.
  4 The opposition between ideal and reality caused by madness and intelligence
  In “The Moon and Sixpence”, Maugham created many characters corresponding to the two images of “moon” and “sixpence”. However, no matter which character is created, it is not as full, three-dimensional, and full of symbolic artistic color as the protagonist Strickland. Strickland is like the chain of the entire work. It runs through the entire text and also reveals the core contradiction of the article, allowing the various characters to connect and collide with each other. While showing ideal freedom and secular symbolism, it also further contains It refers to the internal factors that promote the opposition between the two, namely madness and intelligence.
  The so-called “madness”, French thinker Michel Foucault once said: “The experience of madness has two opposing forms: one is the experience of the universe, in which madness is embodied in various forms of intimate and irresistible temptations; One is critical, in which madness faces an indestructible allegorical barrier.” That is to say, there are two opposing forms of madness, one is bewitched by irresistible temptation, showing the tragic face of madness; The other is the denial of secular reality. “It stands in the position of madness and is diametrically opposed to the rational world of symbols. [4]” Before understanding the two opposing forms of mad consciousness, it should not be ignored that the two are in The waxing and waning in the course of history. In “The Moon and Sixpence”, Strickland allows his natural nature to be revealed to its fullest. His form of madness is more critical, a denial of secular reality, and a subversion of modern civilization. . At that time, British society was influenced by Protestantism and emphasized individualism. In this context, Strickland’s madness becomes even more prominent. He is a self-style runaway and escape, and a search for the destiny of human beings’ own survival.
  Throughout Strickland’s life experience, it can be seen that his existence itself is a combination of madness and rationality, showing a process in which rational consciousness gradually fades away and becomes completely crazy. He lived a step-by-step life before he was forty years old. As a securities accountant, he had a happy family. He lived under the rationality and laws established by the background of the times. He complied with the “rational” norms of society and could not distinguish at all. Out of his inner self-repressed desires and appeals, the desire for nature in human nature is hidden in a calm and trouble-free social life. He is an image of an ordinary person. At this stage, Strickland is dominated by his rational self. Through a strong self-control, Strickland limited himself to the scope of rational life, adjusted his own needs, temporarily suspended the pleasure principle with the “reality principle”, and maintained a balance between himself and the external environment. Coordinate. However, after the forty-year-old Strickland ran away, he broke away from the shackles of reason and gradually became crazy. He reached the primitive pure land far away from matter. Except for the pursuit of idealized paintings, he was indifferent to everything else. attitude, only pure pursuit of ideals [5]. During this stage, he returned to his true self and became a madman in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of his wife, he lost his mind and abandoned his happy family just for the so-called ideal of painting. His wife would rather believe that it was the secular reason of cheating that led to Strickland’s departure. I would like to believe that this is full of real reasons for madness; in the eyes of friends, he has no human morality at all. He destroyed Stroeve’s family just to show the beauty of the curves of the human body in his paintings. This seems crazy and abominable. But it’s ridiculous; when he arrived on Tahiti, “the local people only knew that he was a person who only knew how to paint all day long but didn’t know what he was painting.” It can be seen from the above that after Strickland’s spiritual “escape”, he became a lunatic in the world, and returned from the self to the “self”. The “self” has a powerful primitive impulse power. It was the driving force behind his “running away” that allowed him to act entirely based on his personal inner desires and ignore all external social moral and rational shackles.
  By describing Strickland’s departure from the rational social norms of the time, the novel not only deepens the image of his madness, but also strengthens the author’s criticism of civilization and culture as opposed to “nature”. His departure bursts out the strong desire and pursuit of human beings to return to freedom and nature.
  Before writing “The Moon and Sixpence”, Maugham had the experience of traveling in India, which made him very interested in mysticism and Eastern philosophy. He also incorporated Buddhist ideas into this work of “renunciation of desire”. For example, the plot of Strickland running away to pursue the primitive pure land far away from material society contains the imprint of the Buddha [6]. “Praise to the Deeds of the Buddha” tells the story of Gautama Siddhartha, the prince of the Sakya tribe, who abandoned his family to pursue a higher mission after spending more than twenty years on the “duties of the head of the household”. He made a vow to never go back until he could see the other side of life and death. Siddhartha Gautama’s pursuit of “going out into the vast world” has a shadowy connection and overlap with the theme presented by Strickland in “The Moon and Sixpence”. It is also Maugham’s introduction of Buddhist thought. The reason is that the connotation is contained in this work. The shaping of the image and content of such a multi-layered structure makes the ideal state pursued by Strickland, the primitive paradise far away from the material society, and the pursuit of the essence of human nature contained in the corresponding symbolic body “the moon”, The symbolic meaning of the call for natural freedom is profoundly revealed, and it forms a strong opposition to the character of Mrs. Strickland who is dominated by “intelligence” in the context of society, forming a wave of mutual interaction between madness and rationality. The huge tension shows the author’s reflection and critical consciousness on the rational social atmosphere of British society at that time. Therefore, it can be seen that madness and intelligence are the inner core driving factors for the conflict between ideal and reality. Only by correctly understanding the deep impact of the above two qualities on the characters and themes in the work can we understand the symbolism perspective more comprehensively. The critical characteristics contained in the following works.
  Maugham created a holistic symbolic atmosphere in “The Moon and Sixpence”, making full use of the two ontologies of “Moon” and “Sixpence” to return Strickland to his own main line and numerous works. The characters’ experiences are connected, showing the sharp contradiction between ideal spirit and materiality on multiple levels. The writer combined the social background of the time and used the anti-narrative perspective of literature to call for the return of human freedom and nature, showing reflection and criticism on “rationality”. At the same time, behind the symbolic symbols, the writer deeply reveals the antagonistic relationship between madness and rationality as the inner core of the contradiction, which contains profound ideological connotations and theoretical significance.

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