When I first read Henry Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, I immediately felt that I had found a fictional role model, and a potential answer to my own struggle with the real meaning of the “straight and narrow.” Matthew 7:13-14 says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” When I was younger, I imagined this verse to be a warning against sin, a calling to a blameless life. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when I began to take a closer look at the stories of the great men of the Bible that I began to question my own interpretation of this verse. Jacob, Moses, David, all beloved by God, were never saints. Jacob was a cheater, Moses a doubter, David sexually immoral. Yet it is undeniable that they walked the path of salvation. What then, is the true meaning of the narrow path and the small gate? The Razor’s Edge was the turning point in my interpretation of these verses.
Maugham’s protagonist, Larry Darrell begins his life as an orphaned, but well-cared for American teenager. Deemed perfectly normal by his peers, his life seems destined to follow his culture’s expectations of a successful man. Larry goes from being normal to decidedly abnormal after witnessing the death of a friend while serving in the First World War. After returning to Chicago Larry quietly but firmly resists his friends’ suggestions that he finds work, and instead embarks on a twelve year journey in search of religious truth.
The epigraph, and potentially the inspiration for the novel were taken from the Katha-Upanishad, a Hindu text, and reads: “the sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over, thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard.” Although Larry eventually discovers his own philosophy on God, it is not the answers to the questions he poses that are important, in fact Maugham invites the reader to skip the chapter in which Larry describes the philosophy he adopts, but the sacrifice that embarking on the path of seeking truth requires. The decision to search for God, a decision made every day, is the true meaning of the what it means to pass through the small gate and travel the narrow road of Matthew 7:13-14.
Although I, like any human being, falter constantly in my decision to search for God I have found a sympathetic role model in Larry Darrell. The strength of his decision, the grace by which he carried out his search for truth, and the dedication he brought to his journey serve to encourage me on my own decision to, like the rich man, give up all and follow Him. As my time as an undergraduate draws to a close, I stand at a crossroads. There are many paths to choose, but I hope in some small way to emulate Larry by choosing to seek the Lord.