“They are like tram-cars travelling for ever on the selfsame rails. They go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards..” Explain the line

In this passage, taken from the opening paragraph of his short story The Lotus Eater, Somerset Maugham makes a diverting introduction of the strange way of life, chosen by the hero of his story, Thomas Wilson. Wilson is the lotus-eater of the story, whose ideal of living is somewhat strange for the common, conventional world, and the author makes this humorous observation while showing his difference from general men and women.

The author refers here to the dull routine-bound regulated mode of living of the majority of men and women who are seldom found to deviate from the normal way of living. He compares such men and women to the tram-car that continuously moves through the same track. This goes forwards and backwards, backwards and forwards, on the same rails all through. There is no deviation from the usual line of movement, no swing or turn in any other direction. Similarly, these men and women carry on, calmly and dumbly, what their circumstances have thrust upon them. They spend their days in the same humdrum way, with moan or murmur here and there, till their death. The tram-cars, after long wear and tear, in the same regular process, are sold as scrap-iron, when they are found of no more use. Similarly, most people, after leading their lives of no importance and of little purpose, ultimately waste away, and are totally forgotten and thrown out of human records.

The lines subtly signify the deep pathos of human life. Men are fated to revolve along the same old, dull course, like the tram cars, regularly running on the same rails without any succour or relish. They seem to have nothing to say in their own existence in the mechanized order, in which they are compelled to live. The introduction of the analogy of the tram-cars deepens the significance of the passage.

Also read: Estimate Somerset Maugham’s “The Lotus Eater” as a good short story