O autor, narra com um tom semi auto-biográfico, a experiência de vida de Philip, um jovem orfão com um pé boto.
É criado por um tio, Vigário e a sua esposa e cresce influenciado por valores e regras religiosas.
Os primeiros contactos sociais na infância, são cruéis devido à sua diferença fisíca, antes não tão sentida, que assim se torna motivo de vergonha e profundo desgosto.
Abraça os estudos com sucesso, os seus esforços e capacidades traçam-lhe um futuro promissor, que Philip opta não seguir.
Perde a Fé, farto de se preparar para a vida, quer vivê-la. Começa de novo, tenta construir o seu futuro, esquece Deus e a sua omnipotência, esquece um passado sem afecto familiar e social, traições, mágoas inferidas e desferidas.
Aventura-se na procura da felicidade que espera encontrar na arte e no amor.
Desilude-se com a sua falta de talento; apaixona-se e sofre.
Concluí que "vivera constantemente no futuro e o presente sempre lhe fugira por entre os dedos, toda a sua vida aspirara às ideias que outros, com as suas palavras e escritos, tinham inculcado nele, nunca seguira o desejo do seu próprio coração."
Os episódios de vida retratados chocam-nos, irritam-nos, algumas acções de Philip repulsam-nos, no entanto em simultâneo quase compreendemos o 'incompreensível compreensível' e sentimos uma grande empatia com esta personagem.
Ambos protagonista e leitor querem a resposta... 'Qual é o sentido da vida?'. Acompanhamos a busca da procura e do sentido da vida na Felicidade. E Philip encontra a sua resposta num tapete Persa.
Abaixo uma passagem significante da conclusão do romance:
Thinking of Cronshaw, Philip remembered the Persian rug which he had given him, telling him that it offered an answer to his question upon the meaning of life; and suddenly the answer occurred to him: he chuckled: now that he had it, it was like one of the puzzles which you worry over till you are shown the solution and then cannot imagine how it could ever have escaped you.
The answer was obvious. Life had no meaning...
Philip remembered the story of the Eastern King who, desiring to know the history of man, was brought by a sage five hundred volumes; busy with affairs of state, he bade him go and condense it; in twenty years the sage returned and his history now was in no more than fifty volumes, but the King, too old then to read so many ponderous tomes, bade him go and shorten it once more; twenty years passed again and the sage, old and gray, brought a single book in which was the knowledge the King had sought; but the King lay on his death-bed, and he had no time to read even that; and then the sage gave him the history of man in a single line; it was this: he was born, he suffered, and he died.
There was no meaning in life, and man by living served no end. It was immaterial whether he was born or not born, whether he lived or ceased to live. Life was insignificant and death without consequence.
Philip exulted, as he had exulted in his boyhood when the weight of a belief in God was lifted from his shoulders: it seemed to him that the last burden of responsibility was taken from him; and for the first time he was utterly free.
His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing.
He was the most inconsiderate creature in that swarming mass of mankind which for a brief space occupied the surface of the earth; and he was almighty because he had wrenched from chaos the secret of its nothingness.
Thoughts came tumbling over one another in Philip's eager fancy, and he took long breaths of joyous satisfaction. He felt inclined to leap and sing. He had not been so happy for months.
"Oh, life," he cried in his heart, "Oh life, where is thy sting?"