French Joe by W. Somerset Maugham
In French Joe by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of connection, betrayal, disillusion, contentment and misfortune. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of connection. The narrator feels a connection with French Joe. Not only do they speak the same language (French) but the narrator is a willing listener to Joe’s tales of adventure. Even if Joe has been unfortunate in his life he still nonetheless has lived an exciting life, one that most people would be unprepared for or may not wish to live. Though it is clear to the reader that Joe has lived his life to the fullest he is not a happy man. He feels as though he has been betrayed by his family in Corsica. Blaming them for stealing his land while he traveled the world. The reader also never questions Joe’s view on things or if he is telling the truth as they are swayed by the opinion of the narrator. Who believes everything that Joe is telling him.
Joe also needs very little motivation to talk about his life. He is a good talker just as the narrator is a good listener. There is also a sense that Joe feels betrayed by France because of his involvement with the French Communist Party. It was through his arrest by soldiers and his subsequent deportation to Australia that Joe ended up on Thursday Island. An island that has few residents or visitors. It is an isolated part of the world that probably suits Joe as he cannot get into trouble. Joe may also be bitter about how the army treated him in France. He fought for them yet when he changed his allegiance to the Communist Party he was arrested. Though France as part of an alliance won the war in Crimea there is no sense that Joe feels victorious. He never celebrated the victory rather he got disillusioned with the army and changed the direction of his life permanently.
The narrator also lives a very secret type of life. Very little is known about his past. He is not as open about his past as Joe is. Which may leave some readers to suspect that the narrator has his own baggage which he is not prepared to unload. Symbolically Maugham may be using the baggage that the narrator carries himself to the hotel to suggest that the narrator has his own woes or load to carry. Just like Joe the narrator may have secrets he is not prepared to reveal. He does after all allow Joe to do all the talking when they are in conversation. It is also interesting that Joe never moves when he is in bed. Something that might be expected of a ninety-three year old man but it is also possible that Joe’s day of moving from place to place are over. He has found contentment on Thursday Island. Even if he has lived an unfortunate life. He no longer wants to run away from anything, including death. Though his views on death are independent of others. Joe is still not afraid to die.
The end of the story is also interesting as Joe shows his sense of humour by asking the narrator to buy him a packet of cigarettes. It is as though Joe has shifted from being serious all the time when telling his story to becoming humorous and funny. Even the narrator is amused by Joe’s request. It is a simple request and one that will be honoured by the narrator. It is the least he can do for listening to Joe’s story. Joe throughout the story has been open and removed from adding fiction to his tale. He is a man who has seen the highs and lows in life and still remains unbeaten. Everybody could learn something from Joe. He has lived his life to the fullest and meant everything he has said and done. Unlike most people Joe can be trusted because you know that he is speaking the truth. Whereas the narrator as mentioned never really reveals too much about himself. He is more of an observer than a participant. In fact he is the opposite to Joe. Yet both men still get on with one another.