Louise by W. Somerset Maugham
In Louise by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of selfishness, control, responsibility, fear, conflict, connection and guilt. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male and after reading the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of selfishness. Louise has lived longer than her two husbands who have devoted their time and energy to Louise because she it is assumed that she has a weak heart. However the narrator who acts very much like a foil to Louise’s character does not believe that Louise is as poorly as she makes out. If anything there is a sense, at least in the narrator’s eyes, that Louise is acting selfishly. She prefers a pampered life rather than having to really do anything for herself or which may affect the comforts that she has. Something which brings her into conflict with the narrator. Things are a little coincidental for the narrator when it comes to Louise having a weak heart. Should she not get her way? Her supposed problems with her heart manifest themselves and those around Louise. Like her two husbands and daughter Iris remain at Louise’s beck and call.
If anything Louise controls those around her and preys on their empathy for her. Each character, the two husbands and Iris are good natured people and do not mind putting Louise before themselves. However their own lives become affected. Particularly Iris’ who has to postpone her wedding as Louise does not feel well enough. However prior to hearing of Louise’s intentions to get married Louise was in good physical shape. This may be important as it highlights just how selfish Louise can be when the focus is not placed on her. It is as though she has never matured or allowed for the spotlight to be placed on somebody else. It might also be important that the narrator comes to Iris’ defence even though he has not been asked to. It is as though he knows that there is a pattern developing and the culprit is Louise. As to why Louise constantly needs the attention she is getting from her two husbands or Iris might also be significant as there is a sense that she needs to be the centre of attention. Emotionally Louise acts more like a child than one would expect a mother to act. Her number one priority is herself.
What is also interesting about the conflict between the narrator and Louise is the fact that it has lasted for twenty-five years and each time the narrator disagrees with Louise. She scorns him in a manner that suggests that the narrator will pay for not believing that she has a weak heart. It might also be important to remember that despite the conflict between bother characters Louise still remains somewhat of a friend to the narrator. Even though he tends to disagree with most things that Louise says when it comes to her physical health. It is as though both the narrator and Louise are connected to one another. Though as adversaries. The narrator is the one character in the story who sees the coincidence of Louise not feeling well when issues do not necessarily go her way. If anything Louise may be spoiled. She has had two husbands who have done everything for her and who have believed everything that she has said. It is also possible that Louise is afraid to live life and as such uses her weak heart as a stumbling block for her lack of participation in life.
The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator appears to win the battle of wits that he is having with Louise over Iris’ wedding. Even though Louise threatens the narrator and suggests to him that should she die? It will be his fault. This could be important as Louise is attempting to blame the narrator and hold him accountable should anything happen to her. Which it does. However the reader is not left with any sense that the narrator feels as though he is responsible for Louise’s death. It is also interesting that Louise forgives Iris for having killed her. Yet the reader is aware that Iris can like the narrator not be held accountable for Louise’s death. Even in death Louise is attempting to make Iris feel guilty without taking responsibility for her own well-being. Likewise both her husbands have lived their lives with Louise and have been made to feel guilty about how they might wish to live their lives. The number one person in Louise’s life has never been her husbands nor has it been Iris. The most important person to Louise is Louise herself. She has controlled the people who love her and ensured that they lived their life to suit Louise’s whims. Throughout the story Louise has acted selfishly.