Straight Flush by W. Somerset Maugham
In Straight Flush by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of connection, trust, individuality, fear, arrogance and letting go. 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 makes a connection with those he plays poker with. Similarly his conversation with Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson revolves around playing poker. It is an interest that all three men have or had over the period of their lives. Though both Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson no longer play poker for different reasons. Their reasons are still important. Mr Donaldson reached a point in his life in whereby he realised that both alcohol and playing poker has the possibility of getting him into trouble. It is as though he could not trust himself when either drinking or playing poker. Similarly with Mr Rosenbaum. He too realised that he no longer had the eyes for playing poker particularly when he could not distinguish between a straight flush and a hand that was of no use to him. Just as Mr Donaldson couldn’t trust his judgement likewise Mr Rosenbaum couldn’t trust his eyes. The fact that when Mr Rosenbaum got his first straight flush he folded is also interesting as there is a sense that Mr Rosenbaum felt as though those he was playing poker with may have cheated. This could be important as it plays on the theme of trust again. Mr Rosenbaum felt he couldn’t trust those he was playing poker with. Something that would affect many poker players.
It might also be a case that Maugham is exploring the theme of individuality. Mr Rosenbaum’s view on how to play poker involves the game being about man versus man. There is no team work. Each individual is left to his own devices in how best to play his hand. This is somewhat ironic considering that throughout the journey on the ship. Mr Rosenbaum is always by Mr Donaldson’s side. Mr Rosenbaum may have a philosophy of how a person should play poker. Yet this is not how he lives his life. If anything the reader would suspect that both Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson were friends. Though they may have been pushed together by their age. As Maugham does not make mention of any other elderly passengers on the ship. It might also be a case that Maugham is highlighting to the reader (and to the narrator) the hazards of playing poker. Particularly if Mr Donaldson’s story is taken into consideration. Whereas Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson have their own separate fears as to why they don’t play poker. This is not the case for the narrator.
If anything the narrator appears to enjoy the thrill of playing poker and the fact that he remains in the lounge playing patience suggests that the narrator might like other card games too. Particularly if the game involves money. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that the narrator understands that there might be a message in either Mr Rosenbaum or Mr Donaldson’s story. To the narrator both men are old and frail and there is very little if anything he can learn from them. Which may suggest that the narrator is somewhat arrogant or at least not open to persuasion from Mr Rosenbaum or Mr Donaldson. It is as though there is nothing for the narrator to learn. He enjoys playing poker. He sees no harm in it. Unlike Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson. Rather than seeing either man’s story a as a warning sign the narrator is politely listening without fully taking on board what is being said to him. Which is the narrator’s prerogative. He does not see himself in either man and as such does not believe that he can learn anything from either Mr Rosenbaum or Mr Donaldson.
The end of the story is also interesting as Maugham may be directly highlighting through Mr Rosenbaum’s remark (about his occupation) to the narrator that the narrator might wish to review his stance when it comes to playing poker. Though Mr Rosenbaum misses playing poker he knows that his life is the better for it. He no longer has to worry about what cards he might have. However the pull of the game remains. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Mr Rosenbaum still carries one poker chip with him. It is as though he has found it hard to let go of the game of poker. With it having taken up so much of his time. Though there is no disputing that Mr Rosenbaum is a happier man. Helping others where he can. Something that the narrator may not realise. The narrator looks upon poker as being fun yet the experiences of both Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson suggest that poker can have a negative side too. Though both men are older there is also a sense that their lives are happier. With poker came trouble for both Mr Rosenbaum and Mr Donaldson. Since they’ve stopped playing poker trouble does not seem to have followed them. They live peaceful lives without having to worry. The reader suspecting that part of the peace that both men feel may be down to the fact that they stopped playing poker.