The Lotus Eater by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Lotus Eater by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of acceptance, change, courage, freedom, independence and happiness. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Maugham may be exploring the theme of acceptance. The narrator judges that the majority of people in life are happy to simply work through the day. Go home at night and repeat the same course of action till they die. It is as though people do not imagine that they can change their lives and that all it takes is a little bit of courage. A courage that Wilson shows throughout the story. Wilson though he has taken a risk and is ensuring that he has no provisions of any sort by sixty still nonetheless enjoys his life on Capri. He has everything he needs except for security. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Wilson is working off a clock that is ticking faster and faster. If anything some critics might suggest that the price Wilson is prepared to pay for his happiness is quite high. He is willing to end his life as soon as his annuity runs out.
Something which intrigues the narrator as he cannot imagine someone taking such a risk. If anything Wilson stands out for the narrator (and the reader) simply because he has a plan on how he wants to live his life and is putting the plan into action. While the majority of people would not consider Wilson’s plan to be something that they themselves would think of doing. It would seem that Wilson would prefer to have a period of happiness that might lead to his life ending abruptly. Than to live his life as he did. It is also possible that Wilson is allowing himself the freedom that other people crave; to live his life as he sees fit. However it might be important that Wilson never actions his plan after his annuity runs out. Rather his life progressively gets worse and he is reliant on others for assistance. Something which only lasts for a short period of time. Wilson also appears to have had a mental breakdown, isolating himself from others after he comes out of hospital.
It is as though Wilson has lived two separate lives. One of happiness while his annuity paid for things and another life when he went to hospital and became introverted and lived a life that could only be described as being miserable. Though some critics might suggest that it was inevitable that Wilson’s life would take a downturn after his annuity ran out the important thing to remember is that Wilson had not planned to live after his annuity ran out. Though the narrator suggests that Wilson did not lack the courage to kill himself the fact is that he didn’t. Which resulted in negative consequences for Wilson. Which may be the point that Maugham is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that in life one needs to be prepared for all eventualities and changes that might occur. A plan that may have previously seemed reasonable at one stage may not be considered to be so reasonable at a later stage in a person’s life. The reader is also left wondering as to whether Wilson’s brief moment of happiness was worth it. Wilson might certainly think it was as he no longer is in touch with reality. However others might suggest that Wilson has acted foolishly with longevity being considered more important than happiness.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that the narrator remains on Wilson’s side. Despite the fact that the final years of Wilson’s life were miserable. It is as though the narrator in some way respects the course of action that Wilson has taken. He lived his life as he had wanted to live it and most likely was not of sound mind for the final years of his life so may not have necessarily been conscious of the difficulties in his life. It might also be important that though the narrator is intrigued by Wilson. He does not necessarily wish to live his life in the same manner as Wilson. It is as though it is easy for the narrator to look upon Wilson from a distance but at the same time have no involvement in how Wilson lives his life. The narrator has the security of distance while at the end Wilson had no security whatsoever. He died a broken man but did live his life for a period of time as he wished to live it. Something which many people might envy.