The Luncheon by W. Somerset Maugham
In The Luncheon by W. Somerset Maugham we have the theme of struggle, innocence, greed, responsibility, selfishness and appearance. 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 struggle. The narrator is not a wealthy man. He may have published a book but his funds are not adequate enough for him to dine in restaurants. Something that is noticeable by the fact that the narrator only has eighty francs which is to last him the month. Despite this deficiency in funds the narrator agrees to have lunch with the woman. Even though he knows that he cannot afford it. This may be important as it suggests that the narrator is struggling financially. It is also possible that the narrator is somewhat innocent. During lunch he has the opportunity to tell the woman that he is badly funded yet he allows her to continue to order food. Even though he knows that he may not have enough to pay the bill. It is as though the narrator is flattered that a woman has taken an interest in not only his book but in him too. Which may suggest a touch of innocence within the narrator. He is after all still a young man and may not necessarily have the life experience that others may have when it comes to engaging with women.
There is also a sense that the narrator does not wish to embarrass himself over the cost of the lunch. He frowns upon the idea of asking the woman, should it be necessary, to pay part of the cost of the lunch. It is as though he knows that the responsibility for the cost of the lunch is on his shoulders even though the woman arranged to meet for lunch. This could be important as Maugham may be highlighting the roles of each gender at the time the story was written with it being unacceptable for a woman to have to pay for a lunch. Regardless of the fact that it is the woman in the story who is doing all the eating. If anything Maugham by having the narrator pay for the lunch may be exploring the theme of appearance and responsibility. He may also be suggesting that the narrator is somewhat naïve believing that it is his role to pay for the lunch. Particularly when he didn’t arrange the lunch and the simple fact that he cannot really afford the lunch.
There is also a noticeable sense of displeasure within the narrator while he is having lunch with the woman. It is as though he is sitting down in disbelief that the woman can say she only eats one thing for lunch yet every opportunity that presents itself to her. She ends up eating more food. It is this displeasure which causes concern for the narrator. Financially he is committing himself to something he does not wish to and at the same time remains unsure as to whether he has enough money to pay the lunch bill. It is also interesting that there is no real dynamic between the narrator and the woman. They may be of different ages however the woman does the majority of talking without making inquiries into how the narrator is progressing with his writing. It is as though the woman is acting selfishly and in her own interests. The most important thing to the woman appears to be the food that is being served to her. She has no interest in the narrator’s struggles as a writer.
The end of the story is also interesting as Maugham appears to be exploring the theme of greed. Though the woman made no effort to help the narrator with the lunch bill she has paid the price for her greed. The reader being advised that the woman now weighs twenty one stone. It may also be important that the narrator considers the woman’s weight to be apt revenge for what she did to him. It is also possible that the narrator has never let go of his experience with the woman. As to whether the narrator has matured as a person is difficult to say as Maugham does not give any additional insight into any other experiences the narrator may have had when it comes to the pressure he may have felt with matters relating to women. What is known is that the narrator is no longer a struggling writer and appears to have had some success with his writing. While the woman on the other hand may have lived her life since her first meeting with the narrator gorging herself with food. To satisfy an unquenchable appetite. Though some critics might suggest that the narrator is being petty by saying he has got ‘revenge.’ It might be important to remember just how difficult life was for the narrator at the time he first met the woman and how through her selfishness and greed. He was left with no money for the month. While the woman departed with a full stomach.