Please provide a critical analysis of W. Somerset Maugham's short story "Salvatore."

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Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The author frames the story such that we are well aware of the narrator's presence. In this way, we are reminded of the oral tradition, the style of old-fashioned storytelling. What is special about this narrator is that they seem to be somewhat unsure about the outcome of this storytelling: "I wonder if I can do it." This tactic really grabs the attention of the reader; we are eager to see what the narrator so earnestly wishes to accomplish and if they are able.

At the very end of the story, the narrator says the ultimate purpose of this tale is to sketch a picture of "Goodness. Just goodness." Did it work? Was the author able to do it? Moreover, what is "goodness"?

Salvatore's life is far from perfect. A number of events thwart his goals and disorient him: being drafted into the military, falling ill, losing his first love, and essentially committing to a life unlike the one he imagined for himself. Yet Salvatore seems to understand the futility of allotting blame for these unfortunate events. He seems to acknowledge that a life is simply comprised of unexpected twists and turns. In short, he bears no bitterness about what many would consider bitter circumstances. As a result, he can rejoice in the beauty of his children and the small pleasures of life. When all is said and done, Salvatore seems happy, and the reader can feel happy for him. The author has made us feel the core of "goodness" which runs through Salvatore and how it resulted in a satisfying life, if not a perfect one.

Ostensibly the author considers "goodness" to be of great importance. So what does goodness look like? Salvatore is at times scared, sick, uncertain, rejected, and child-like, yet none of these qualities diminish him in our eyes. How is this? It is because Salvatore possesses "a quality which is the rarest, the most precious and the loveliest that anyone can have." Salvatore loves deeply and is kind and fair even in the face of adversity and pain:

Often his rheumatism prevented him from doing anything at all and then he would lie about the beach, smoking cigarettes, with a pleasant word for everyone notwithstanding the pain that racked his limbs.

This determination to be kind, loving, and "pleasant" regardless of the moment's circumstances, this kind of perseverance, is "goodness."

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his short story "Salvatore," Maugham starts out by saying, "I wonder if I can do it." The reader is unsure what Maugham is trying to do as the author draws a portrait of a man named Salvatore who faces a series of disappointments in his life. While serving in the military in China, Salvatore falls ill. Consequently, the woman he wants to marry refuses to marry him because she is afraid he will not be strong enough to work.

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Salvatore agrees to marry Assunta, a woman he claims is "as ugly as the devil," and he then faces life with determination and "the most beautiful manners I [the author] had ever seen in my life." Though he does not live the life he imagined, Salvatore comports himself with goodwill and makes the most of his marriage, his job as a fisherman, and his children. In the end, the author states that his task was to see if he could hold the attention of the reader long enough to tell the tale of a good man who possesses an extremely rare quality that the author describes as "Goodness, just goodness."

Maugham's story has the style of a parable, a didactic tale that is meant to teach a lesson. His character, Salvatore, is not dynamic; he is static and shows no change as he continually faces life with a cheerful acceptance and integrity. Maugham holds Salvatore up to the reader as an example of pure radiance and goodness and as someone who should be emulated in dealing with the trials and tribulations of life.