Like many of Maugham's other short stories, "The Lotus Eater" is a study of an unusual character he claims to have met in his travels. Thomas Wilson is a very ordinary Englishman who falls in love with the Isle of Capri and the Bay of Naples and decides to spend the rest of his life there. He is able to afford an annuity which pays him enough to rent a cottage, buy his food, and have his landlord's wife clean and cook for him. He is thirty-five years old when he begins his stay on the island. The annuity is good for twenty-five years.
The attraction of an annuity is that it works a bit like reverse life insurance; it pays higher than simple interest because the company can make a big profit off annuity holders who die prematurely. It is noteworthy that Somerset Maugham took a big interest in money matters. "The Verger," for example, is about a man who saves up 30,000 pounds and invests in opening tobacco stores in London. "The Luncheon" is about precisely how much it costs a man to take a woman to luncheon at an expensive Parisian restaurant. These stories are covered in the eNotes Study Guide along with "The Lotus Eater."
Thomas Wilson obviously intends to kill himself when his annuity runs out. The narrator, Maugham himself, is curious about what will happen to the man, but doesn't find out until years later that when the time came to commit suicide, Wilson failed at one attempt and then, after an unpleasant near-death experience, couldn't bring himself to try again.
"It's not so easy to kill yourself," I said. "For a very long time, Wilson had lived an easy life. He had not had to make any decisions. When the time came to make a decision, he was unable to do anything."
For six years the solitary man managed to stay alive by moving into a woodshed and looking after the goats and chickens of the couple who owned the property. Eventually Maugham learns that Wilson finally died on a hillside "looking out over the beautiful bay of Naples that he loved so much."
The story is reminiscent of other literary works involving the theme of sacrificing society and luxuries for the sake of freedom to follow one's own star. These works include Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defore, Victory by Joseph Conrad, "The Suicide Club" by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing, "The Great Good Place" by Henry James, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by William Butler Yeats, "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost," Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and Somerset Maugham's own novel The Moon and Sixpence, all of which are covered in eNotes study guides.
In Greek mythology, the Lotophagi ("lotus-eaters") were a race of people on an island dominated by lotus plants. The lotus flowers were the primary foodstuff of the island and it caused the people to sleep in peaceful apathy.
The Lotus Eater is a short story written by Somerset Maugham in 1945. The story is set in 1913 and is of a man Thomas Wilson who comes to the island of Capri in Italy for a holiday. He is so enchanted with the place he gives up his job at London and decides to live the rest of his life without any cares in Capri.