What is the basic flaw in Thomas Wilson's planning in Somerset Maugham's story "The Lotus Eater"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Wilson was the manager of a branch bank in England. He tells the narrator:

"This is the most beautiful place in the world. . . . . I was on holiday in Italy at the time. I took a boat from Naples to visit Capri for a few days. And I fell in love with the place immediately."

Wilson was alone in the world. He made a decision to spend the rest of his life on Capri. He sold his house and invested all his money in an annuity which would last for twenty-five years and provide an adequate annual income. This type of annuity pays better than simple interest because it is like the opposite of a life-insurance policy, in that the company keeps the entire capital investment if the annuity holder should die before the expiration date. In other words, Wilson could live longer and more comfortably in retirement on an annuity than if he lived on his capital plus accrued bank interest which would decline each year as the capital was used up.

Wilson was thirty-five when he started living on Capri. He would be sixty when he ran out of money. He told the narrator, presumably Maugham himself, that he intended to commit suicide when his annuity ran out--assuming he was still alive. There were actually two major flaws in his plan. One was that he lived much longer than he expected, and the other was that when the time came to commit suicide he couldn't bring himself to do it.

Maugham first met Wilson when the man had already been living on Capri for sixteen years.

He lived a quiet life. He bathed in the sea, he went for long walks, he played cards and he read books. He was happy to be by himself, but he also enjoyed meeting people from time to time.

Maugham didn't return to Capri for thirteen years. He asked about Wilson and learned that he had lived for a year on borrowed money and credit after his annuity ran out and then tried once to commit suicide but failed. The couple who rented Wilson his cottage let him live in a woodshed and provided him with food for looking after their goats and chickens. Quite a comedown for a former English middle-class bank manager. Wilson lived on in that manner for another six years.

When Maugham went for a walk on his return visit to Capri:

I looked round and saw a man hiding behind a tree. He was like a wild animal. As soon as we had passed him, I heard him running away. That was the last time I saw him.

A year later Maugham heard they had found Wilson's body on the hillside.

He died looking out over the beautiful bay of Naples that he loved so much.

Wilson lived comfortably for twenty-five years without working. Then he existed for another six or seven years. His lifespan amounted to sixty-six or sixty-seven years. If he had worked as a bank manager in England for twenty-five years, he would have been able to live in comfortable retirement for the remainder of his life. His decision amounted to retiring in a beautiful setting for twenty-five years while still young enough to enjoy life versus retiring for six or seven years in old age on a pension. The decision  was not a bad one; the worst flaw was that he couldn't commit suicide when he said he would. As Maugham tells his friend:

"It's not so easy to kill yourself. 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."

"The Lotus Eater" resembles Robert Louis Stevenson's fascinating story "The Suicide Club." See eNotes reference link below.

katiekeene | Student

 billdelaney "The Lotus Eater" resembles Robert Louis Stevenson's fascinating story "The Suicide Club." See eNotes reference link below."

Thank you, Bill D., for the reference. Sounds fascinating. Will read it now.

Btw, I recently saw a compelling documentary "Dangerous Edge, Graham Greene, " on PBS that said his mother was second cousin to the great RLS. (I read that Greene played Russian roulette witha revolver 3 times when he was a young man. Thank goodness the one bullet wasn't in the chamber when he fired!

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The Lotus Eater

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