What is a summary of the short story "Salvatore" by William Somerset Maugham?

"Salvatore" is about a young Italian man who joins the navy but is sent home when he develops rheumatism. Because of his illness, the girl he loved will no longer marry him. Salvatore marries another woman and becomes a loving husband, devoted father, and hardworking fisherman. The narrator says that his story is intended to show readers a man who possesses the most important quality a person can have: goodness.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of the story, the narrator describes Salvatore as a carefree fifteen-year-old Italian boy who lives in the Grand Marina in South Italy. His father is a fisherman and vineyard owner, and Salvatore helps him out by acting as "nursemaid" to his two younger brothers.

Salvatore's life changes when the navy calls him up for military service. He leaves reluctantly. He is madly in love with a girl and has no real inclination to leave his little world on the Grand Marina.

His attitude doesn't change during his travels. He hates the hustle and bustle of big cities and pines for both the security of his home and the love of his girlfriend. He is therefore happy when the doctors diagnose him with rheumatism and send him home.

To his shock, his girlfriend is not at the jetty with his father and two brothers to meet him. He finds her sitting outside her house. She tells him she knows that he is ill and doesn't think he would have the strength to provide for her in a world where fishing is one of the few jobs available to him. Anyway, she says, her parents refuse to give her permission to marry him.

Salvatore gets over his heartache to marry a girl named Assunta. They settle down in a house situated in the middle of a vineyard and start a family. The author says they have a hard life, but one full of satisfaction and love.

The narrator concludes by stating that the story is a portrait of a fisherman with the virtue of goodness:

Goodness, just goodness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The story opens with the narrator wondering "if [he] can do it," but we do not know to what he is referring until the very end of the story. He goes on to describe what the titular character, Salvatore, was like as a boy. He was always in and out of the sea, taking care of his brothers, and one day he fell in love with a young woman from the same island. They got engaged, but Salvatore had to complete his military service before they could marry. He missed her terribly and wrote her many letters. Eventually, he contracted rheumatism and because he would "never again be quite well," he was told that he could not continue his military service and would, instead, be sent home. He rejoiced that he could get back to his love, but, when he returned, she told him that she could no longer marry him because he "would never be strong enough to work like a man" as a result of his illness.

Salvatore does not blame her as he knows that she will have to rely on her husband to support their family. His mother told him that an ugly woman named Assunta was willing to marry him. She has some money to help support them, and he accepted her. He worked very hard, they seemed to grow in love, and they even had two children together. The narrator describes how Salvatore would bathe his boys when they were so young, how gentle he was so that his hands which were huge "like legs of mutton, coarse and hard from constant toil" would become "like flowers" when he cradled his children.

In the end, the narrator says that what he'd wondered at the beginning was "whether [he] could hold [our] attention for a few pages while [he] drew for [us] the portrait of a man" that possessed "the most precious and the loveliest [quality] that anyone can have." By this, he refers to "Goodness, just goodness." Is the depiction of goodness enough to hold our attention for a few pages? It certainly holds mine!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Salvatore" is a short story written by William Somerset Maugham. The story was published as "Salvatore the Fisherman" in the July 1924 issue of Cosmopolitan.

The short story begins with Maugham himself addressing the reader. The author inquires whether he would be able to keep the reader's attention throughout the story. The story of Salvatore the character then begins. Salvatore is a simple young man from provincial Italy. He spends his youth playing and relaxing at the beach near where his father, a fisherman, would catch fish.

When he became a teenager, Salvatore fell in love with a beautiful local girl. However, their romance had barely begun when Salvatore joined the military as a sailor. Salvatore saw many parts of Italy and even East Asia, but his homesickness grew the longer he traveled. He longed for his hometown, but he especially missed the young woman he loved.

While sailing to China, Salvatore developed rheumatism. This made him unable to continue his naval career. This, however, was a blessing to Salvatore because it meant he could finally go home.

Once home, his family greeted him with adoration and love. However, he noticed that the woman he loved was not present at his homecoming. Salvatore goes to the woman's mother's house, where he finds both of them. The mother coldly tells Salvatore that they know about his rheumatism. The mother prevents Salvatore from marrying the young woman because the mother believed his condition would limit his ability to work.

Although devastated, Salvatore had to accept the mother's decision. One day, Salvatore's mother informs him that another young woman had fallen in love with him. He refuses, still depressed over his heartbreak, but he eventually relents and leans to fall in love with the young woman introduced by his mother.

They have two children and Salvatore becomes a fisherman just like his father. Despite his medical condition, Salvatore works literally day and night to provide for his family. Not once did Salvatore curse his condition or show self-pity.

Salvatore proves to be a loyal husband and loving father to his children. The story concludes with Maugham once again addressing the reader. He proclaims that he is successful in his attempt to keep the reader's attention.

So what is the story about? Maugham stated that there is no complex plot or philosophical subtext to the story. The story of Salvatore simply shows that the only quality one needs to possess is "goodness, just goodness."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial