W. Somerset Maugham

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What is the denouement of "The Luncheon" by W. Somerset Maugham?

Quick answer:

The denouement in "The Luncheon" comes in the last paragraph, when the narrator reveals that the woman he had lunch with in the past is now extremely overweight. When the narrator treated her to a luncheon he couldn't afford, she ordered an abundance of the most expensive items on the menu while at the same time making fun of his eating habits. The narrator has his revenge in observing the woman's present unhealthy overweight condition.

Expert Answers

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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines denouement as "the final outcome of the main dramatic complication of a literary work." To find the denouement of the short story "The Luncheon" by W. Somerset Maugham, we can follow the plot of the story and its various complications to its conclusion.

The story is simple. The narrator looks back and remembers when he was a poor struggling writer living in "a tiny apartment in the Latin Quarter" in Paris. In this backstory, he is "earning barely enough money" to survive. A woman who has read one of his books invites herself to lunch with him, and she chooses a posh, expensive restaurant called Foyot's. The narrator knows that he cannot afford to treat her to lunch at a place like this, but he is flattered at the attention she is giving him, and he is "too young to have learned to say no to a woman." In other words, his vanity gets him into this situation.

When he meets up with the woman, he discovers that she is "imposing," which means she is large. She insists that she never eats more than one thing for luncheon, but then she proceeds to order salmon, caviar, champagne, asparagus, ice cream, coffee, and a peach. Through all of this, she is oblivious to the narrator's anxiety stemming from his concern that he might not be able to afford to pay the bill, let alone be able to eat for the rest of the month. She also continues to insist that she always eats a light lunch, although she is stuffing herself with multiple courses.

In the end, the narrator spends all of his money on the meal and has nothing left for his continuing support. The denouement to this story comes in the last paragraph, in which the narrator has his "revenge at last." The narrator announces that she now weighs twenty-one stone, which is equivalent to almost 300 pounds. In other words, the woman's eating habits, about which she derides the narrator so hypocritically, have made her grossly overweight.

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