Short Story: The Lotus Eater
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
The will needs obstacles in order to exercise its power; when it is never thwarted, when no effort is needed to achieve one’s desires, because one has placed one’s desires only in the things that can be obtained by stretching out one’s hand, the will grows impotent.
Set in 1913, Italy, The Lotus Eater pans the non-conformed life of a man, Thomas Wilson, from the eyes of the narrator.
Thomas Wilson left a well-settled life in London to live on an Island of Capri, Italy. The story begins with sunshine, sun-kissed shorelines and a merry way of life. The narrator sees how Thomas Wilson had the courage to leave behind London and the conventional conundrum to lead a life of beauty and wishful thinking. The narrator is mystified by the man who came to Italy and has spent 16 years there living a life one with nature.
What the narrator learns about Thomas Wilson is that he withdrew his life’s saving to be on the island and that he had decided to commit suicide after his money ran out. The first half of the story is fraught with the idealistic ideas of life put into practice—that of living the way one wants by rejecting society rules and dying when one wants because the meaning to live had been achieved. While the second half of the story goes on to tell what happened to Thomas Wilson when his money ran out. Did he commit suicide? Did he not? Did he have the courage to start working for a living or not? You’ll have to read to find out just as the narrator does.
As for why this book is titled The Lotus Eater, it would be helpful to recall what Homer said in Odyssey. He described a person, encountered by Odysseus on his journey back home, who lived in indolent forgetfulness, drugged by the fruit of the legendary lotus. And therefore, I think, that’s what Maugham intended. It’s noticeable how Wilson lives an oblivious life of the island.
From where I saw it, this story was like a full day—sunshine and night-time. It’s a marvelous description of changing times, ideas, and even colours. What was once pink is now deep red. What was once yellow is now ochre. What was white is now black.
Read the short story for its gentle traversing from one phase of life to another and very visually so.
It almost looked as though at the last moment, and desperate though his situation was, he had suffered from a certain infirmity of purpose.
That summary. Thank you!