‘Salvatore’ by William Somerset Maugham: Short Story Analysis
‘Salvatore’ is a sketch of an Italian fisherman who was simple, humble, and a man full of goodness. Maugham in this story wanted to bring out the goodness of the fisherman named Salvatore. He, therefore, tricks us by the first line which states ‘I wonder if I can do it’. We read it and then forget about it as we continue to be entranced by the simple but eventful life of Salvatore, the Italian fisherman. Maugham only draws our attention back to the first line to indicate how we are prone as readers to overlook certain prose tricks adopted by writers. It also shows us how we easily forget what we read in a short story even if it is the very first line.
Maugham wants to paint a sketch of Salvatore’s life and wonders whether he would be able to do so. He is confident that he will do so because he has faith in his writing abilities and his readers. He has faith in the fact that we will overlook the first line and be absorbed in the sketch. Maugham is a master at his craft. We immediately take to Salvatore and his situation in life. The references made about his genuine and innocent love for his fiancé is touching and endearing. The mention of him writing letters to her from his battleship while completing his military service brings a choke to our throats. The description of his ‘childlike handwriting’ endears him to us. When he is struck down with a serious form of rheumatism and we see that he is overjoyed to return to his fiancé, we as readers are aware of impending sadness for Salvatore. He is twice referred to as an innocent dog in this story:
- When he bore his mysterious ailment with the uncomprehending patience of a dog.
- When he realized that his fiancé had broken off with him because of permanent rheumatism then his eyes had a look of a dog that had been beaten.
By likening him to a creature who is considered the most faithful animal of human beings Maugham makes us empathize rather than feel just plain morose for Salvatore. He was loyal to his people and the fiancé he loved; never did he say a harsh word against her for what she had done to him. In fact, he saw it from her perspective and realized that she needed a strong fisherman rather than a crippled one in her life. She wanted security in life, little knowing what a gem of a man she was rejecting in the bargain. Salvatore goes on to marry Assunta who was older than him, but a woman with money. He seemingly married her because even she had lost her fiancé while he was on military service. He first calls her ‘ugly as a devil’ which brings to our mind the stereotype image men have about independent-single women. It was his mother who cleared up that prejudice in Salvatore’s mind about Assunta and then he was ready to attend High Mass to have a look at her.
Notice that he calls her ‘ugly’ first then goes to see her ‘properly’ later. It indicates that most probably Salvatore had never seen Assunta before and was just calling her ugly because he had heard about her and this was the prejudice one had towards independent-single women. It also indicates that Salvatore may have decided to have one ‘careful’ look at her to assure himself that he would be happy to settle down with Assunta. It could technically also mean that she was not a good-looking woman and that Salvatore had seen her, but now he wanted to look at her beyond mere appearances since he too was rejected for his physical disability. The order of courtship is reversed in this story, for it is Assunta who proposes to Salvatore’s mother first and not the other way around. The fact that an early twentieth-century plain Italian fisherman could accept this meant that he was genuinely a nice person at heart bringing us back to the fact that he in his simplicity looked beyond appearances. One can say that Assunta too looked beyond a man’s physical state. She saw the goodness in Salvatore and wanted to marry him.
I want to draw your attention now to the angelic nature of Salvatore. We see this completely innocent side of him throughout the story:
- When he bathed his younger brothers and was a nursemaid to them.
- When he bathed his two sons, one a three-year-old, the other less than two.
- When he wrote letters in a simple way to his fiancé.
- That he is described by Maugham to have had kindly eyes and an ingenuous smile all through his life.
- How he used to force himself to work despite his rheumatism.
- He always had a smile on his face and a good word for everyone even when he was in pain due to his rheumatism.
- How he never said a harsh word to the fiancé who rejected him.
This is Maugham trying to draw out our conviction that Salvatore was a wonderful human being. The description of him bathing his naked toddlers in the sea is one such clear paragraph about his simplicity and innocent eyes. He, by this time, is a huge, burly man, with enormous hands like legs of mutton, which makes us realize that rheumatism did not stop Salvatore from becoming a strong-muscled person who was dedicated to his duties as a fisherman and his family. What was his fiancé’s loss was Assunta’s gain. We feel like bashing the heads of the tourists who call Salvatore a lazy Italian fisherman because we know that he has a crippling form of rheumatism and so was often seen lying on the beach in between work in pain.
Assunta is a grim-faced woman, a woman who looks older than her years, but who adores her young husband and respects him. She had nothing but harsh words for the fiancé that had left him because she could see the goodness in him. Maugham keeps on making us see the goodness in Salvatore through the eyes of the various characters in the story, and ultimately at the end with a personal note to us, his readers. We are at first unable to understand the virtue shining forth from Salvatore because of our cluttered mind. Maugham then makes it clear to us that Salvatore indeed had the virtue of goodness.
There are a lot of takeaway points from this story:
- The beach as a symbol of permanency and the sea as the passage of time.
- The candid innocence of Salvatore as he bathed his naked children and sat the smaller one on the palm of his one hand marveling at how small the child was.
- Salvatore was a man who had a caring and tender side to him that made him take charge of doing chores that normally women would do during his time and in his society.
- He was first a nursemaid to his two younger brothers and that prepared him to look after his two boys.
- His first fiancé lived on the Grande Marina island and behaved like she was the daughter of Caesar. This is indicative of how different she was from Salvatore’s innocence and that the twain would never meet.
- When Salvatore hears that he will be crippled for life, he rejoices at it because he would get to go home to the fiancé he loved. He never once thought that she would reject him because of the disease. He just thought she would be happy that he was back. He was certainly naïve.
I’m fond of William Somerset Maugham’s stories and I do hope that this short story analysis was helpful to you. I hope to read more works by Maugham and will then review them on my blog. If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content then you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you want to buy my books then you can check out my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you all this week!
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