Sunday, 21 October 2012

“The Lotus Eater”: An analysis

by Sommerset Maugham


•   Lotus eater  – a person who lives an idle, comfortable life, does not think/care very much about anything.

•  Setting - On the beautiful island of Capri, Italy. The places mentioned are the small, comfortable cottage Wilson lives in before the age of 60 as well as the woodshed where he lives after the age of 60. The time of the story is in the early 1900’s.

•  Point of view – The story is narrated from the first person point of view.

General summary

The Lotus Eater tells of a man who plans to live a happy life to a certain period of time, but faces difficulties when things do not work out the way he wants them to be.

Sequence of events (Traditional Plot)

Rising actions
Visits Capri for the first time
Falls in love with Capri
Makes decision to live on Capri
Sells house and buys annuity for 25 years
Lives happily for 25 years
Runs out of money
Landlord asks to leave cottage

Tries to kill himself

Falling actions
Does not dies
Lives in woodshed
Looks after goats and chickens
Becomes a misfit
Dies six years after he tries to kill himself

Sequence of events – Textual evidence

Before Thomas Wilson is 60:

“After my first visit here I went back to London. I was a bank manager.”
“I was on holiday in Italy at the time. I took a boat from Naples to visit Capri for a few days.”
“I fell in love with this island the first moment I saw it.”
“I had no family. I had no other relations and no close friends.”
“I decided that I was going to love here for the rest of my life.”
“But I did not decide in a hurry. I had to be sure that I was not making a terrible mistake.”
“I decided I was going to live a happy life before I die.”
“I had some savings and I sold my house in London. With this money, I bought an annuity for 25 years.”
“He lived in a small cottage. I found this cottage when I first came back.”

After Thomas Wilson is 60:

“It was thirteen years before I went back to Capri again.”
“When he reached the age of sixty, the money was finished.”
“He lived like this for over a year.”
“In the end, the owner of the cottage told him he had to leave unless he paid the rent.”
“That night, he tried to kill himself.”
“He was very ill, but was still alive.”
“Assunta helped him. She and her husband let him live in the woodshed behind their house. They gave him food and he looks after their goats and chickens.”
“It’s not very comfortable in the woodshed. Burning hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.”
“What a terrible way to live. He was like a wild animal.”
“He had lived for six years in that woodshed. Wilson died last year.”

Character Analysis

Thomas Wilson
The friend
The narrator

Textual evidence (examples)
1.   Thomas Wilson
Before the age of 60:
  about 50 years old with grey hair, and face burnt brown by the sun,
  careful person, does not make decisions in a hurry,
  a loner,
  likes to meet people,
  “The man was about fifty and he was dressed in old clothes. He had grey hair and his face was burnt brown by the sun.”
  “But I did not decide in a hurry. I had to be sure that I was not making a terrible mistake”
  “I decided I was going to live a happy
  “I had no family… . I had no other relations and no close friends.”
  “He was happy to be by himself…”
“…he also enjoyed meeting people from time to time.”
  “For a long time, Wilson has lived an easy life”

After the age of 60:
  does not recognise friends
  may have become insane
 like a wild animal
• “When the time came to make a decision, he was unable to do anything.”
• “He didn’t know who I was.”
• “Perhaps his mind was damaged by the smoke.”
  “He was like a wild animal.”
2.   The friend
  kind and generous
  “My  friend had invited him to come and have dinner with us.”
  “I went to visit him in hospital.”
“I’ve tried to speak to him.”
  “I gave her some money so that she can buy some tobacco for him.”
3.   Assunta
  kind, considerate and sympathetic
• “She cleans the rooms and she cooks my meals.”
  “They (Assunta and her husband) took him to the hospital….”
  “Assunta helped him.”
“She and her husband let him live in the woodshed behind their house.”
4.   The narrator
  “What about your family?”
“But what about your work?”
“And you have no other regrets?”
  “But what about money? Did you have money to leave work and come here?”


Man’s quest for happiness

Thomas Wilson wants to live a happy life and goes through the trouble of preparing himself financially until he is sixty years old. When he is 60, he realises that he is incapable of taking his own life. He is then forced out of his home to live on the charity of others and lives in a deplorable state. He becomes a misfit in contemporary society. Wilson does not find happiness but has to pay a very high price for it during the last few years of his life.

Man proposes, God disposes

Man has only limited control over his destiny. Thomas Wilson plans out meticulously to ensure that he leads a happy life until the age of 60 after which he intends to kill himself (commit suicide). When he evicted from his cottage a year later, only then he made a futile attempt to commit suicide. In spite of all the trouble that Wilson takes to make sure that his life turns out the way he wants it to be, he has no control over his fate and destiny.

Literary Techniques – Some examples

Textual reference
1.  Foreshadow (hints at the notion of suicide and death)
“Because he’s going to kill himself”

“He’s going to die when he’s sixty.”

“When his money is finished, he’s going to kill himself.”

“That will be the end.”

But I understood what he planned to do.

“But it was his own life and he could do what he likes with it.”

“It’s rather a sad story.”

“But he was not the same.”

2.  Irony
Wilson wants to escape from routine work but the alternative life he chooses for himself is just as mundane.

“If I stayed working at the bank, I would go on doing the same thing day after day, years after years.”

“They gave him food and he looks after their goats and their chickens.”

3.    Contrast
“He lived in a small cottage” (refers to cosy, comfortable and beautiful cottage). 

“She and her husband let him live in the woodshed behind their house.” (refers to an uncomfortable, crude and dilapidated building).

“He was happy to be by himself, but he also enjoyed meeting people from time to time.”

“He runs away whenever I go near him.”

“He played some music by Beethoven.”(shows a refined man)

“He was like a wild animal.” (shows an uncivilised man)

4.    Symbol
“moon”, “moonlight” may symbolize calmness, tranquility, peacefulness. From a distance the moon looks beautiful but in reality it is quite harsh. The moon also symbolizes irrationality (lunar – lunacy).

“On my last night, I went for a walk to see the Bay of Naples by moonlight. It was a full moon that night – the same as it is now. And it was on that walk in the moonlight that I made my decision.”

“It had been a full moon the night before. Wilson had died in the moonlight.”

5.    Images
“He has grey hair and his face was burnt brown by the sun.”

“I could see the red smoke coming from the top of the Vesuvius.”

Next morning, I went swimming in the bright, clear water.

The crowd of people following the procession were laughing, dancing and singing.

There was a huge flowering tree beside the door of the cottage.

The tree was covered with large, brightly coloured flowers.”

6.    Simile
“He was like a wild animal.”



  1. really helpful stuff. thank you so much.

  2. its more than awsome, i understand every thing about this short story

  3. Enjoyed this...Short but nicer analysis...

  4. It's really helpful for my final BA exam..... thanks a lot🙂🙂🙂

  5. You are going to help me pass literature

  6. Yes,definitely very helpful

  7. Thank you so much! Really helpful, I appreciate your hard work