Appropriateness of the title “The Lotus Eater” by William Somerset Maugham

Appropriateness of the title “The Lotus Eater”

The title of W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “The Lotus Eater” is highly suggestive and bears a deep symbolic relation with the story. Derived from the story of the mariners of Ulysses who tasted the lotus plant and flower and fell under a spell and refused to stir no more, the title suggests the outlook to life of Maugham’s protagonist Thomas Wilson.

The story is of Wilson, a modern lotus eater, who left his job just at the age of thirty-five on viewing the natural beauty of Capri, where he had come on a holiday trip. Transformed into a slave of this beauty and desiring to indulge in a life of ease and comfort, he forewent his retirement benefit and chose to buy a quarter of a century of absolute comfort amid this natural beauty in exchange of all his properties. He pawned his life with the belief that “Leisure…is the most priceless thing a man can have”. As he confesses before the narrator, he was intoxicated by the beauty of the place: “It wasn’t wine that made me drunk, it was the shape of the island and those jabbering people, the moon and the sea and the oleander in the hotel garden.”

Just as the companions of Ulysses were rendered inactive by the lotus plants they ate in the lotus island on their way back from the Trojan War, Wilson lost all his capacity to work in Capri due to ‘excessive indulgence in leisurely life. His plan of putting an end to his life, therefore, failed and he had to live at the mercy of his servants after being reduced to a pauper at the end of his annuity of twenty five years, a pathetic life indeed for the former bank contact manager. 

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But the manner of his death suggests that in spite of his bestial life, he remained in his heart of hearts the same ardent lover of nature’s beauty. He was supposed to have died enjoying the beauty of the full moon rising between the two great rocks, a sight that had made Wilson an ardent lover of Capri. The Greek lotus eaters had become permanent residents of the lotus land, and similarly Wilson drank the beauty of Capri and became attached to that place for ever. He is the modern lotus eater, dying of the love for beauty.

The title ironically hints at the tragedy that the non-conformists to nature’s laws often have to face. The escapist in Wilson made him abandon the duties of the world and seek refuge into natural beauties of Capri, a step which was bound to come to a tragic end. The title of Maugham’s story increases its tragic intensity by providing a mythological framework for the life-story of the extra-ordinary man.

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