Character of Wilson in “The Lotus Eater” by William Somerset Maugham

Character of Wilson in “The Lotus Eater”

W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories and novellas are often gems of clever plotting, but their motivating force and brilliance lie in his exquisite characterization. The center of attraction in “The Lotus Eater” is the tragic character of Thomas Wilson.

Maugham introduces the character of Wilson in the very opening paragraph as an uncommon man who has boldly taken the course of his life into his own hands.” The distinction of this gentle and kind looking man lies in the manner he has gambled with his life. More than sixteen years ago he came to Capri on a holiday trip and was transformed into a slave of its natural beauty. Desiring to live for ever in ease and comfort of this beautiful place, he left his job in a bank, forewent his retirement benefit and came back here after buying an annuity for twenty-five years in exchange of all his properties.

Even after above fifteen years’ life on this island, Wilson does not repent his decision. He only regrets the fact that the whole process of settling his future life delayed his coming to Capri by one full year. He believes, “Leisure…is the most priceless thing a man can have”. He describes before the narrator, how 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.

Wilson is a modern lotus eater in the narrator’s eye. Just as the mariners 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 at the end of twenty-five years, therefore, failed, and his attempt at suicide only resulted in his losing half his sanity. He had to live at the mercy of his former servants after being reduced to a pauper. All the time thereon he had a strange look in his eyes, avoided public company. He went on living in that state for about six years.

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. “Perhaps he died of the beauty of that sight”, writes Maugham.

Wilson is a modern tragic hero whose fall comes from his excessive fondness for happy tranquility, a flaw that bereaves man’s power of physical action and mental resolution.

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