Salvatore by W Somerset Maugham: Summary & Analysis

Salvatore by William Somerset Maugham

Summary of the story

The story begins abruptly with “I wonder if I can do it.” The writer is doubtful whether he can hold our attention for a few pages when he narrates the story of Salvatore.

Salvatore was fifteen years old, the eldest son of an Italian fisherman. He had a pleasant face and happily took care of his two younger brothers. He spent his morning lying on the sea-beach and used to swim effortlessly in the sea where his father used to catch fish.

As Salvatore grew, he fell in love and was betrothed to a girl who lived on the Grande Marina. The girl was pretty and had beautiful eyes.

Then Salvatore left home for military service to become a sailor in the navy of King Victor Emmanuel. He felt nostalgic and missed the islands of Ischia and Vesuvius which he now realized were parts of his life as important as his hands and legs. He felt all alone in the battleship living with strangers and also in the noisy friendless cities where he landed. Salvatore now grew homesick. And above all these, he missed his fiancee (the girl he is engaged to) the most.

In service, Salvatore was sent to many places like Spezia, Venice, Bari and China. He fell ill when in China, and as he was suffering from rheumatism he was considered unfit for further service. Salvatore did not mind his illness and rather felt happy to return to his own home. He was eager to meet his family and fiancee.

On his return he was very emotionally welcomed by his parents and brothers with ‘great deal of kissing’ and cry of joy. But Salvatore was looking for his girl in the crowd, but in vain. She was not there.

When he went to her house, she was sitting with her mother at the doorstep. They had already received the news of his illness and learned that he ‘would never be quite well again’, ‘would never be strong enough to work like a man’. So, his fiancee’s mother bluntly told him that her daughter could not marry him now. This was a heartbreak for Salvatore, but he did not blame the girl.

One day Salvatore’s mother told him about Assunta, a girl older than him who had seen him at a festival, fallen in love with him and wanted to marry him. Though at first he denied, on his mother’s advice he got married to Assunta and settled down in a tiny house in the middle of a vineyard. Later they had two children, both boys.

Salvatore had to work hard to earn a living. He used to catch cuttlefish at night. He also used to work in his vineyard the whole day.

His rheumatism often took its toll on him; he would then lie down on the beach with pain racking his limbs but never did he utter an unpleasant word for anyone. Never did he blame anyone for anything in his life.

Salvatore was a responsible husband as well as an affectionate father. At times he gave his children a bath and used to hold them tenderly as if they were flowers.

Finally the author comes back to where he started. He reminds us that he wanted to keep us attentive throughout his narration and he has successfully done so. Maugham depicts the character of Salvatore as a man who possessed nothing but an invaluable quality, “the rarest, the most precious and the loveliest that anyone can have”  – the quality of goodness.

Analysis of the story ‘Salvatore’

The story Salvatore by Somerset Maugham (pronounced as ‘mawm’) is a very short, simple and straightforward story written in third person narrative technique. The author just tells the readers the story of a fisherman named Salvatore who lived in an Italian Island.

The story is actually a biographical sketch of the protagonist (main character) Salvatore in chronological order. The story begins when he was a boy of fifteen and ends when he is a middle-aged man with two children and a wife living peacefully a hard life of a common fisherman.

There is nothing extraordinary in Salvatore’s life except that he catches a disease rheumatism from which he never completely recovers and the breakup of the engagement with the girl he had loved. But as a curious reader you may expect a turn of events, a twist in the tale, towards the end of the story. But that never happens. The ending of the story may well dishearten some readers, and at the same time may amuse others. The lack of a complex plot and a twist that the readers are used to see most of the time makes us wonder if it has really been a story or just an accumulation of events.

But the main theme of the story, as the writer Maugham himself clarifies at the very end, has been the portrayal of a quality in Salvatore’s life — “Goodness, just goodness”. Hence, the story, though apparently seems to be mere narration of events in a young man’s life, is actually a masterly character sketch of the man.

If there is anything mentionable about the style, the beginning and the ending of the story are somewhat uncommon, as the author directly communicates to the readers to say that he just tried to see whether he could hold our attention for a while as he went on to draw the portrait of a man named Salvatore.

Moreover, the writer has not used a lot of direct speeches as we see in most short stories. He rather relies on his own narration of the events. In many places (Salvatore’s marriage with Assunta, his relationship with her etc.) author avoids details to keep the story short.

Use of similes (a direct comparison between two things using ‘as’ or ‘like’) in ‘wept like a child’, ‘thin as a rail’, ‘enormous hands, like legs of mutton’, ‘they were like flowers’ etc. are rather common in the story.