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Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Literary Analysis of Somerset W. Maugham's The Luncheon

A Literary Analysis of Somerset

 W. Maugham's The Luncheon

The Analysis of the short story The Luncheon

The text I'm going to analyse represents a short-story, entitled "THE LUNCHEON", written by a prominent, English novelist, short-story writer, playwright and essayist Somerset Maugham. 
First of all I'd like to say some words about the title of the text "The Luncheon". The title of the text is rather ironical. If we consult a dictionary, we can find out that the word "luncheon" means a "light snack", but as we can see hereinafter a light snack turns to be an abundant and expensive meal. 
The text represents the first person narration. The use of pronouns "I", "my", "myself" is predominant. E.g. "Did I remember?", "My heart sank", "as for myself, I chose the cheapest dish". 
The plot of the text is the following: the narrator, a book writer, recognizes a woman with whom he had lunch years ago. He starts remembering the unforgettable evening. He was young, lived in Paris and could barely make ends meet. She had read of his books and wrote a letter to congratulate him on his work. He invited her for lunch and to his horror she chose an expensive restaurant. He had only eighty francs to last him the rest of the month. She ordered one expensive dish after another and when the bill came he paid and was left with no money at all. However, in the end, the narrator feels that he has finally had his revenge when he sees that the lady now put a lot of weight. 
Maugham offers the reader a description sustained by dialogues which has a source in a flash back. The author presents a flash back soon at the beginning of the text and this flash back becomes an important detail "Did I remember?" which allows us to know what had happened twenty years ago. The flash-back goes to the last paragraph when the narrator comes back to the present time and shows us that he had been revenged. 
The tone of the text is ironical. Irony is presented here in a stressed form, mainly in scene of restaurant. 
The given text can be divided into 3 logical parts: the 1 one is presented by 2 first paragraphs when the narrator sees the lady at the theatre in 20 years since their first meeting, which recurs to his memory in the second logical part. I'd like to say that it's the story in the story. So, this very part can be divided into3 structural parts. I think that it has the open structure: it possesses the exposition, the story and the climax. 
The exposition begins with the sentence "It was twenty years ago and I was living in Paris" and ends with the words " I answered that I would meet my friend by correspondence at Foyot's on Thursday at half past twelve." Here the reader learns about place of action – Paris and time – it was 20 years ago. We learn that the main the narrator was very poor and could hardly keep body and soul together. The reader gets information about the events which preceded the meeting of the main characters. The protagonist got the letter from a lady who was admired by his work, she wrote that she was interested to have chat with him and suggested meeting at Foyot's, one of the most expensive restaurants. He was flattered and couldn't say "no" to her. The author uses: epithets little luncheon and modest luncheon are in contradiction with the luxury restaurant Foyot's at which the French senators eat. I think it is used to achieve the ironical effect., the epithet – tiny room and the cliché to keep body and soul together underlines the fact that he lived in want. 
Then comes the main part. It begins with the narrator's description of his admirer and lasts till the last sentence. The action takes place in the restaurant. Here the reader learns more about the main characters. They are presented both directly and indirectly. So, the male character is the ingenuous one as we may note through the expressions from his way of thinking, acting anf speech "Foyot's was so far beyond my means that I had never even thought of going there", " I was flattered,and I was too young to have learned to say "no" to a woman". These and other 
examples show us the narrator's traditional concepts. He is also an educated man, polite, 
from a good family tradition. 
As for the female character, we can get a clear idea about her from what the narrator tells about her "She was not so young as I expected and in appearance imposing rather than attractive. She was, in fact, a woman of forty ( a charming age, but not one that excites a sudden and devastating passion at first sight), and she gave me the impression of having more teeth, white and large and even, than were necessary for any 
practical purpose. She was talkative, but since she seemed inclined to talk about me I was prepared to be an attentive listener. So, we can see that the narrator is the mouthpiece of the author. And also we learn about her through her actions, behaviour and speech: e.g she repeats "I never eat anything for luncheon", but she eats everything she can, as the narrator says: "I watched the abandoned woman thrust the asparagus down her throat in voluptuous mouthfuls and in my polite way discoursed on the condition of the drama in the Balkans." So we can make a conclusion that the woman is smart, experienced, selfish, cold, without any feeling except to fulfill her desires. I think that he perceives her as a beast of pray and the hyperbole "she gave me the impression having more teeth, white and large and even, than were necessary for any practical purpose, proves this idea. 
The dialogues between the host and the guest are effective and permit the reader to witness what is happening. We can easily perceive how the writer makes the tone vary in the words of the characters. The woman's tone never changes while she cheats the host and orders the most expensive dishes, and the repetition of same phrases proves it I never eat anything for luncheon", and "I never eat more than one thing". And that is the key sentence of the text. The woman's insistence in saying that she does not eat anything for lunch is in the stressed mark of irony, for she ate like a heroine. The contrast in this short – story gives origin to a complex game between the host and his guest and it is sustained through the situation of the host which becomes worse as time goes by. 

We can feel the suspense to be developed through the words of the narrator from the very beginning. At the beginning of the text we notice his willingness to please her, but as the time passes his utterances become shorter and shorter and his tone becomes more and more subdued. e/g. metaphor: my heart sank a little, I turned a little pale, my heart sank,panic seized me. He answered generously,I answered promptly, I asked faintlyHe becomes less generous, as he is more worried about how much he will have to pay. It was the only thing he could think about. 
The tension gets to its highest point when the bill comes. I believe this moment to be the climax of the text.

Summary of The Luncheon

The writer of 'The Luncheon' William Somerset Maugham, in this short story,relates about a lady who is an admirer of his stories. She wins the author's favour and expresses her wish to meet him at a high class restaurant.William exposes the false motives of modest eating habits, of the middle classes with a touch of humour.
Twenty years ago the author was living in Paris, when he had met a lady, who is an admirer of his stories. She had met him at a play and relates to him the incident during the interval which had occurred at that time. She had read a book written by him, and had written a letter to him about her views. Another letter was posted, stating about her visit to Paris and her desire to have a little luncheon at the Foyots, a restaurant where French senators eat. William was not a rich man and had never even thought of visiting that restaurant, nor did he possess the art of refusing her request.
Estimating the cost of a luncheon, which should not cost more than fifteen Francs,he decided to cut down coffee from his menu, so that he could have enough for himself for the next two weeks. His meeting was fixed on Thursday, at half past twelve, through correspondence.The lady was in her Forties, talkative, and not attractive. She had ordered for Salmon,and Caviare, while the Salmon was being prepared.William had ordered for the cheapest dish mutton- chops.
After the meal, she had ordered for white champagne. She kept enjoying the meal, and chatting about art, literature, and music, while William kept wondering about the bill.The bill of fare was soaring above that which he had anticipated.When the waiter had come with the bill she waived him aside with an air of gesture and ordered for Asparagus, the horribly expensive dish.William's heart sank, his mouth watered, and yet he had to quell his emotions.Adding to worsen the situation, she ordered for ice-cream and then coffee, all the same announcing that 'she never ate anything for luncheon - just a bite' Thoughts kept reeling through William's mind about how he was going to pay the exorbitant bill or how could he feign an act of his pocket having been picked.
To his utter dismay,the head waiter walked up to the table with a large basket full of huge Peaches.She picked up one protesting that her meal was just a snack, and that she could certainly enjoy the Peach.
The bill was finally paid, and William found himself with just a few Francs for the tips, and not a penny left in his pocket for the whole month. William believes, that he had had his revenge for then, when the Twenty years had passed by, he met her weighing One Hundred and Thirty -Six Kilograms.

The Theme

The primary theme of the short story 'Luncheon' by Somerset Maugham is appearance vs. reality.
The speaker, in 'Luncheon', wishes from the beginning that his date would be a beautiful woman. He imagines a portrayal of a graceful lady in his mind. But, when he goes to have a lunch with her, she appears as a surprising blast, a total opposite to his imagination. Not only her appearance but also her dialogues express that she is an extremely fat, food-loving and ravenous woman who does not even think a bit about the costs the speaker would have to pay for the lunch. She has a very good appetite, and gobbles a lot of money also. The most interesting part is the verbal irony hidden in the lines she utters to the speaker, like she does not eat too much etc.
The irony concealed in her speeches helps to develop the main theme. These ironies make 'Luncheon' a comic story in the true sense.


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