Salvatore Study Guide

W. Somerset Maugham's "Salvatore" is a short story about an Italian fisherman who conducts himself with kindness and humility despite dealing with economic hardship, heartbreak, and rheumatoid arthritis. Although Maugham begins and ends the story in first-person narration, the majority is written as a third-person biographical sketch of Salvatore, the protagonist.

The narrator first meets Salvatore when the boy is fifteen years old. Fond of sunbathing on the unnamed southern Italian island on which his father owns a vineyard, Salvatore has a pleasant face and charming, innocent demeanor. He falls in love with a local girl, becomes engaged, and then leaves to serve in the navy. He is diagnosed with rheumatism (rheumatoid arthritis) while in China. Ironically, the bad news elates him because it means he can travel home. Upon his return, however, Salvatore learns that his fiancée has broken the engagement because she does not think a disabled man can provide for a family. Salvatore is upset but not bitter about her decision and soon marries a local widow he describes as "ugly as the devil."

Despite his lack of attraction, Salvatore and his wife live a happy life with their two sons. He never says anything negative about the girl who rejected him. Salvatore works hard fishing through the night and tending to their vineyard in the day. Often his painful inflammation means he has to lie on the beach and rest. The narrator concludes the story by commenting that he wonders if he has achieved his goal of entertaining the reader with a simple portrait of a man in possession of the rare and unconscious quality of "goodness, just goodness." Exploring themes of economic hardship, disability, prejudice, and virtuousness, Maugham uses vivid imagery and concise language to draw his portrait of Salvatore, a man who is content with his life despite the adversity he faces.