The Question of Goodness: A Critical Appreciation of W. Somerset Maugham's 'Salvatore' 12th Grade

In “Salvatore” William Somerset Maugham questions what it means to be good, and whether a life is better spent being “merely” good than chasing love, ambition, or wealth. Maugham centres his narrative around a young fisherman, Salvatore, and his upheavals in life and love. A cryptic opening line (“I wonder if I can do it”) arrests our attention. Soon, reader and writer are drawn into a shared narrative experiment. In a flight of Dickensian fancy, Maugham creates a flat character embodying a single virtue—“goodness”—and wonders whether he can sustain our attention on the strength of his masterly portrait of a good-natured boy from a quaint hamlet in Italy.

Maugham relays Salvatore’s innate gentleness through carefully crafted description and a guarded, neutral third-person narrative without much insight into the characters’ everyday thoughts. Salvatore, when we first meet him, is a “boy of fifteen, with a pleasant face, a laughing mouth, and care-free eyes.” Everything about him conveys his naivete, his air of gaiety. He spends his mornings sunning himself on the beach, sprawled half-naked; he capers about the seaside crags and rocks on calloused feet; he gracefully dives in and out of the sea, with the “clumsy, effortless...

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