Economic hardship is one of the major themes in "Salvatore." Maugham touches on the theme subtly but with persistence. While Salvatore and his family are never described as impoverished, their lives involve grueling manual labor, a lack of education, and no employment opportunities beyond what is immediately available on the island: vineyard cultivation and fishing. Maugham also emphasizes the family's poverty by writing about the modesty of their dwellings. Economic hardship arises most prominently when Salvatore's fiancée ends their engagement because her family does not believe he will earn enough to provide for her after he is diagnosed with rheumatism. Ultimately, economic hardship characterizes Salvatore's existence by limiting his options; however, he lives a happy and fulfilling life despite economic precariousness.
Accompanying the theme of economic hardship is the theme of work. Throughout the story, Salvatore works hard at demanding jobs and roles, whether as an attentive brother, a naval service member, fisherman, vineyard cultivator, or father. In the context in which he lives, Salvatore is expected to work to support himself and his family. When he is diagnosed with rheumatism, however, people doubt his ability to labor. Despite his often debilitating rheumatism, Salvatore works hard, fishing all night and cultivating his vineyard in the morning and evening.
Disability is another of the major themes in "Salvatore." Although he is healthy and robust as a young man, Salvatore develops rheumatism while serving in the navy. The condition, characterized by extremely painful inflammation in the joints and muscles, means Salvatore is no longer expected to serve. Although he is initially delighted to return home, news of his disability beats him home and he learns that his fiancée won't marry a man who might not be able to work. In spite of the lowered expectations people project onto him, Salvatore continues to labor as a fisherman and vine grower. Often his condition means he needs to lie on the beach and rest, but ultimately he proves that he can support his family and live a happy life in spite of his physical limitations.
Virtuousness is the dominant theme in "Salvatore." Encapsulated in the narrator's repetition of “goodness, just goodness” at the story's close, virtuousness is Salvatore's chief quality and what the narrator hopes to convey through describing the man. Despite the hardships thrown at him, Salvatore never complains or sees himself as unduly punished. When he is diagnosed with rheumatism and rejected by his fiancée, he accepts her decision graciously and moves on with his life. Even though he settles for Assunta out of practicality more than love, Salvatore treats her well and discovers that he is happy with her, and she with him. Despite the pain of his rheumatism, he works hard night and day, takes an active part in his children’s upbringing, and continues to laugh and smile with the kindness and innocence he possessed as a child. Ultimately, Salvatore's goodness is unconscious to him: he simply accepts life for what it is, is content with what he has, and is kind to everyone he meets.
Salvatore Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Salvatore is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.