Somerset Maugham's The Luncheon
Length: 1301 words (3.7 double-spaced pages)
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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.