The Soul of Laploshka | Summary
The Soul of Laploshka opens with the narrator begins introducing Laploksha as one of “the meanest men” he had ever met. Laploksha was rude, but charming in a way that people forgave his curt words. A majority of his carefully-selected circle of acquaintances were financially well-off, and because of this Laploksha- despite being of moderate income himself- was able to live comfortably within his own expense and at the expense of others.
Because of this, he was more anxious and distrustful towards those of similar or less financial income status as him. He lived in worry that he may be asked to spend or loan, and if that ever was the case, he would firmly ensure the money was returned the very next day. This palpable anxiety made it easy to prey on him- for example, pretending to forget one’s wallet and flustering Laploksha by asking him to pay the cab. He would never compromise his reputation by refusing, but often found ways to escape the situation.
The narrator had a chance to fluster him this way one evening when they dined at a cheap boulevard restaurant. He pretended to not have his money, and asked Laploksha to pay, saying he would return it. However, the next day he said that not only did he not have the money, but he would be going on a six-month long trip, and would probably be unable to return it soon.
That evening, Laploksha died from a presumed heart failure- though the narrator suspected it was from grief. It stirred a guilt-ridden conscience in him- more than being responsible for his death, the narrator could not bear to hold on to the two francs he owed Laploksha. In any other circumstance, he would have donated to the poor- but knowing Laploksha’s fear of unwilling generosity, the narrator realized he would have to tactfully donate to the “deserving rich”, instead. It is only such an action that would put the late man’s soul at ease.
It seemed impossible, but on Sunday, the narrator saw a collection box for “The Poor of Monsieur le Cure” in front of the church. According to a man nearby, they were not really poor at all, but pampered. Deciding that this would be the end to his guilt, the narrator dropped two francs inside with a blessing for the rich of Monsieur le Cure. However, it was far from over- the narrator started seeing Laploksha everywhere. Paris, London, Vienna, in cafe’s, restaurants, poring over menus and eyeing the narrator reproachfully.
When the narrator was at church, a woman handed him a single 2-franc coin and asked him to pass it forward to the donation basket. Hit by inspiration, the narrator slipped his two owed coins into the basket instead, and pocketed the lady’s single coin- hence withdrawing Laploksha’s money from the poor, who received it wrongly during the narrator’s first, misinformed donation. Later, the narrator saw a rich but shabbily dressed Barron in front of the church. Pretending to be American, he asked a great deal of questions and then handed the 2 francs to the Barron as a token of appreciation for the services. Barron accepted it confusedly, dropping it into the donation box for “The Poor of Monsieur le Cure”. It was only then that Laploksha’s soul was at peace- after all, no matter who the money went to in the end, it had been given directly to the hands of the rich, rather than the poor.
The Soul of Laploshka | Analysis
The Soul of Laploshka is written by H. H. Munro, who goes by the pen name of SakiI. Saki was a writer of the Edwardian era, well known for his fictitious short stories. One of his biggest strengths is his wittiness and ability to translate a sense of psychological awareness into words. We see this in The Soul of Laploshka, where the narrator’s guilty conscience leads him to seeing the late Laploshka everywhere he goes- a representation of the man’s soul being at unrest- until he finally settles the debt with him and allows the soul to find peace. This story is written in first-person narrative. The past-tense creates the understanding that the narrator is looking back on the incident as a memory, recounting both the events as well as his feelings about it. The themes of this story are guilt, conscience, unrest, and correcting past actions.
Saki cleverly uses the introductory paragraphs to paint a brief image of Laploshka’s character- “mean” but charming enough to make the onlooker ignore his meanness. It is important to note the charming nature, as that is what gave him the possibility of not only having a large circle of acquaintances, but being able to select them personally. The line “A two-franc cigar would be cheerfully offered to a wealthy patron, on the principle of doing evil that good may come” acts as a subtle foreshadowing to the narrator’s future plight, with the reference to the cigar worth two francs. It is two francs that the narrator borrowed and did not return in time to Laploksha, which prompted this search for a rich person to donate to.
“The knowledge of this amiable weakness offered a perpetual temptation to play upon Laploshka’s fears of involuntary generosity.”
The narrator mentions that people used to tease Laploshka’s fears by pretending to forget their wallets every once in a while, or asking for a loan. This falls under the broader theme of human conscience. As it seems like a playful joke, the others don’t consider Laploksha’s situation or worries, which leads to them not feeling guilty about their actions. However, the narrator’s actions coincidentally coincide with Laploshhka’s death, and this makes the narrator feel the need to repent. This represents the nature of humans, where the conscience is often only stirred when they realize their consequences– otherwise, several actions are overlooked or brushed off as lighthearted.
“But the gods send opportunities at some time to most men, and mine came one evening when Laploshka and I were supping together in a cheap boulevard restaurant.”
The first aspect to note here is that playing with Laploksha’s weakness had become a sort of game, to the point that people looked at it as an opportunity. The normalization is what may have clouded the moral judgement of the situation, as well as lead the narrator to believe there would not be serious repercussions. The second point to note is the fact that the narrator remains unnamed throughout the short story. This is done to emphasize his oneness with the crowd, and to portray him as just a regular man- he acted the same way as all the others, which is made clear through the way he describes himself as one of “most men” in the aforementioned line.
“That same day, at sundown, he died. “Failure of the heart’s action,” was the doctor’s verdict; but I, who knew better, knew that he died of grief.”
The line “But I, who knew better” is symbolic of the narrator’s culpability. It is quite probably due to a medical condition that Laploksha passed away, however it is the guilt that made the narrator feel as though the entire situation revolved around his doings. When one feels guilty, every action seems to be a consequence of what they have done. He then says “To have killed Laploshka was one thing; to have kept his beloved money would have argued a callousness of feeling of which I am not capable”- the highlight of “to keep his beloved money” showcases the weight of physical reminders. Those two francs were a material memory which act as a burden- the narrator cannot forget Laploshka because he carries a part of him in his wallet.
“A German in front of me, who evidently did not wish his appreciation of the magnificent music to be marred by a suggestion of payment, made audible criticisms to his companion on the claims of the said charity.” – The narrator mentions this reaction to the “The Poor of Monsieur Le Cure” donation box, which misleads him to thinking it truly was for “rich” people, despite the name. It is because of this he slipped the two francs into the box. This is a reference to the power of perception– the way one man perceived the donation box was enough to influence the narrator’s idea about it, too.
“Poring over the bill of fare with the absorbed scrutiny of one who seeks the cheapest among the cheap was Laploshka.” – the first time the narrator ‘sees’ Laploksha, he is doing something money-related- looking at the bill. “Wherever I happened to be, I continued to see a good deal of Laploshka.” These two lines encompass the narrator’s consciousness and the unrest of Laploshka’s soul. Laploshka looks on reproachfully, following the narrator around by spirit, as if sending a message that he will not be able to rest in peace until the little bit of him left on Earth is buried in its rightful place. This seems to be the classic case of the phrase “where your treasure is, your heart will be also”. Meanwhile, the narrator is unable to rid himself of the image of Laploshka because of the loose end their last interaction left behind.
In the church, the narrator is asked to pass forward a two-franc piece. The constant reappearance of the two francs symbolizes the turmoil of an unrested soul, both living and dead- Laploshka in a literal sense, and the narrator in a psychological sense. When the narrator places his own money in the church’s donation box and pockets the lady’s two francs, his “mind was lighter than it had been for a long time.” Taking the money of a well-to-do lady restores a sense of balance!
Finally, the narrator puts Laploshka’s soul at rest by handing his two francs to a Barron. The baron was well-off, but dressed shabbily. And more importantly, there is a sense of superficiality that can be felt from Laploshka’s expectation. In the end, the two francs is dropped by the Barron into the donation box for the poor- which is what Laploshka did not want. But the narrator, “caught a fleeting glimpse of Laploshka. He smiled, slightly raised his hat, and vanished. I never saw him again.” This means Laploshka was satisfied by the narrator’s actions, despite where the money ended up. And the reason for this is because the hands that received the money. “After all, the money had been GIVEN to the deserving rich, and the soul of Laploshka was at peace.” It was the rich and wealthy baron to whom his money had gone- after that, the money belonged to the baron. It was not Laploshka’s worry or care what the baron did with it, for it was no longer his own. From his part, his money was given to the “deserving rich” and that was all he needed to rest in peace.