Essay on Desires Portrayed in Last Night by James Salter

Published: 2021-08-17
1181 words
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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Research paper
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Last Night is a short story written by James Salter in a manner that seeks to grab every reader's attention. The choices of words and build-up of the character's traits are meticulously made to ensure that the story retains originality as well as suspense. The themes highlighted portray current events, and the storyline is filled with emotions thus leaving the readers with an urge of wanting to know the chronological turn of events. It is important to note that the story has very few characters and the setting is also mainly within a family home. Walter is introduced as a translator whose wife, Marit was terminally ill. This story is a narration of the events that happened on the night which Marit had decided to end her life as opposed to keep on suffering on her last days. For this, she had requested the presence of Susanna, a family friend. The story is based on the desires of the three characters and it is filled with cases of the satisfied cravings as well as those not fulfilled. A relationship is created between death, desire, and loss as a reflection of the American culture (Dollimore, 1998). From the short story, it is possible to classify the types of desires based on their necessity and the perception of the characters.

Natural and Necessary Desires

These include the needs that have to be satisfied to live a satisfactory life as human beings. Food, shelter, drinks, and clothing are part of this category, and their primary characteristic is the ease to satisfy and the manner in which fulfillment creates a pleasant mood (Rosenbaum, 1990). In this case, Marit is documented to be wearing a red silk dress which had always made her seductive. This made her have memories of her wedding day. She felt the need to look good on her last night to give a lasting night.

The author also mentions that during their entire lifetime together, the couple were used to going to a hotel and a bar for food and drinks. What is notable is that they had the discipline to only order what they needed and for this case, the maximum they could spend was 35 dollars. This shows the need only to buy what was necessary as opposed to going for luxury.

Natural but non-necessary Desires

This category refers to the urges that are not needed for survival but rather as a preference and to get something extra (Rosenbaum, 1990). Under this set, we can list luxury desires and extra-marital sexual desires.

Luxury Desires

During Marits last night, Walter was willing to order a bottle of Cheval-Blanc for five hundred and seventy-five dollars. The reason for this extravagance was that it was a special night as it was the last for him to spend with his wife. It is quite common for human beings to exhibit this nature during special events with the justification being that it is a one-time expenditure.

Extra Marital Sexual Desires

The suspense in the Last Night is perfect, and one of the unexpected revelations is that of Walter and Susanna having an affair. As the story starts, it is only natural to assume that Susanna's involvement in this crucial event was because she was trusted by both Walter and Marit. Susanna is described as being a "dirty girl, " and she was, in fact, wearing a tiny miniskirt that night (Slater, 2002). For this reason, it is difficult to understand the reason as to why Marit let Susanna and her husband get close. After Walter had administered the suicide dosage, he comes back downstairs and then follows Susanna outside to bring her back to the house. The two then have sex in a room adjacent to that which Marits warm body was lying.

Even before the affair is revealed, hints are guiding the reader to have a suspicion of this possibility. For instance, Marits conversation with Susanna in the car whereby the two discuss the fact that Marit had never had children. Susanna says that she had a dream that she would have them someday but first, she had to get married. This is where Marit said, You could be married in a minute. From this statement, we can only assume that Marit was already aware of the affair and she was implying that Walter would remarry their family friend after she died that night.

Upon returning to the house from the hotel, Marit keeps on talking about what her mother had said on her deathbed. Her words were mainly to reveal the adultery that had been going on in their neighborhood. She mentions names of two married women who had both had affairs with an unmarried guy (Slater, 2002). This narration was to serve as hints and to prepare the reader for what was ahead.

The next morning after the "last night," Walter and Susanna wake up and prepare breakfast. They then receive a big blow as Marit walks downstairs claiming that something had gone wrong with the suicide injection. This scene creates a lot of awkwardness especially because Marit seems to ignore Susanna at first and then later asks her, Youre still here? (Slater, 2002). This ruins Marits last night which was intended to be beautiful occasion into a day of trying to figure out what had gone wrong and at the same time, instills guilt into Walter for having been caught. The assumption can also be that Marit would be convinced that her husband had moved on soon after her death.

The affair between Walter and Susanna can be explained as being a result of the mid-life crisis. It is also possible to acknowledge the fact that Marit was no longer who she once was and Walter had a desire to find a new flame. During breakfast, it is ironical that as they drank coffee, Walter was not even thinking about his wifes body upstairs but he was lustfully staring at Susanna.


It is evident that all the events in the Last Night are based on the desires of the characters. At the start, it is revealed that Marits illness was in the latter stages and she was being prepared for her imminent death. Her desire, however, was to avoid the pain and she instead opted to have a suicide injection that would kill her slowly and painlessly in her sleep. This falls under one of the unfulfilled desires. The issue of luxury wants also arises as the characters want to make the night one to be remembered and they order an expensive bottle of wine. Finally, it is possible to conclude that the main theme of this story is that of sexual desires. Walter's promiscuity is revealed, and the story ends by creating a rift and feelings of guilt among the characters. From the events in the Last Night, it is possible to explain every human action as a result of the urge to satisfy various types of desires.


Works Cited

Dollimore, Jonathan. Death, desire, and loss in Western culture. Psychology Press, 1998.

Rosenbaum, Stephen E. "Epicurus on pleasure and the complete life." The Monist 73.1 (1990): 21-41.

Salter, James. Last Night. The New Yorker, 2002.


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