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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, March 13, 2015

A deceptively simple story: Pirandello's War

Luigi Pirandello is mostly known to American's as the author six characters were in search of but apparently he wrote quite a # of stories and novels, and one story that I have in an at-hand anthology and that Charles May listed in his great stories of the 20th century is the very short piece called simply War: set in Italy during the first World War, story is in the great tradition of railway-carriage fiction. A couple boards the train in the middle of the night and begins to engage in conversation with others in their compartment. They are off to Rome to say good-bye to their son who is heading toward the front. After some perfunctory talk about the sorrows and dangers of war, one man in the compartment goes into a long monologue, revealing that his son died in the war and he's so proud of his son's service to king and country that he never even mourned. After he's done, the woman who boarded in the night says something like: Do you mean to say your son is really dead?, at which point the man bursts into hysterical sobbing. It seems to be the first time he actually recognizes that his son has died. A very simple story, in some ways, but very evocative and mysterious in others - it's as if it takes a human encounter to break through all the rhetoric and polemics about love of king and country, showing us how the myths and "received ideas" that comprise out world view can be pierced and destroyed: It's a romantic idea that it's good to die for one's country, but int he reality of human relationships, family relationships, death is never a good idea or ideal. We also have to wonder: what is this train exactly, is it just a midnight train to Rome, as Pirandello posits, or is it some sort of allegorical device, the journey of one's life - can't we think of Dante, interrupted in the middle of life's journey? - bearing people toward an unbearable confrontation: what is it like to say good-bye to your son when it may be the last time you will see him alive? Are the people on the train actually among the living, or is it a funeral train, bearing them, too, toward their fate? The simple title tells it all, really - during time of war, all human values and concepts are jeopardized, and the simplest journey becomes an allegorical voyage of the dead. 

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