The story “War” by Luigi Pirandello is a masterpiece of deep thought packaged up in a short episode of narrative and dialogue that takes place as if by chance, when several strangers happen to be in the same carriage in a train. The story lacks action, and the narrative…
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Pirandello uses his understanding of psychoanalysis to highlight the difference between each character’s superficial acceptance of the reality of war, and his or her own deep level inability to come to terms with the suffering that war brings. Seen through the lens of psychoanalysis, this story is not about a train journey to Rome, but rather it is about human life and the journey to true understanding of the unbearable horror of war.
The story was written in 1919, immediately after the end of the First World War. Pirandello himself had a son who was sent to war, and who was taken prisoner. One can assume that there are some autobiographical elements in the depiction of parental reactions to the enforced separation from their sons at a time of great danger. The First World War had been a terrifying for the whole of mainland Europe, and the high numbers of casualties shocked the people to the core. Never before had such an efficient mechanised war taken so many lives. The focus of the opens with the description of an unnamed middle aged couple settling into a train carriage full of other people. The woman is silent, and her role as mother shocked by the imminent departure of her son to the front is sketched in by her apologetic husband.
The role of the suffering mother is very deeply embedded in Western culture. From the heroines of classical Greek and Roman tragedies - to the suffering of the Mother of God at the crucifixion, there is a long tradition of women with their faces covered in grief. Pirandello’s mother figure does this, silently anticipating, the death of a son, or sorrowing this event when it has occurred. It is the epitome of love without return, for the beloved creature is taken away and the mother must grieve for ever because of that. It seems that with this introduction Pirandello wants to present the classical interpretation of how loss of a
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