Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gonzalo Pirobutirro de Eltino

Gonzalo Pirobutirro de Eltino (gohn-ZAH-loh pee-roh-bew-TEE-rroh day ehl-TEE-noh), a middle-aged engineer and writer. Gonzalo carries a grudge against everything and everyone, including his mother, father, and brother (the latter two are dead). He often abandons himself to bouts of anger and makes all kinds of violent accusations: He accuses the peons of thievery, the middle class of being society’s disgrace, the rich of having taken advantage of the war to make money, and the military of being irresponsible warmongers. Often, Gonzalo not only insults and yells at his mother but also batters her. The last heir of the Pirobutirro family, Gonzalo basically is a misanthrope.

Elisabetta Francois Pirobutirro

Elisabetta Francois Pirobutirro, Gonzalo’s mother. Señora Elisabetta lives in a world of illusion. She believes that the family is still wealthy, and she is more concerned with the appearance of their social status than with the emotional problems of her son Gonzalo. She is obsessed with the memory of her son who died in the war.

Doctor Higueroa

Doctor Higueroa (hee-gway-ROH-ah), the Pirobutirro family’s physician. Doctor Higueroa, through his thoughts, symbolizes society’s point of view in its perception of Gonzalo’s personality and behavior, especially the way that Gonzalo treats his mother, Señora Elisabetta.

Cavaliere Trabatta

Cavaliere Trabatta (trah-BAHT-tah), Gonzalo’s neighbor. Cavaliere Trabatta is the victim of a burglary after refusing the protection of the Nistitúo, a vigilante group. He hires mercenaries to be his guards instead, and it is they who find Señora Elisabetta after she is attacked.

Acquainted with Grief The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Acquainted with Grief is dominated by the lethargic sensibility of Gonzalo, caught in “the spreading shadows of neurosis.” He recognizes and disdains his neuroticism, but he is also repulsed by what passes for normality in his society, represented for him by his mother’s bourgeois values. Although Gonzalo is not the first-person narrator, the book is, in effect, his confession.

Gonzalo resents his parents for pursuing money, success, and prestige during his childhood while denying him attention and love. His neurosis centers on his ambivalent attitude toward his parents, and their country estate, for which he believes his life has been sacrificed. Gonzalo is tormented by not being first in his mother’s affections and, at the same time, he is frustrated by his need for maternal love. Partly as an attempt to reject his family ties and partly because he sees everyone as a rival for his mother’s attention, Gonzalo threatens and persecutes his mother. Since he both despises and desires his mother’s jewels, it is appropriate that they are stolen in the attack on Senora Pirobutirro. It is also fitting that one of Gonzalo’s last acts is to trample on a portrait of his father, an outburst against both the person and his property.

Gonzalo displays the jealousy and paranoia of a narcissist. As an aloof, ironic observer of the life around him, he becomes increasingly isolated. He is troubled by his view of a slovenly, incompetent world and by his repression of his anger at this world. His final tragedy is his awareness that love of no kind will ever touch him.

Like her son, Senora Pirobutirro is neurotic and narcissistic, though on a smaller scale. She claims to be self-sufficient, needing no one, including Gonzalo, but this attitude completely contradicts the reality around her. She fools herself into thinking that she possesses the economic and social status which she enjoyed when her husband was alive, for without such delusions, her life would be even emptier. Everything she does and stands for offends Gonzalo, especially her obsession with the memory of her dead son.

Acquainted with Grief Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Adams, Robert Martin. “Carlo Emilio Gadda,” in After Joyce: Studies in Fiction After Ulysses, 1977.

Biasin, Gian-Paolo. “The Pen, the Mother,” in Literary Diseases: Theme and Metaphor in the Italian Novel, 1975.

Dombroski, Robert S. “Overcoming Oedipus: Self and Society in La cognizione del dolore,” in Modern Language Notes. XCIX (January, 1984), pp. 125-143.

Lucente, Gregory L. “System, Time, Writing, and Reading in Gadda’s La cognizione del dolore: The Impossibility of Saying ‘I,’” in Beautiful Fables: Self-consciousness in Italian Narrative from Manzoni to Calvino, 1986.

Pacifici, Sergio. “Carlo Emilio Gadda: The Experimental Novel,” in The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia, 1979.