Luigi Pirandello World Literature Analysis
Pirandello had a penetrating, critical mind. While reflecting upon his life and works, he suggested to his biographer that the time and place of his birth—the Càvusu (Sicilian for “chaos”) district of Girgenti, during a cholera epidemic, which did not spare his father—informed the themes and style of his work. Besides indicating an intimate relationship between his life and the vision of the world communicated in his writing, Pirandello articulated his love for the disparate that marks the unity of his works, from his first collection of poetry Mal giocondo (1889; painful mirth) to his seminal analysis of the nature of the comic in L’umorismo (1908; revised, 1920; On Humour, partial translation, 1966, complete translation, 1974) and his avant-garde plays. In his dramas, Pirandello juxtaposes contradictions, fuses past and present, and interweaves tragedy and comedy. Analysis of the factors that helped him to develop a new dramatic mode permits comprehension of the subtleties of irony, as well as appreciation for his spiritually isolated characters, intellectually demanding situations, and dynamic theatricalism. The Sicilian sun, which awakens his characters’ passions, shines most brilliantly in his poetry, early fiction, and folk comedies. Southern attitudes are present even in his later plays, however, where overtly lighthearted characters clash with the desperate.
In the 1890’s, Pirandello joined a literary circle that included the Sicilian writers Luigi Capuana and Giovanni Verga. With their encouragement, he wrote naturalistic fiction about life among the lower classes in Sicily and transformed some of those narratives into plays. Written from an objective point of view, Pirandello’s regional studies paint a Sicilian landscape in which his characters, with primitive passions and irrational fears, are overwhelmed by uncontrollable destiny.
From folk comedies, some written in his native dialect, such as La giara (pr. 1917, pb. 1925; The Jar, 1928), he broadened his scope and wrote about situations that were familiar to his audience. Foreign influences pervade these dramas. Some comedies have plots that resemble the French realistic drama. The “well-made plays” by Eugène Scribe, for example, focus on a specific incident. They have tightly constructed linear plots, leading to a major scene of reversal at the climax, and that “crucial episode” enforces the thesis. Genteel characters discuss social problems of the outside world in their parlor; and, because the parlor’s “fourth wall” is removed, the audience overhears their skillfully delivered speeches. The realistic plays of Henrik Ibsen also inspired Pirandello, especially the Norwegian’s use of the analytic technique (retrospective unraveling of the past) and his questioning of ethical standards in such plays as Gengangere (pb. 1881, pr. 1882; Ghosts, 1885).
Both the themes and the dramatic conventions in Pirandello’s plays show the influence of his experiences in Germany. He absorbed elements of the northern, Protestant temperament, reflected in the scientific analyses of phenomenological and metaphysical questions, as well as in the brooding subjectivity of German Romantic literature. He acquired the ability to bracket concepts and to dissect ideas, and his training in philology helped him to capture the rhythms and flavor of colloquial speech. A master of prose with a love for dialectical argument, Pirandello has each character express himself or herself in a particular style. They use words that have unique meanings for them individually, while their interlocutors interpret what is heard according to their own perceptions, thus creating tension. While some characters attempt to safeguard their individuality, others accept new linguistic systems, proving that meanings of words can be altered by common consent. Hence, Pirandello demonstrates that language can reflect the dialectics of life and that lack of communication can lead to alienation.
Pirandello’s pessimistic temperament and anguished memories of coping with a demented wife, who lived simultaneously on different planes of reality, helped him to develop attitudes about existence that he wished to dramatize. In his experimental plays, he brings to the foreground themes already introduced in his narrative fiction: masks and the multifaceted personality, the relativity of truth, humankind perplexed by the flux of time, and the problems of artistic creation. Within the intellectual framework of philosophy and psychology, he presents dramatic embodiments of the inner world of the self, but he enlivens the stage with theatrical tricks.
Pirandello was hailed as an innovator after the premiere of Cosí è (se vi pare) (pr. 1917, pb. 1918; Right You Are [If You Think So], 1922). The...
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