Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Cesare Pavese was obsessed with the idea of suicide, a recurring theme in his works. When he was still in school, a close friend of his killed himself with a revolver in the manner described in “Suicides.” At his funeral, Pavese, wild with grief, was prevented at the last moment from following his friend’s example. The subject was constantly in his thoughts, as many entries in his personal diary attest. The protagonist in “Suicides” is, in effect, a neutral version of Pavese himself.

Pavese’s work expresses with painful clarity the crises and despair of modern humanity. A major theme in all of his works is that of solitude or alienation. Pavese wrote in his diary that the “greatest misfortune is loneliness. The whole problem of life, then, is how to break out of one’s own loneliness, how to communicate with others.” The protagonist in “Suicides” is continuously seeking to be alone with his innermost thoughts. His efforts at integrating into the city fail, and the only comfort he derives from it is to wander its deserted streets or to gaze unseen at its inhabitants. With Carlotta, the protagonist jealously preserves his privacy and attempts at all costs not to strive for any kind of human bond because he knows that this is impossible with the human condition.

Love also becomes a marginal aspect of human solitude. When Pavese was at the university, he fell in love with a woman with whom he had an affair that lasted five years. In 1935, he was arrested for alleged antifascist activities and spent ten months in exile. On his return, the woman he loved abruptly left him and married another man. A hatred for women as deceitful, self-centered, and treacherous subsequently appears in almost all of his works. He portrays women savagely and with a certain degree of violence. In “Suicides,” his brooding spirit of revenge against women reaches its extreme limit when the protagonist not only makes Carlotta suffer but suggests to her the idea of suicide by telling her how his young friend had killed himself. Love is not a solution, and the narrator in “Suicides” reproaches himself for even a kind thought or tender moment shared with Carlotta.