My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante

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In My Brilliant Friend, why does Lila reject Marcello but agree to marry Stefano? Are Stefano and Lila truly in love?

Quick answer:

While Marcello and Stefano are both at the top of the social scale, Lila associates Stefano with the future of the neighborhood—a future that includes civility, unity, and a disregard for past quarrels. Conversely, Marcello represents the hatred and violence of the past. As a result, Lila decides to wed Stefano, whom she loves primarily because he seems to embody a new era in the life of the neighborhood.

Expert Answers

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You will recall that, even from an early age, Lila exhibits a deep interest in the past activities and alliances of the neighborhood, especially those of the Solara family and Don Achille, Stefano’s father. As Elena points out early on in the novel, “children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow,” yet Lila is obsessed by the “before.” This was the period, Elena explains, “when Don Achille had showed himself to everyone for what he was: an evil being.” Don Achille’s monstrosity is matched only by the nefariousness of the Solaras. “Silvio Solara ... had a dark stick behind [his] bar,” we are told,

with which he didn’t hesitate to strike anyone who didn’t pay for his drinks, who had asked for a loan and didn’t repay it within the time limit, who made any sort of agreement and didn’t keep it, and often he was helped by his sons, Marcello and Michele, boys the age of Lila’s brother, who hit harder than their father.

We later learn that the Solaras and Don Achille are connected to the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, and that the terror that they stir within the neighborhood has roots that reach well beyond the apartment buildings and stradone that Lila and Elena call home. Because of this, Lila initially associates Marcello and Stefano with the evil doings of their families. This is exacerbated by the fact that the father of one of Lila’s closest friends, Pasquale, is falsely imprisoned for the murder of Don Achille.

However, an important event appears to change Lila’s perceptions. Seeking to heal the rifts of the past, a now older Stefano invites Pasquale’s family, and all of the families of the neighborhood who are not associates of the Solaras, to a New Year’s Eve party. “So,” Elena tells us,

at 11:30pm on December 31st, after the New Year’s dinner, various families—the family of the former carpenter, the family of the porter, that of the shoemaker, that of the fruit and vegetable seller, the family of Melina ... climbed up to the fifth floor, to the old, hated home of Don Achille, to celebrate the new year together.

Stefano’s actions, and his willingness to move on from the past, convince Lila that he is different from his father and completely unlike the hated Solaras. As a result, when Marcello Solara decides to pay court to Lila, and despite her family’s disagreement, Lila rejects Marcello and aligns herself with Stefano. Does she do so out of love? I believe that Lila’s love for the neighborhood, and for its oppressed residents, trumps any love that she could feel for Stefano, or any man. Yet, her reaction to Marcello’s appearance at her wedding and her discovery of Stefano’s treachery seems to confirm that Lila did have some affection for Stefano.

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