What is the conflict in Pirandello's play Six Characters in Search of an Author?

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author" belongs to the genre of the Theater of the Absurd; that is, theater which presents life as meaningless, nonsensical, and comic. When the play opens conflict is apparent from the start, as six characters appear who are in search of an author to finish their play. They interrupt a rehearsal in progress which irritates both the director and the actors.

However, as the play progresses, more conflict is apparent among the group of the six characters as they discuss the plot in which they are involved. The Father (a character) tires of The Mother (another character), and she goes off with his male secretary. They have three children. Mother eventually returns to the town, and more conflict occurs. This conflict is somewhat comedic as the beautiful Stepdaughter (a character) is given employment by Madame Pace who wants her to work in the brothel in back of the shop. The Father visits the brothel and nearly has sex with the Stepdaughter but is stopped by the Mother. At the climax of the play, The Boy (a character) shoots himself and neither the characters, the actors or the director can figure out if he is really dead.

Director: Pretense? Reality? To hell with it all! Never in my life has such a thing happened to me. I've lost a whole day over these people, a whole day! (act 3)

In this manner the main conflict is revealed which is distinguishing the fine line between reality and illusion. This theme is common in the Theater of the Absurd as illustrated in other plays such as "Waiting for Godot" and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."

lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are actually several conficts within Pirandello's play. The conflict that sets the plot in motion is that between the author and his six characters. As the play begins, the characters directly address the audience to announce that they are on stage to look for a new author to complete their story as the one who created them has left their story incomplete. The characters also create a contrast with the actors wh will eventually come to embody them. They think they are more "authentic" than the actors. This initial situation creates a sense of conflict between reality and illusion, which is the main theme of the play. Like several other Modernist works, Six Characters in Search of an Author calls attention to its own fictional devices, dismissing, in spite of its characters' claim on their authenticity, all realistic pretences.

In addition, there are important conflicts among the six characters themselves: the Son is resentful against his father and his adoptive family; the Step-daughter, in turn, dislikes her step-father (whom she meets in the brothel where she has to work) and the Son because of his contempt.

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