My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante
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What are the actions, objectives, and obstacles of Lila, Elena, and the other neighborhood characters in chapters 7–9 of My Brilliant Friend?

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School is the center point of Elena's life in these chapters: she is in early elementary school. Poverty is one obstacle she faces: her father makes it clear to her that if she does not do well in school, even at this early age, he will pull out and put her to work, as the family needs the money.

In school, Elena, a superior student, enters into rivalry with the brilliant Lila, who outshines everyone. Elena and Lila are not yet friends, but Elena is well aware of Lila, envies her her intelligence, and is determined to compete with her.

Neighborhood politics and economics spill over out of the schoolroom. When the children are put into competition with each other at school, the poorer students know, even at their young age, to let Alfonso Carracci, the rich and powerful Don Achilles' son, win. Even Lila holds back around him. Yet when Enzo inadvertently beats him, and Lila then beats Enzo, Alfonso goes home humiliated and in tears. At this point, the families begin to fight. Stefano, Alfonso's older brother, says threatening things to Lila, and Lila's older brother fights Stefano. Stefano hits and kicks Enzo. Lila's father, a poor shoemaker, feels compelled to apologize to Don Achilles, though he has no reason to, as he does not want to offend this powerful man. Only when Enzo, from a poor family, doesn't protest being beaten up by Lila's brother does the complicated feud end.

We learn from this that rich and poor coexist uneasily in this neighborhood, that the poor don't want to offend the rich, that the rich take offense very easily, and that tempers are volatile. Violence is a way quarrels are settled and life is strongly weighted to benefit the wealthy. We can well understand why Elena feels safest inside the schoolroom, away from the poverty and violence of her home and the local streets. As we will find out, too, these young players will have lives that become ever more intertwined.

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