What is the deeper meaning of “War” by Luigi Pirandello?

The deeper meaning of “War” by Luigi Pirandello is that conflict is simply not worth the immense suffering it causes. It's all too easy to romanticize war, to make it seem glorious, as the man on the train does. But in actual fact, as his heartrending tears illustrate, the truth about war is altogether different and more disturbing.

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One of the train passengers in Pirandello's “War” is a man whose son has recently lost his life in the First World War. At first, the man appears not just stoical in the face of his loss but remains positively committed to what he sees as the glorious cause in which his son fought and died.

He further goes on to say that “decent boys,” which would, of course, include his late son, consider that love of country is greater and more important than the love of one's parents. Sons belong to the nation, not their parents, and when they go off to fight, they don't want to see any tears from their mothers and fathers.

Nor should parents cry when their children die fighting in a war. Instead, they should rejoice that they've been spared the ugly side of life, which most of us experience on a regular basis.

However, the man himself, despite his ebullient rhetoric, breaks down and cries. His tears illustrate the truth in a way that his words never could. War just isn't worth the immense suffering it brings to so many people. It certainly isn't worth the sacrifice of so many young lives, tragically cut down in their prime.

We can try to romanticize and glorify war, but in the end, we cannot avoid the simple fact that it involves bloodshed, suffering, and death. We know this deep within us, and our tears express the truth.

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The deeper meaning or theme of "War" is that there is nothing that can compensate people for the lost lives of their children. To the simple people riding on the train in Italy, each one with a son or sons either at the front or already killed in World War I, love of country or the cause of the greater good can not begin to equal the losses they have suffered.

Pirandello personalizes war. It is not about abstractions like king or country or patriotism but about how the death of beloved children cracks and overwhelms the survivors.

The people on the train quarrel about who suffers the most: the parents who lose an only son, or those who lose one son and still have one left. As one passenger states, love for one's children knows no bounds:

Paternal love is not like bread that can be broken into pieces and split amongst the children in equal shares. A father gives all his love to each one of his children without discrimination . . .

One man speaks up and articulates the "official" line: how can we think only of our own loss when our children are giving up their lives for the love of their country—and because they want to do so? He says he does not grieve his son because his son willingly sacrificed his life for his country. But when a woman on the train probes him, asking if his son is really dead, the reality hits him and he breaks into sobs. In the end, the idea that these young men are doing a good thing for a good cause is broken down: the war is meaningless to ordinary people except in terms of the great grief and pain it brings.

The story speaks to the deep trauma of World War I, a great bloodbath with a vast loss of life. The story was written not long after that war ended and calls into question what its purpose was. Like many others, Pirandello felt the great waste and meaninglessness of that conflict.

Two companion pieces that similarly reflect the sense of trauma the war brought are Katherine Mansfield's "The Fly," which is also about a father grieving the loss of his son in World War I, and Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," which shows the suffering on the battlefield—and like "War," attempts to expose the lies told to justify war. However, "War" is a gentler, if still deeply moving story, as it doesn't force the reader to look directly into the face of war's cruelty. Here, we see it refracted through the suffering of bystanders.

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One of the symbolic meanings to Pirandello's short story is how war is the source of endless pain.

Pirandello's short story shows how there is nothing restorative in war. The small train carriage is filled with people who will never experience the battlefield. However, they all experience the hurt intrinsic to the war experience.  The justifications behind war do not alleviate any of their pain.  The mother who sends her son to the front can find no solace in his departure.  The other passengers on the train are more interested in displaying how their pain is worse than anyone else's.  The passenger who enters and speaks with authority might be the only one who shows a conviction about the necessity of war.  When he talks about "good boys" who leave to "serve their country," it galvanizes the other passengers. When he speaks of the message in his son's final letter, it provides a temporary relief from war's pain.  This is undercut with the mother's question of whether the man's son is "really dead."  The "incongruity" of the question with the speech that preceded it overwhelmed him.  The weight of war's pain was too much, as he breaks down in "uncontrollable sobs."

The symbolic meaning of the story is that there are no winners in war.  It kills the young and creates a legacy of pain and hurt in those who survive.  In contrast to the standard depiction of "the great war," Pirandello's story cdepicts the profound hurt that is war's inescapable reality.

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