What is the summary of the story of "War" by Luigi Pirandello?

"War" by Luigi Pirandello is set on a train headed for Sulmona from Rome. When a married couple boards the train, the husband is consoling the wife because their son has been called into war. One man, whose son has passed in the war, explains that the parents should be proud their sons are dying in honor. At the end, the wife asks the man if his son really is dead, and his son's death suddenly becomes real to him.

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This is a very short story about a couple traveling by train to Rome to see their only son off to the front. The couple enter the train. The woman is very sad about her son going to war, and the father feels he should explain to the people in the car why she is so sad. He expects everyone to understand how there could be nothing worse than sacrificing your only son to the war but finds that almost everyone else on the train also has children in the war, many more than one. As the different people tell their stories of sorrow, it becomes clear that they are all struggling to come to terms with war and the death of their children.

One woman says that her son went to the front on the first day of the war, had been wounded twice, and has been sent back a third time. Another says that they have two sons in the war and gets into a debate with the father about which is worse: to risk your only son or to risk two. He makes the point that, as parents, you must give each child all your love, suggesting that there is little consolation in having one have one live if the other dies.

The story ends with one man who is traveling alone castigating the other people on the train for mourning their sons, since to die for your country at a young age, thus avoiding the many troubles of life, is the best possible way to die. He asserts that his own son recently wrote him to say that this was his view. A woman, who had been consumed with grief, hears these words with amazement. Could it be that the death of her son could be a good, even glorious thing? She asks the man if his son really is dead then. This question causes the man to burst into uncontrollable sobs, which is how the story ends.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 11, 2021
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Luigi Pirandello’s short story “War” takes place on a train that is making its way to Sulmona. The story, which features third-person narration, depicts the journey of seven passengers in a “stuffy and smoky second-class carriage.” In the opening moments of the story, a husband and wife enter into the cabin; the husband, who has been consoling his wife, feels that it is “his duty to explain to his traveling companions that the poor woman was to be pitied for the war was taking away from her her only son.”

We quickly learn that, although the details vary, the other passengers are in similar situations. A debate quickly arises, as the husband argues with another passenger whether it is worse if it’s your only son or if you have two sons that are on the front lines.

But the tone of the debate shifts drastically when a passenger—referred to as the “fat traveller”—speaks up. This man argues that the other passengers are too concerned about losing their children when their children have never truly been theirs to lose:

We belong to them but they never belong to us. And when they reach twenty they are exactly what we were at their age. We too had a father and mother, but there were so many other things as well...girls, cigarettes, illusions, new ties...and the Country, of course, whose call we would have answered—when we were twenty—even if father and mother had said no.

The fat traveller argues that instead of feeling sad, these parents should realize that their children are dying satisfied. He knows this, he tells them, because his own son died in the war, and before dying, his son sent him “a message that he was dying satisfied at having ended his life in the best way he could have wished.”

Having heard this story, the wife experiences an epiphany. Suddenly she realizes that “she was so pleased to hear everyone joining in congratulating that brave father who could so stoically speak of his child’s death.”

But instead of commenting on her new epiphany, she surprisingly asks the father of the dead son if it is true that his son is dead. This sudden and unexpected question produces a second epiphany—this one for the father:

He looked and looked at her, almost as if only then—at that silly, incongruous question—he had suddenly realized at last that his son was really dead—gone for ever—for ever.

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This short story by Luigi Pirandello is about a group of people traveling from Rome to Sulmona, Italy.  They have had to stop for the night to await a connecting passage to the main line.  While they are waiting a man boards the carriage with his wife.  She is described as a very large woman and he is very small.  The husband tells the people that his wife is upset because their only son has been called to the front to fight in the war.

The rest of the story is a discourse on the importance or lack of importance of the war and who has the greater suffering, a man with one son or a man with two sons.  One man said that the parents had no right to cry or complain about their sons being sent to fight for their country.

"Now, if one dies young and happy, without having the ugly sides of life, the boredom of it, the pettiness, the bitterness of disillusion...what more can we ask for him?  Everyone should stop crying; everyone should laugh, as I do...or at least thank God—as I do—because my son, before dying, sent me a message saying that he was dying satisfied at having ended his life in the best way he could have wished.  That is why, as you see, I do not even wear mourning..."

The woman asks the man if his son is not really dead.  He contemplates her question, realizes his son is truly dead and that he will never see him again. He then breaks down and cries.

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