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.