Exploring Teresa

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1994

Through her development of the character of Teresa, Ginzburg demonstrates the ways in which childhood experiences affect adult psychology. Teresa’s character is clearly rooted in her childhood circumstances, which she describes as horrible. In her relationship with Lorenzo, in particular, Teresa reproduces the traumatic, unhappy experiences of her relationship with...

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Through her development of the character of Teresa, Ginzburg demonstrates the ways in which childhood experiences affect adult psychology. Teresa’s character is clearly rooted in her childhood circumstances, which she describes as horrible. In her relationship with Lorenzo, in particular, Teresa reproduces the traumatic, unhappy experiences of her relationship with her father and her uncle Giacomo (who may or may not have been her real father). Lorenzo’s treatment of Teresa in many ways mirrors the way men treated her when she was a child. Teresa is thus drawn to Lorenzo, even though he makes her miserable, because he represents to her the father(s) who ignored her throughout her childhood.

Teresa explains to Elena that her father always claimed that she was the child of his brother, Giacomo. In other words, Teresa’s mother was suspected of having had an affair with her husband’s brother. Teresa doesn’t know for sure if Giacomo was her real father, but it was understood by everyone that he might have been. Since her father did not consider her to be his, he ignored her and was cruel to her. When she was playing in the house, he would pick her up by one arm and throw her outside, claiming that she was not his child. He always said that he couldn’t stand the sight of her and that he was going to move to America so he would never have to see her again.

Teresa always wondered why her uncle Giacomo did not come and claim her if she was really his child. Her only contact with him was when he would pass her on the street, and he would guiltily stop to give her some candies and then move on without a word. But Teresa always wondered, ‘‘Why doesn’t he come and fetch me if I’m his?’’

Eventually, Teresa was completely abandoned both by the man she knew as her father and by her uncle Giacomo. Her father moved to America and then sent for her brother to join him but left Teresa and her mother behind. After this, her uncle Giacomo no longer even stopped when he saw her on the street, but simply looked at her and moved on. Teresa thus grew up feeling cast aside by both her legal father and the man who may have been her biological father. This childhood experience has everything to do with her relationship with her husband, a man who ignores her and casts her aside throughout their marriage. Lorenzo regularly disappears without explanation and claims to have completely forgotten about her. Throughout their relationship, Teresa fears that he will never return from his frequent absences. This fear resonates with her childhood experience of having been ignored, forgotten, and abandoned by her father and uncle. The occasional moments of warmth Lorenzo offers Teresa resonate with her experience of being given scraps of attention by her uncle, in the form of a few sweets from his pocket when he passed her in the street. Likewise, Lorenzo symbolically hands her a few morsels of affection during the course of their relationship but never really gives her his full attention or genuine love.

Teresa’s fixation on Lorenzo as her object of affection develops in a manner that indicates that it is his careless treatment of her that resonates with her childhood experience of rejection by men. Lorenzo has physical features in common with Teresa’s uncle: like Giacomo, Lorenzo is a small, short man. Although Teresa claims her first impression of Lorenzo was that ‘‘he was too small’’ and she remarks that she ‘‘never liked small men,’’ she is unconsciously drawn to him, perhaps because his small frame reminds her of her uncle Giacomo. Throughout their marriage, Teresa continues to hope for that which is hopeless: that Lorenzo will truly love her and pay attention to her. Just as she experienced with her father and her uncle, Teresa wants more than anything to be loved by a man who will never love her. She tells Elena she would have liked ‘‘a bit of attention’’ from Lorenzo but ‘‘got no attention.’’ In fact, she says, when he was out with his friends, he ‘‘never thought of me.‘‘

She first met Lorenzo by chance, and they spent two days and nights of passion together in her apartment. But on the third day he claimed he was going out to the store to buy cigarettes and never came back. When they run into each other six months later, he claims that he had met a friend at the store and had forgotten all about Teresa. He then tells her a ‘‘pack of lies,’’ making up excuses for why he ran out on her. Even though she knows he is lying, Teresa feels she still wants him. When they run into one another by chance the second time, Lorenzo callously states that she shouldn’t be upset about his walking out on her because she was never really a ‘‘person’’ to him anyway, as he doesn’t really know her. Teresa’s plea in response to this comment expresses the hope she harbored as a child, about how she wanted the men in her life to treat her: ‘‘I want you to realize that I’m a person. I want you to be considerate to me, and treat me with respect.’’ Lorenzo’s response to this plea is to walk out of the restaurant where they are talking and get into his car, prepared to leave her for good. But Teresa runs out after him, gets into his car, and begs him not to leave her. Lorenzo suggests she find a man who wants her and can give her what she wants and make her happy, but Teresa begs him to stay with her.

Teresa’s pathetic display of sentiment for Lorenzo, a man who has abandoned her, lied to her, and essentially told her to get lost, resonates with her childhood feelings of wishing more than anything that the men who cast her aside (her father and uncle) would love her and welcome her into their homes, rather than throwing her outside as her father did, or disowning her as her uncle did. After Lorenzo leaves her, Teresa repeatedly writes and phones him to beg him to come back, but she gets no response. When Lorenzo stops by to visit Teresa, after they have been separated a year, she accuses him of not remembering anything she says to him or anything about her. She then brings up the time he went out to buy cigarettes and never came back, saying, ‘‘you’d forgotten I existed.’’ Teresa’s perpetual brooding over Lorenzo’s disregard for her indicates the extent to which their relationship reproduces the trauma of her childhood, the trauma of being cast out by her father and her uncle, both of whom seemed to forget she existed.

Lorenzo’s violent behavior toward Teresa also mirrors her father’s rough treatment of her and his violent treatment of her mother. She says that she was frightened of her father, who ‘‘used to wake up in the middle of the night, and hit my mother, and make her nose and mouth bleed.’’ When they’re married, Lorenzo begins to hit and punch her during their arguments, which are often at night. Although Teresa doesn’t mention if her mother ever fought back against her father, Teresa fights back against Lorenzo by biting him, and she even attacks him with a pair of scissors one time. Lorenzo claims that he left Teresa in part because he was afraid either he was going to kill her or she was going to kill him. And Teresa even bought herself a pistol, thinking that one day she might kill Lorenzo.

Teresa’s traumatic childhood experiences have a significant effect on her adult experiences of the world. She tells Elena that, living alone after her separation from Lorenzo, she feels frightened at night and has a recurring nightmare. Her nightmare is clearly symbolic of her relationships with her father and her uncle, both of whom she wanted more than anything to pay attention to her and to love her. She describes her nightmare as:

A wall, a courtyard, old furniture . . . rags and broken glass. I’m wandering about the place, rummaging among the rags. Then I beat on the wall, and try to call out. I try to shout out, but I haven’t any voice. I know that on the other side of the wall, there’s something dreadful. . . . Someone. A person very dear to me. And I can’t reach whoever it is, because of the wall.

Teresa’s childhood was characterized by the vain hope of reaching, of having positive contact with someone very dear to her: her father (whether he be Uncle Giacomo or the man she knew as her father). But the men in her life, including Lorenzo, have always put a wall between their feelings and Teresa, never allowing her into their hearts. No matter how hard she begs or pleads, they are deaf to her cry for love and attention, as if she hadn’t a voice to call out with. Her irritating habit, as an adult, of talking incessantly is an outward expression of her feeling from childhood that she was being ignored by the man who should have been a father to her, as if he were deaf to her needs. As a result, she is left alone, cut off from all love by an impenetrable wall; she is left with nothing but the ruins of old relationships, the rags and broken glass that symbolize the meager scraps of attention or affection she received from her father, her uncle, and from Lorenzo.

Teresa reproduces the symbolic experience of the nightmare even in her efforts to obtain work as an extra in the film industry. She says, ‘‘I was always at Cinecittà, waiting at the gates in case they wanted me.’’ This symbolizes her experience of her relationships with her uncle Giacomo and with Lorenzo, waiting and waiting for them to want her but always locked outside the gates of their affections. Despite being discouraged, Teresa remains full of hope that she will be ‘‘wanted.’’ She says that, at the Cinecittà, she ‘‘hardly earned a penny’’ but was ‘‘always full of hope’’ that she would be hired as an extra or even become a star. Likewise as a child, she always wondered why her uncle Giacomo didn’t claim her and take her home with him. Though he never even came close to treating her like she was his, Teresa remained full of hope throughout her childhood that he would one day want her.

Teresa’s unconditional love for Lorenzo, despite his neglect, ill treatment, and downright rejection of her, indicates that, unconsciously, she regards him as a child regards a parent—in the sense that children generally want nothing but love and attention from their parents, no matter how badly they are treated by them. Toward the end of the play, she tells Elena:

I do still love him. I shall always love him. That’s the trouble. If he were halfway across the world, and just lifted a finger, I’d run to him. I’d run to him on all fours. I’d always take him back, even if he was old, and lost, and starving; even if he was flea-ridden, and syphilitic, with holes in his trousers. That’s the truth. Living with him was hell, but I’d give my life, my whole life, to have the time back when we were together.

Source: Liz Brent, Critical Essay on The Advertisement, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Brent has a Ph.D. in American culture, specializing in film studies, from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema.

Dysfunctional Families

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1769

The Advertisement tells a tragic story about the destructive effects of dysfunctional families. The inability of Teresa and Lorenzo to find a clear way of breaking family patterns keeps them from becoming healthy and complete adults. Their lingering co-dependent behavior, combined with Teresa’s obsessive and desperately jealous clinging to something clearly unrealistic and unattainable (a happy and mutually respectful marriage with Lorenzo) leads, in fact, to Elena’s death. Though Elena plays an active role in the situation that leads to her death, it is the failure of both Teresa and Lorenzo to fully let go of their disastrous relationship that sets the trap for Elena. If Lorenzo did not continue to drop by Teresa’s flat from time to time, Elena would not have fallen in love with him, or vice versa—at least not in front of Teresa. The jealous and frustrated Teresa detects their mutual chemistry immediately, and when Elena later confesses that she and Lorenzo intend to be together, Teresa shoots and kills her. The play is filled with a litany of clues about how and why this happened. Even though Teresa and Lorenzo recognize most of the sources and symptoms of their psychological and emotional problems, tragically they never completely address them or recover from them. Elena quickly finds herself enmeshed in their unresolved problems, places herself in mortal danger, and is murdered in act 3.

The audience learns about Teresa’s past because she tells her life story to Elena in act 1. Only minutes after first meeting her, Teresa tells Elena: ‘‘I had a horrible childhood.’’ Based on what she says about her family background, she is certainly telling the truth. This background is the primary key to understanding her personality and adult actions. As Robert J. Ackerman and Susan E. Pickering write in Abused No More: Recovery from Abusive or Co-Dependent Relationships, ‘‘A woman builds her repertoire of behaviors around the structural models her parents provide. It is through these models that she first learns how men and women act towards each other.’’ In Teresa’s case, the odds were stacked against her from earliest childhood. Her father physically beat her mother and claimed that his brother, Giacomo, fathered Teresa. As a child, Teresa was frightened of her father and confused because no one would confirm or disprove the accusation. Her father was cold to her and favored her brother. ‘‘He said my brother was his, but I wasn’t,’’ Teresa says. He cruelly said he couldn’t stand looking at her and that he would abandon the family just so he wouldn’t have to see her ever again. Eventually he did, moving to the United States.

By any standards, Teresa’s father was clearly abusive and sadistic to her and her mother. To make matters worse, he would send Teresa’s brother fine clothes, and eventually he sent money to her brother to join him overseas. By itself, the abusive pattern set by her father would have damaged Teresa’s ability to have healthy adult relationships. But she had to endure even more abusive treatment at the hands of her paternal grandparents, with whom she and her mother were forced to live because they were apparently too destitute to live on their own.

Teresa’s terrible childhood lumbered on, damaging her (and her mother) further. Her possible biological father, Uncle Giacomo, might have helped them, but he had made a permanent break with his parents, the very people with whom she was living, over disputed land. When Teresa was small, he occasionally gave her sweets, but ultimately even this small contact ceased and he abandoned her, too. Moving in with Teresa’s grandparents presented more grief. They both scolded her, even though she did most of the housework and fieldwork, like a combination peasant and servant; they blamed her for their son’s departure for America. After they died, Teresa and her mother moved to another relative’s house, Aunt Amata’s, and there her mother became a full-time servant. Her mother had worked herself so hard that one of her legs became lame. Determined to escape her mother’s fate, Teresa fled for Rome when she turned twenty. Assuming that Ackerman and Pickering’s theories are correct, Teresa—who had horrible role models to follow, little love, and much abuse and neglect of all kinds— would not have been equipped to create a healthy relationship. Denied physical affection, she craved it; denied financial security, she sought it; denied a loving father or loving male of any sort, she was ever on the lookout for one. All of these needs set her on a collision course toward Lorenzo, who came from a dysfunctional family of a different sort. Though they met by chance, it was not by chance that they became enmeshed with each other in a very unhealthy, mutually destructive adult relationship.

Lorenzo’s childhood was vastly different from Teresa’s. His father was dead, but his mother owned substantial property and agricultural resources, some of which were earmarked for Lorenzo upon her death. He lived in wealth and never wanted for material comforts, but these came at a price: his mother tried to control him through her purse strings, and, to an extent, she succeeded. Furthermore, he idealized his sister, who married, had nine children, and lived in comfort. But as an adult, Lorenzo acts out against the confines set by his mother. He hates being controlled and rebels constantly. Still, his mother never cuts him off financially, so his behavior is reinforced by her indulgence. By the time he and Teresa meet, he has finished an engineering degree but does not work. He is rich, spoiled, aimless, dilettantish, self-indulgent, and easily distracted. He has a pattern of staying with Teresa for a short time, running away, and then eventually returning, much like the pattern he has with his mother. However, Teresa’s poverty makes her fi- nancially dependent on him and, indirectly, on his mother’s financial dispensations. He never loves Teresa in a traditional way; rather, he feels sorry for her, and she provides a way to act out against his mother. Lorenzo tells Elena in act 2, ‘‘I came to live with her because I wanted to annoy my mother . . . I wanted to live with a girl who was crazy and disorganized and confused.’’ Given their dysfunctional family patterns and their inability to overcome them, the relationship between Lorenzo and Teresa was doomed from the start.

Dysfunctional family patterns spill over into Lorenzo and Teresa’s marriage. They become codependent, a condition that reinforces negative attitudes and actions between them yet prevents them from coming to a healthy solution. There were many problems right from the beginning, and neither seemed able to stop them. Even on their honeymoon, which Teresa insisted on having in her old hometown, she is bedeviled by old family forms of abuse. Her Aunt Amata told her, ‘‘You never deserved such a husband! Mind you hold on to him, you might easily go and lose him, a stupid crazy girl like you.’’ And later, whenever they visited his mother, Lorenzo and his mother fought constantly. When Lorenzo and Teresa lived in Rome, they acted like crazy, spoiled children, wildly spending his money. He collected pictures, motorcycles, cars, and speeding tickets. He left her for days at a time, sometimes going back to see his mother, leaving Teresa anxious. They built a house in the country and then left it unoccupied, moving back to a Roman flat after only one night. ‘‘He was disorganized,’’ Teresa tells Elena, ‘‘and I was disorganized, and the disorganization we managed to get into between us was unbelievable.’’ Eventually, they began to fight whenever they were together. ‘‘We used to have frightful scenes,’’ Teresa says; ‘‘he’d slap me, and I’d bite him and scratch him . . . and at five in the morning he’d go off on his motor-cycle, and I’d stay in bed crying.’’ Hoping for Lorenzo to give her the unconditional love denied her in childhood, Teresa instead finds the same physical and emotional abuse committed by her father. Unlike her mother, though, Teresa fights back. And Lorenzo does not entirely abandon her, for he continues to give her money after they separate. But when they are together, they bicker constantly, even long after formally separating.

When the play begins, Teresa and Lorenzo have been separated for a year. Teresa has resorted to placing advertisements to try and control her life. But her life is actually out of control. She suffers from depression, insomnia, nightmares, and anxieties. She has aversions to old people and the countryside because they remind her of her childhood. She has no friends and hopes only for Lorenzo’s permanent return, even though on a rational level she knows he will not live with her ever again. But he tortures her by returning occasionally, and he alleviates his guilt by giving her money. She lacks perspective and role models, people who could give her useful advice, and has no impulse control, she remains virtually paralyzed in an emotional sense. Her boarder, Elena, becomes her friend for a while, but upon meeting Lorenzo, Elena does the worst thing possible for their friendship by opting to leave with Lorenzo after she falls in love with him. Teresa, with her lack of impulse control and through murderous jealousy, shoots her. Interestingly, Elena is attracted to Lorenzo because he is like her own father, whom she dislikes on a conscious level because he lets her mother do most of the work at their country pension while he speaks English and plays games with guests. She seems to be acting out against her own somewhat dysfunctional family, for with Lorenzo she probably feels that she can correct the sins of her father and do a better job as his wife than Teresa has done. In any case, she will never have the chance to try.

By the end of the play, there is little hope for recovery because unattended dysfunctional family patterns have led to Elena’s death and have permanently damaged the lives of the survivors. Though Lorenzo has attained a greater degree of self-knowledge, he remains enmeshed with his mother and Teresa. To get on with his life in a healthier manner, he needs to recover from family abuse as much as Teresa does.

Source: Erik France, Critical Essay on The Advertisement, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. France is a librarian and teaches history and interdisciplinary studies at University Liggett School and basic writing at Macomb Community College near Detroit, Michigan.

Fate and Consequences

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1939

In the play The Advertisement, by Italian author Natalia Ginzburg, a lonely woman separated from her husband places a newspaper advertisement seeking a student to share her apartment. From that simple beginning unfolds a story that ultimately ends in tragedy. Although there are three main characters, one—the woman named Teresa—holds center stage throughout. As in life, the vagaries of chance and irony play a key role in this drama. Fate plays a role in every existence, but everyone must make life choices, and with those choices come consequences.

The story of Teresa’s troubled life is unveiled when a twenty-year-old philosophy student named Elena answers Teresa’s ad seeking a roommate. The woman Elena meets is a compulsive talker still obsessed with the man she separated from a year ago, even though their five-year marriage was chaotic and mutually self-destructive. In the first act, Teresa reels off her life’s story in a series of lengthy monologues. The speeches, however, aren’t just a way for Ginzburg to move the story along quickly. The playwright’s technique is used as a way to shed light on the psychological underpinnings of the drama’s central character, who considers herself a victim of unfortunate circumstance. ‘‘Teresa is a woman who has been reduced to talk as her only form of action,’’ editors Victoria Sullivan and James Hatch observe in the introduction to their 1973 collection Plays by and about Women. The portrait that emerges is a disturbing one. Teresa ‘‘reveals herself as the self-indulgent victim of her own desperately chaotic personality,’’ note Sullivan and Hatch. The editors continue the description, writing:

Her long-winded, egocentric monologues say something about the female state. Having been brought up with no particular goal except to catch a man, she cannot support herself economically or emotionally. Yet because of her demanding dependence and compulsive need to talk, no man can stand to live with her.

As a girl, Teresa’s father accused her mother of cheating on him. He suspects that Teresa is not really his child, at first ignoring her and eventually abandoning both of them. The mother and daughter, left in dire financial straits, are forced to live with relatives. For a while, they reside with Teresa’s aunt, who owns a small drapery shop. But as soon as she turns twenty, Teresa, determined not to spend her life ‘‘selling buttons,’’ runs off to the adventure and uncertainty of life in Rome.

The Advertisement made its world premiere in 1968, a time when the women’s movement was fast gaining momentum. It is not surprising that Teresa is sexually liberated. Young and beautiful, she finds occasional bit parts in films that require her to strip down to bra and slip. In one, she eats grapes while the director encourages her to ‘‘waggle’’ her hips erotically. It is while filming one of these movies that she has a chance encounter with Lorenzo, a young engineer. They go out to dinner and then return to her apartment where they spend the next three days eating, sleeping, and making love.

Then Lorenzo leaves, saying he is going out briefly to get some cigarettes and doesn’t come back. The abandonment is traumatic for Teresa, who gives up her attempts to become a movie star and finds work in a beauty shop. Six months later, again quite by chance, Lorenzo walks in to the beauty shop with a beautiful woman wearing a fur coat. Even though Lorenzo tells Teresa that he viewed her not as a person but as an object (with the revelation reducing her to tears), she pursues him and takes him to her bed once more.

Although Teresa didn’t realize it when she first chased after Lorenzo, she soon discovers that he is quite wealthy. Instead of being a blessing, however, his riches are a kind of curse. After marrying, they become spendthrifts and live without purpose. Both are irresponsible. He buys and discards motorcycles and cars and piles up countless speeding tickets. Then they build a country villa, fill it with expensive paintings and antiques, but never move in.

Like the idle rich in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the lack of struggle that defines daily life for the poor and working class leaves Lorenzo and Teresa free to pursue any sort of life they choose. But instead of putting that freedom to positive effect, they waste it on empty frivolity and spend far too much time focusing on their relationship of self-indulgence, which quickly becomes destructive.

Unlike the thoughtful and studious Elena, Teresa is no intellectual. Her husband goes so far as to describe her as ‘‘ignorant as a cook.’’ Lorenzo is an intellectual, with a variety of interests from architecture to art but with a special passion for ‘‘pure physics.’’ At his urging, Teresa tries to read books but can retain nothing. All of her attention is focused on her husband, and he finds that stifling. At first Lorenzo, a flawed character himself, attempts to help Teresa with what he describes as her ‘‘troubles and anxieties.’’ What initially seemed to be love turns out to have been only pity. But her neuroses are so overpowering that they quickly begin to consume him. As he tells Elena, after making his entrance in the second act: ‘‘Instead of curing her anxiety I felt myself involved in it; I felt I was gradually sinking into a black, muddy well. I was losing my breath, my reason . . . a horrible sensation.’’

As a result, their marriage quickly dissolves into one of extreme dysfunction, marked by violent outbreaks. She’d bite and scratch him, and he would slap and punch her. ‘‘It was hell,’’ Teresa tells Elena. Even so, she could not move beyond their relationship even after a year of separation. She’d sit alone in her flat, pining away for Lorenzo and yearning for a reconciliation that will never occur.

Through it all, she remains deeply disturbed. Hinting that more trouble is in the offing, Ginzburg ends the first act with a literary technique known as foreshadowing. By having Teresa allude to the terrible nightmares she experiences, the reader senses that something ominous awaits.

At the beginning of the second act, when Elena meets Lorenzo, she tells him how happy she is and what good friends she and Teresa have become. The fact that it all came about because of a stroke of good fortune is emphasized. ‘‘And to think,’’ she says, ‘‘I came here just by chance, because of an advertisement!’’

Lorenzo seems kinder than the man depicted by Teresa. He expresses concern for her well-being, is pleased that she has found a companion to ease her loneliness, and is continuing to support her financially even though Lorenzo knew she cheated on him by sleeping with his best friend. Despite his kindness, Teresa continues to berate Lorenzo and dredges up pieces of the past that he would rather forget. Having escaped the depressing whirlwind that was life with Teresa, he is trying to move on and find happiness. And, the author hints, a brighter future just might include Elena.

The brief third act opens with Elena describing her date the previous night with Lorenzo. Their relationship has progressed quickly. She’s decided to move out of Teresa’s apartment, telling her at first that the two spend so much time talking that she is having difficulty keeping up with her studies. But Teresa has already divined the real reason Elena is leaving. When Elena confesses that she and Lorenzo are in love, Teresa responds calmly that she knows. In fact, Teresa has already placed a new advertisement seeking another student to move into the room. Elena is taken aback by the display of equanimity. She expected Teresa to be upset, perhaps even irrational. After all, Teresa freely admits to being still in love with Lorenzo. But instead of anger, she summons up generosity, offering to obtain an annulment so that Elena and Lorenzo can marry.

As events reach their climax, both women philosophize about the unexpected twists of fate that have brought them to this junction. Elena says: What a strange thing fate is! To think I came here by chance, by the merest chance, answering an advertisement! I might easily never have looked in the paper that day, and never have come here at all! And I’d never have known either of you. Teresa, understandably, is less enthralled by the same train of events:

When people are happy, they never stop marvelling at the great intelligence of chance; because it’s made them happy. And when they’re unhappy, they’re not at all surprised to discover how stupid chance is. Stupid and blind.

Listening to her friend speak, Elena is struck by how out of character she seems, sensing how odd it is that she seems so calm, cold, and rational. Teresa continues on, ruminating further about the role fate has played in what has turned out to be a terribly unhappy life:

I could have married someone else, if I hadn’t met him that day. I was so young and pretty. There were lots of men after me. I could have picked a nice, quiet, simple man, and had a settled, orderly life. Instead, I fall in love with him. That’s my luck! He ruins me. Destroys me.

Life, however, isn’t simply dictated by strokes of luck or misfortune. Fate plays a role in every existence, to be sure, but what defines the individual is how he or she reacts to the unexpected hand that each is dealt. Teresa’s great flaw is her failure to realize that she is something much more than the victim of bad luck. In her mind, it is as if she bears no responsibility for the disaster that her relationship with Lorenzo became. After all, he seemed to thrive once they’d separated. Pursuing his passion for physics, he became productive and wrote a book about atoms. Had Teresa acted differently toward him, things might well have worked out for the better.

Even with their marriage in a shambles, she still has the opportunity to direct her life in a happier direction if she so chooses. She can do as Lorenzo did, sweeping away the pieces of a broken relationship to move on in search of contentment. Instead, she chooses to dwell on the past, sinking ever further into a pit of despair. It is a decision that leads to tragedy.

As the play builds to its climax, Teresa announces that she has a pistol in her purse and that she intends to use it, first on Lorenzo and then on herself. Elena begs her to throw the weapon away, and Teresa agrees. Relieved, Elena promises her distraught friend that she and Lorenzo will always be there for her. A few moments later—while both women are offstage—there is a gunshot. Teresa has killed Elena. The audience can’t know for certain whether it was murder or an accident, but in either event, that newspaper ad that Elena read by pure chance has led her to an early grave.

Then the doorbell rings. It is another young woman who’s come to see about the room she read about in a newspaper advertisement. ‘And there you have it,’ Ginzburg seems to be saying as the curtain falls. Life, with all its strange twists is, in the end, ironic.

Source: Curt Guyette, Critical Essay on The Advertisement, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Guyette has a bachelor of arts degree in English writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

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