Dino Buzzati Short Fiction Analysis
Dino Buzzati’s stories can be read on two levels: as strange tales, full of mysterious events, or as symbolic depictions of life’s elusive reality. The period in which the action takes place is frequently vague; even when a precise date is given, there is a timeless quality about his stories. More important is the problem of existence itself, the inner torments that derive from the problem of facing reality.
In “Seven Messengers” (included in Restless Nights), which gave the title to the first collection of Buzzati’s short fiction, I sette messaggeri, a prince sets out to explore his father’s kingdom in the company of seven knights, who serve him as messengers and links to his father, his capital, and his house. As the prince advances toward the frontier, however, the messengers take longer and longer to return, and the letters they bring him seem to recall distant things. One day, the prince realizes that the messenger about to depart for the capital will return only in thirty-four years, by which time the prince will be very old or even dead. Nevertheless, he continues his trip toward the border, with ever-increasing curiosity, to explore the unknown regions. Symbolically, the prince’s trip is the journey of life. Day by day, one becomes more and more distant from one’s parents and childhood sentiments, full of eagerness to discover what lies ahead, even if the ultimate goal is death.
In “Seven Floors,” from the same collection, a man with a minor illness is sent to a hospital, where he learns that the patients are housed on each of the seven floors according to the gravity of their state: The top floor, the seventh, is for mild cases; each lower floor is for increasingly severe cases; and the dying are moved to the first floor, where the blinds go down at the moment of death. The man, assigned to the seventh floor, is assured that he will be cured in two or three weeks. After ten days, however, he is asked, as a favor, to yield his room to a woman, who is arriving with two children who will be housed in the two adjacent rooms. He consents, only to discover that he is to be moved to the sixth floor—since no other rooms are available on the seventh floor—but is assured that this is only a temporary arrangement. Gradually, however, he descends from floor to floor under different pretexts and with ever-increasing alarm, until he arrives on the first floor, where he watches the blinds go down in his room. Again, this man’s strange adventure is symbolic of life: Each period brings one, often without awareness, closer to death.
“The Scala Scare”
In “Paura alla Scala” (“The Scala Scare”), from the collection of that title, an old pianist who has trouble understanding his composer son and his new music goes to the Scala Theater for the premiere of a new opera. On his way, he finds the city strangely empty of people. He meets a former student, who makes an incomprehensible remark about the pianist’s son and his friends. The opera, already polemical for its alleged political allusions, with its disturbing and violent music only increases the general tension among the audience. During intermission, a gentleman tries to warn the pianist about his son’s impudence but does not finish his sentence. At the reception after the performance, there is much talk about a revolt in progress, and it is decided that it is unsafe to go home during the night. The fearful audience settles down to wait. Soon the audience splits into two groups: those favoring the rebellion and those condemning it, while some individuals oscillate between the two. Tension rises as the night progresses, and the old pianist, worried about his son, who is at home, decides to leave. Everyone watches him as he leaves on unsteady legs, the result of the generously flowing champagne at the reception. He reaches the center of the square in front of the Scala Theater, only to fall flat on his face with outstretched hands, as if felled by a machine gun. Everyone stares at him, but no one moves. When dawn finally arrives, a lone cyclist drives past; then, an old street sweeper starts sweeping the square; and later, more people begin appearing: The city is awakening to another day. The old pianist wakes up, full of amazement, gets on his feet, and trots home. An old flower-woman, dressed in black, enters the foyer, passing among the liverish-looking assembly and offering a gardenia. After establishing this mounting...
(The entire section is 1859 words.)