My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante

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How do characters' perceptions of happiness change throughout "My Brilliant Friend"?

Quick answer:

Elena perceives happiness in this book as the great memories she shared with her childhood friend. While she is very sad that her friend is now missing, she looks back on the happy times they shared with joy.

Expert Answers

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It’s safe to say that Elena Greco is not happy at the start of this great book. Having just received a phone call from the son of her oldest and dearest friend, Lila, to say that Lila is missing, she is far from happy. Her sadness at her friend’s disappearance makes her feel melancholy, and she starts to reminisce about the past. Since Lila has not been found by the end of this first book, this sense of melancholy still prevails at the end.

However, Elena recalls great happiness when she relives the youth that she shared with Lila. While most of the kids at the school them went to did not like Lila, Elena became very close to her, and the two spent a lot of time together.

Elena does, however, feel some jealousy towards Lila, which grows as they get old and Lila’s charm and wit starts to attract the boys. Further on in the story, Elena experiences more trauma and unhappiness when the father of the man who is pursuing her, Donato Sarratore, winds up sexually assaulting her.

The impression of Elena living in Lila’s shadow continues when Lila gets engaged to Stefano Carracci, but while Elena inevitably feels jealousy, she puts that aside to be involved in the planning of the big day.

Perhaps the title says it all. Even in spite of all the jealousy that Elena felt towards Lila, they shared a great deal of happiness together as children and young adults, and Lila was indeed “[her] brilliant friend."

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