"War" by Luigi Pirandello is a 1919 short story about the experience of war from the perspective of those who have to live with the consequences of it.
- Set during World War I, the story tells of a group of people who are forced to spend the night in a second-class railway carriage, stranded at a station in Fabriano, Italy.
- One passengers is an evidently distressed woman. Her husband explains that they are waiting for the safe return of their son, who is about to depart for the war.
- The man’s story does not prompt too much sympathy from the others, who tell of their own loved ones taken away by the war. The passengers discuss the meaning of the war in their lives.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
The plot of Luigi Pirandello's "War" occurs during World War I in Italy, a setting of tremendous political and social upheaval. Although Italy emerged on the "winning" side of the war, the victory came with significant personal costs; over 600,000 Italians, primarily young men, were dead by the war's conclusion.
This great personal sacrifice is the subject of "War," in this short story, the suffering of parents is depicted with agonizing insight. Mothers and fathers travel together aboard a train, and their feelings of loss weigh heavily on them. One mother boards the train in a state of visible mourning; she looks like a "shapeless bundle" as she is "hoisted" into the train, unable to bear the weight of the effort herself.
As the passengers settle in for their journey, the woman's husband, "in deep mourning," addresses the other five passengers by commenting on the "nasty world" they find themselves in. He explains that the war has taken their only son from them, an event they had not adequately braced themselves to endure. His departure seems shockingly "sudden," and he comments that his wife is to be "pitied" for enduring such a tragedy.
As her husband speaks, the woman begins "growling like a wild animal," convinced that their plight is no worse than any of the other parents' feelings of loss. Indeed, the husband's comments generate a debate among the passengers about whose suffering is hardest to endure.
One passenger suggests that his loss is harder; while the couple's son is only now being sent to fight, his son has been fighting since "the first day of the war." He has even been injured twice and sent back to the front lines each time after recovering.
Another passenger suggests his loss is more profound; he has two sons and three nephews on the front lines of the war. Now a bit embarrassed by his comments, the husband replies that even if this man loses one son, he can be comforted by his one surviving son. This angers the other passenger, who explains that if a man has only one son who dies, he can end his own life. A man with a surviving son cannot escape his distress and must endure the grief of that loss with no hope of escaping it.
This conversation angers another passenger, "panting" with an "inner violence of an uncontrolled vitality." He questions whether parents have given life to their children "for [their] own benefit." The man whose son has been at the front since the beginning of the war replies that their children belong "to the Country."
The man calls this "bosh" and insists that when their children are born, they "take [their parents' lives] with them…but they never belong to [their parents]." He explains that young people are passionate about their country in the same way their parents once were; over time, the love of country is replaced by an even deeper love for one's children.
However, he insists that "somebody must go to defend" their country out of "necessity," it is better to allow their sons to do so without tears and sadness. He then shares that his son had sent him a message before dying, revealing that he was satisfied to end his life "in the best way he could have wished."
The mother who had just sent her only son to the war is "amazed" and "stunned" by this man's speech; this world where people "congratulate" a father who has just lost his son in a war feels "unknown." In a state of shock, she asks the man whether his son is "really dead."
This question creates a moment of deep introspection for the father. At this moment, the father begins to grasp the finality of his son's life; he is "gone forever–forever." As reality settles in, the father breaks into "harrowing, heart-rending, uncontrollable sobs."