Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458
Pirandello uses a well-established literary device to tell his story: He contrives a restricted setting for his characters and lets them share their thoughts with one another. Such constraint—Pirandello even honors the three classical unities of time, place, and action—more dramatically reveals a world in which all progress and hope of progress has ceased. This atmosphere is as dull, oppressive, and intrusive as yesterday’s lifeless beer. Pirandello is trying to represent human experience as realistically and banally as possible and could hardly be considered a symbolist; nevertheless, the imagery is there. His characters sit in an old-fashioned train in a small railway station in a small Italian province and wait to be taken to an even more remote and backward part of their country. They wait for something to happen with the dread that it might. They wait with the same spirit of resignation in which they struggle to accept and minimize the ultimate loss of their sons.
Pirandello lets the characters speak for themselves. He offers the barest of description, saving himself the trouble by relying on the reader’s own knowledge of his locale. In thus downplaying the surroundings, Pirandello is able to intensify the characters’ relationships to one another. This intensification is necessary because his characters are so essentially colorless, with features made deliberately unpleasant. Consider how Pirandello describes their eyes: One has “bloodshot eyes of the palest grey”; another has “eyes small and bright and looking shy and uneasy”; still another has “his eyes [that] were watery and motionless”; and yet another has “bulging, horrible watery light grey eyes”: These are people in decay.
Pirandello’s style is lean, remarkably lacking in metaphors and imagery. His descriptions are sparse and gray. He seems to be repetitive and not very original, dealing almost in clichés. He reveals no great philosophical or psychological insights, perpetually distancing himself from his characters. The story ends with a sort of double resolution: The woman, after listening to the man’s description of how his son had fallen for king and country “happy and without regrets,” believes that she can at last come to terms with her grief. However, her period of reconciliation will be all too brief. The man, whose son was slain, who until now has successfully been able to suppress his loss, suddenly has all of his illusions swept away. He will bear the scars of his grief for the remainder of his days. Pirandello makes a skillful use of irony: The father’s damnation is also his salvation. The realization that he no longer will be able to protect himself by self-deception brings to an end his artificiality and restores his humanity. Whether a similar catharsis will affect the others is doubtful.