Download War Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is a world of crumbling values, made all the more vapid because of the intense desire to rationalize attitudes and live in a mist of illusions. The characters are overwhelmed by events that they cannot control and little understand, but they pretend otherwise. The woman, who has just arrived, is somewhat of an outsider; she apparently has not had time, or is not yet willing, to submerge her natural emotions under a mask of acceptable public sentimentality.

The passengers reflect the lack of enthusiasm of the Italian people for the Great War, in which their country became involved because of a greedy backroom deal to acquire a few more chunks of territory that only few thought worth spilling blood to get. The lands would most likely have been theirs as the price of staying out. Italy’s participation was conditioned by no great outpouring of national sentiment, nor because the national interest demanded it. However, a pretense has to be made. One character says, “Our children do not belong to us, they belong to the Country.” His words, however, lack conviction. These people, despite their boastful facade, are not preoccupied with the great forces of history. They want to make it through life causing as little damage to their dignity as possible. They want to preserve the only thing that gives their life meaning and ensures their link with immortality: the lives of their offspring. One character says, “Is there any one of us here who wouldn’t gladly take his son’s place at the front if he could?” Everyone nods approval, but in fact such a question is academic because the premise on which it is built is so farfetched. However, the concern is genuine.

In a sense, the war is far removed from this provincial railway siding—there is no mention or description of any actual fighting—but the war’s presence is nevertheless overpowering, conveyed in the characters’ pathetic attempts to maintain appearances through worthless...

(The entire section is 495 words.)