War by Luigi Pirandello

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by Luigi Pirandello

The passengers who traveled on the night express from Rome had to wait at the small station of Fabriano until dawn. They needed to catch the small, old-fashioned local train that connected the main line to Sulmona.

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At dawn, a bulky woman dressed in deep mourning was carried into a stuffy and smoky second-class carriage. Five people had already spent the night in the carriage. Following closely behind her was her husband, a tiny and weakly man with a deathly pale face. His small and bright eyes appeared shy and uneasy as he puffed and moaned.

After finally finding a seat, the man graciously expressed gratitude to the passengers who assisted his wife and made space for her. He then turned to the woman attempting to adjust her coat collar and asked with courtesy:

“Are you alright, dear?”
Instead of answering, the wife lifted her collar to conceal her face. The husband sadly murmured with a smile, “It’s a harsh world.”

With a sense of duty, he felt it was his responsibility to inform fellow travelers about the unfortunate woman who deserved sympathy. The reason for this sympathy was that her only son was being taken away by the war. This young man, who was twenty years old, had been the center of their lives. They had even relocated from Sulmona to Rome to support him while he pursued higher education. They agreed to his military enlistment on the condition that he wouldn’t be deployed to fight on the front lines for at least six months.

However, they were surprised when they received a telegram informing them that he had to leave within three days and requesting their presence for his farewell.

The woman in the oversized coat contorted and made animalistic growls, convinced that her explanations wouldn’t elicit sympathy from others facing similar challenges. Yet, one attentive individual among them decided to speak up:

“You should be grateful to God that your son is only departing for the front now. Mine has been there since the war’s first day and has already returned to the front.” Another passenger added, “What about me? I have two sons and three nephews at the front.” The husband took a risk, saying, “Perhaps, but in our situation, this is our sole son.” The wife countered, “Does it truly matter? You may lavish excessive attention on your only son, but if you had multiple children, you would love them all equally. Paternal love is not comparable to bread; it does not rely on quantity.”

The idea that love can be divided and shared equally among children is likened to a father’s love for his children. The father in this case does not withhold or limit his love, giving each child the full extent of his affection. However, the husband expresses concern about a scenario where a father loses one of his two sons in war, leaving him with one remaining child for consolation.

“Yes,” replied the other person, growing irritated. “He has a son to console him, but also a son he must live longer than. For a father with just one son, if that son dies, the father can also die and put an end to his agony. Which position is more unfavorable? Can’t you perceive that my circumstances would be tougher than yours?”

Another traveler, a large, red-faced man with bloodshot eyes, disagreed. He was painting, and his bulging eyes seemed to release a fierce energy that his weakened body could barely control.

“Nonsense,” he said, trying to hide his missing front teeth by covering his mouth with his hand. “Nonsense. Do we bring our children into this world only for our own benefit?” The other travelers looked at him with concern. The traveler whose son had been on the front lines since the war started sighed and replied, “You’re right. Our children do not belong to us; they belong to the Country…” “Rubbish,” responded the overweight traveler. “Do we think about the Country when we have children? Our sons are born because… well, because they have to be born, and when they come into this world, they also bring life with them. That’s the truth. We belong to them, but they never belong to us. And when they turn twenty, they are just like we were at their age. We also had fathers and mothers, but there were so many other things too… girls, cigarettes, illusions, new ties… and of course, the Country that we would have served even if our parents had said no when we were twenty years old. Now, at your age , love for our Country is still significant of course , but even stronger is our love for our children.”

Is there anyone here who wouldn’t willingly take their son’s place on the front line if given the chance? There was a unanimous silence, with everyone nodding in agreement. So why shouldn’t we consider our children’s feelings when they turn twenty? Isn’t it natural for them to love their country even more than us? Isn’t it fair for them to feel this way since they see us as old men who can no longer move and have to stay at home?

If our country is essential to life, like bread that sustains us, then someone must step up to defend it. And our sons do, when they reach twenty, and they don’t want tears because if they die, they die with fervor and happiness (of course, I’m only referring to decent boys). Now, if someone dies young and content without experiencing the unpleasant aspects of life – the monotony, pettiness, and disappointment… what more could we ask for them?

Everyone should stop crying; everyone should laugh – just as I do… or at least express gratitude to God – like I do – because my son sent me a message before his death saying that he was satisfied with how he had lived his life. That’s why you can see that I don’t even wear mourning attire…

The man shook his pale brown coat, proudly showing it off. Despite his toothless grin trembling, his vibrant smile remained. His eyes were teary but motionless. Soon after, he finished with a high-pitched laugh that could be easily confused for a sob. “Indeed… indeed…” agreed everyone else.

The woman, seated in a corner and wrapped in her coat, had been attentively listening. For three months, she had sought solace in the words shared by her husband and friends, hoping to find guidance on accepting the daunting prospect of sending her son into a life filled with danger, perhaps even death. Regrettably, among the many conversations that occurred, none offered comforting words that aligned with her wishes. This only deepened her sorrow as she felt that nobody truly comprehended or shared her feelings.

However, the traveler’s words sparked a powerful reaction within her, leaving her utterly astonished and rendered speechless. This moment led to a sudden realization that it was indeed her own fault for failing to comprehend others, rather than the opposite. She came to understand that she couldn’t match the resilience and selflessness displayed by parents who could accept, without crying, their sons’ departure or even demise.

In her corner, she raised her head and leaned forward, straining to listen attentively. The fat man was giving a detailed account of his son’s heroic death for his King and Country. It felt like she had entered an entirely unfamiliar world, one that she never could have imagined. She was thrilled to hear everyone celebrating and applauding the brave father as he spoke stoically about his child’s demise. But then, as if she hadn’t heard anything just said and as if waking from a dream, she suddenly turned to the elderly man and asked:

As she inquired about the death of his son, everyone’s gaze fixated on her. The old man, along with the others, directed his big, bulging light gray eyes towards her and locked them onto her face. He struggled momentarily to respond as words eluded him. Yet, he maintained his focus on her, seemingly comprehending for the first time – due to that foolish and inappropriate question – that his son was truly lost forever. His expression contorted horribly and his face twisted itself. Abruptly, he swiftly retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket. To the astonishment of those present, he commenced crying uncontrollably in anguish.

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Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) was an Italian playwright, short story writer, novelist, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. He was a prominent and revolutionary contributor to drama in the 20th century. According to Pirandello himself, his art revolves around a bitter empathy for those who deceive themselves because he believes that life is a very sad form of comedy. His works explore the necessity and futility of illusion and the various facades that are mistaken for truth. Through masterpieces like Six characters in Search of an Author and Henry IV, Pirandello expertly depicts humanity’s struggles and effectively dramatizes the challenges faced by individuals.

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War by Luigi Pirandello. (2016, May 13). Retrieved from


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