|War by Luigi Pirandello is available online at Google
(will open in new window). The copy on this page is a MIRROR COPY.
Biographical information about Luigi Pirandello is
The passengers who had left Rome by the
night express had had to stop until dawn at the small station of Fabriano in
order to continue their journey by the small old-fashioned local joining the
main line with Sulmona.
At dawn, in a stuffy and smoky
second-class carriage in which five people had already spent the night, a bulky
woman in deep mourning was hosted in—almost like a shapeless bundle. Behind
her—puffing and moaning, followed her husband—a tiny man; thin and weakly, his
face death-white, his eyes small and bright and looking shy and uneasy.
Having at last taken a seat he politely
thanked the passengers who had helped his wife and who had made room for her;
then he turned round to the woman trying to pull down the collar of her coat and
"Are you all right, dear?"
The wife, instead of answering, pulled
up her collar again to her eyes, so as to hide her face.
"Nasty world," muttered the husband
with a sad smile.
And he felt it his duty to explain to
his traveling companions that the poor woman was to be pitied for the war was
taking away from her her only son, a boy of twenty to whom both had devoted
their entire life, even breaking up their home at Sulmona to follow him to Rome,
where he had to go as a student, then allowing him to volunteer for war with an
assurance, however, that at least six months he would not be sent to the front
and now, all of a sudden, receiving a wire saying that he was due to leave in
three days' time and asking them to go and see him off.
The woman under the big coat was
twisting and wriggling, at times growling like a wild animal, feeling certain
that all those explanations would not have aroused even a shadow of sympathy
from those people who—most likely—were in the same plight as herself. One of
them, who had been listening with particular attention, said:
"You should thank God that your son is
only leaving now for the front. Mine has been sent there the first day of the
war. He has already come back twice wounded and been sent back again to the
"What about me? I have two sons and
three nephews at the front," said another passenger.
"Maybe, but in our case it is our
only son," ventured the husband.
"What difference can it make? You may
spoil your only son by excessive attentions, but you cannot love him more than
you would all your other children if you had any. Parental love is not like
bread that can be broken to pieces and split amongst the children in equal
shares. A father gives all his love to each one of his children without
discrimination, whether it be one or ten, and if I am suffering now for my two
sons, I am not suffering half for each of them but double..."
"True...true..." sighed the embarrassed
husband, "but suppose (of course we all hope it will never be your case) a
father has two sons at the front and he loses one of them, there is still one
left to console him...while..."
"Yes," answered the other, getting
cross, "a son left to console him but also a son left for whom he must survive,
while in the case of the father of an only son if the son dies the father can
die too and put an end to his distress. Which of the two positions is worse?
Don't you see how my case would be worse than yours?"
"Nonsense," interrupted another
traveler, a fat, red-faced man with bloodshot eyes of the palest gray.
He was panting. From his bulging eyes
seemed to spurt inner violence of an uncontrolled vitality which his weakened
body could hardly contain.
"Nonsense, "he repeated, trying to cover
his mouth with his hand so as to hide the two missing front teeth. "Nonsense.
Do we give life to our own children for our own benefit?"
The other travelers stared at him in
distress. The one who had had his son at the front since the first day of the
war sighed: "You are right. Our children do not belong to us, they belong to
"Bosh," retorted the fat traveler. "Do
we think of the country when we give life to our children? Our sons are born
because...well, because they must be born and when they come to life they take
our own life with them. This is the truth. We belong to them but they never
belong to us. And when they reach twenty they are exactly what we were at their
age. We too had a father and mother, but there were so many other things as
well...girls, cigarettes, illusions, new ties...and the Country, of course,
whose call we would have answered—when we were twenty—even if father and
mother had said no. Now, at our age, the love of our Country is still great, of
course, but stronger than it is the love of our children. Is there any one of
us here who wouldn't gladly take his son's place at the front if he could?"
There was a silence all round,
everybody nodding as to approve.
"Why then," continued the fat man,
"should we consider the feelings of our children when they are twenty? Isn't it
natural that at their age they should consider the love for their Country (I am
speaking of decent boys, of course) even greater than the love for us? Isn't it
natural that it should be so, as after all they must look upon us as upon old
boys who cannot move any more and must sit at home? If Country is a natural
necessity like bread of which each of us must eat in order not to die of hunger,
somebody must go to defend it. And our sons go, when they are twenty, and they
don't want tears, because if they die, they die inflamed and happy (I am
speaking, of course, of decent boys). Now, if one dies young and happy, without
having the ugly sides of life, the boredom of it, the pettiness, the bitterness
of disillusion...what more can we ask for him? Everyone should stop crying;
everyone should laugh, as I do...or at least thank God—as I do—because my son,
before dying, sent me a message saying that he was dying satisfied at having
ended his life in the best way he could have wished. That is why, as you see, I
do not even wear mourning..."
He shook his light fawn coat as to show
it; his livid lip over his missing teeth was trembling, his eyes were watery and
motionless, and soon after he ended with a shrill laugh which might well have
been a sob.
"Quite so...quite so..." agreed the
The woman who, bundled in a corner
under her coat, had been sitting and listening had—for the last three
months—tried to find in the words of her husband and her friends something to
console her in her deep sorrow, something that might show her how a mother
should resign herself to send her son not even to death but to a probable danger
of life. Yet not a word had she found amongst the many that had been said...and
her grief had been greater in seeing that nobody—as she thought—could share
But now the words of the traveler
amazed and almost stunned her. She suddenly realized that it wasn't the others
who were wrong and could not understand her but herself who could not rise up to
the same height of those fathers and mothers willing to resign themselves,
without crying, not only to the departure of their sons but even to their death.
She lifted her head, she bent over from
her corner trying to listen with great attention to the details which the fat
man was giving to his companions about the way his son had fallen as a hero, for
his King and his Country, happy and without regrets. It seemed to her that she
had stumbled into a world she had never dreamt of, a world so far unknown to
her, and she was so pleased to hear everyone joining in congratulating that
brave father who could so stoically speak of his child's death.
Then suddenly, just as if she had heard
nothing of what had been said and almost as if waking up from a dream, she
turned to the old man, asking him:
"Then...is your son really dead?"
Everyone stared at her. The old man,
too, turned to look at her, fixing his great, bulging, horribly watery light
gray eyes, deep in her face. For some time he tried to answer, but words failed
him. He looked and looked at her, almost as if only then—at that silly,
incongruous question—he had suddenly realized at last that his son was really
dead—gone for ever—for ever. His face contracted, became horribly distorted,
then he snatched in haste a handkerchief from his pocket and, to the amazement
of everyone, broke into harrowing, heart-breaking, uncontrollable sobs.