War by Luigi Pirandello
In War by Luigi Pirandello we have the theme of patriotism, acceptance, grief, connection, fear and loss. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Pirandello may be exploring the theme of patriotism. The old man appears to be able to accept the fact that his son gave his life for his country and that other sons have died too for their country. However what is interesting about the old man’s acceptance is that he is intellectualizing his emotions. He only really grieves the loss of his son at the end of the story when he finally dawns on him that his son is really dead. It is also noticeable that all the passengers on the train are connected in some way. They have sons or nephews who are at the front and apart from the old man each passenger feels the sense of loss that comes with having a son or nephew fighting at the front. The old man does eventually come to terms with the sense of loss that the other passengers have but this only occurs again at the end of the story. When in a moment of realisation he realises that he has finally and forever lost his son. There is also a sense that the old man thinks that he knows better than the other passengers because he is using logic or at least what he thinks to be logic. Emotions on the other hand are different. How an individual really feels may not be the same as how they think.
The old man is burying the pain of the loss of his son by intellectualizing his son’s death. Most likely because it is too painful for him to emotionally deal with the loss of his son. Whereas the woman on the train is frightened that she may lose her son in the war. The old man considers his son’s death to be an act of patriotism. Though there is nothing wrong with patriotism the reality is that for the majority of people patriotism may not necessarily sooth the grief that comes with the death of a child. A connection has been severed when a child is killed or dies. The aspirations that a parent may have for their child to progress in life, to do better than them, is no longer. Hope has been stolen by death. It may also be a case that the old man doesn’t really want to feel the feelings that arise when he thinks of his son’s death. It would be very natural for him to be afraid. However it is also true to say that the longer a feeling is buried the longer the person suffers.
The woman’s physical appearance, particularly the pulling of the collar up to her eyes may also be important. Symbolically Pirandello may be suggesting that the woman does not want to see what her or her son’s future might hold. Which would play on the theme of fear. The woman is frightened as to what might happen when her son goes to the front. The fact that her husband also mutters ‘nasty world’ suggests that he too is afraid or at least more open to the possibility that his son will be killed at the front. He is more realistic than his wife knowing too well that death may be inevitable for his son. It is also interesting that none of the characters are able to let go of those who are at the front. Their thoughts are constantly with them. Which would be a very human reaction to the circumstances that each character finds themselves in. In reality there are those who may not be physically at the front but still feel the effects of the war.
Though the old man as mentioned tries to conclude that his son is a patriot and as such is proud of his son’s death and feels no need to be concerned about loss. The reality is so much different. It is only when he feels the pain rather than attempting to intellectualize his emotions or grief that he breaks down sobbing. The realities of the war finally hitting the old man. He now understands that though his son might be a patriot he paid for his patriotism with his life. A life that the old man feels part of when he is crying. Which would further suggest that those who are physically at the front are not alone in spirit, emotion or thought. Each person on the train is also symbolically at the front. They may not see their loved ones death but they can feel the bullet that killed them. The same bullet tearing each character apart emotionally. Having to deal with the unbearable grief that comes with the loss of a loved one. Pirandello possibly suggesting that in war there are no winners only losers. With families living their lives in fear when a loved one is at the front.