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Six Characters in Search of an Author

Luigi Pirandello

Important Quotations Explained

Act III: Part Three

Key Facts

A character, sir, may always ask a man who he is. Because a character has really a life of his own, marked with his especial characteristics; for which reason he is always "somebody." But a man—I'm not speaking of you now—may very well be "nobody."

The Father makes this playful comment to the Manager in Act II. Note the mellifluous courtesy of his speech: this rhetorical ploy is typical of the speech he addresses to the company or at his moments of relative reserve. Throughout the play, the Father insists on the reality of the Characters, a reality that, as the stage notes indicates, inheres in their forms and expressions. Here he bristles at the Actors' use of the word illusion as it relies on its vulgar opposition to reality. He approaches the Manager in a sort of face-off to challenge this opposition, one that underpins his identity. Convinced of his self-identity, the Manager readily responds that he is himself. The Father believes otherwise. While the Character's reality is real, the Actors' reality is not real. While the Character is somebody, man is nobody. Man is nobody because he is subject to time: his reality is fleeting and always ready to reveal itself as illusion, whereas the Character's reality remains fixed for eternity as art—what the Actors would call mere illusion. Put otherwise, time enables an opposition between reality and illusion for man. Over time, man comes to identify realities as illusion, whereas the Character exists in the timeless reality of art.

Oh, if you would only go away, go away and leave us alone—mother here with that son of hers—I with that Child—that Boy there always alone—and then I alone, alone in those shadows!

The Step-Daughter makes this exclamation toward the end of Act III in her vision of the author. In her memory, the author sits at his writing table as the Characters haunt him from the shadows, hovering in the twilight between life and unreality. The Step-Daughter especially appears to him in all her seductive charm, attempting to lure him to grant her life. She appears consumed with her own image lost. Thus she progressively casts the Characters from the author's side, making a sudden movement "as if in the vision she has of herself illuminating those shadows she wanted to seize hold of herself." In entering the reality of the stage, the Step-Daughter would become self-identical and certainly dispense with the alienating figure of the actress. The Step- Daughter's narcissism appears explicitly in the act previous. There she furiously insists on the primacy of her part. As the Manager complains, the Step-Daughter would break the "neat little framework" of an organized cast, a cast with its primary and secondary figures that stays closely within the limits of the actable.

we have this illusion of being one person for all, of having a personality that is unique in all our acts. But it isn't true. We perceive this when, tragically perhaps, in something we do, we are as it were, suspended, caught up in the air on a kind of hook. We perceive that all of us was not in that act, and that it would be an atrocious injustice to judge us by that action alone, as if all our existence were summed up in that one deed.

Once again stepping from his role to sermonize, the Father muses on the act that defines him as Character in Act I. This act comes from the scene around which it crystallizes: the inadvertent sexual encounter between them in the back room of Madame Pace's shop that precipitates the encounter and ruin of the two families. Here spectator receives it in exposition, and the Father offers an existentialist interpretation of its nature. For him, its tragedy inheres in man's belief in his unitary being. He only perceives this once caught in an act, so to speak, that determines him entirely. Judged by another, he appears to himself in alienated form, suspended in a reality that he should have known. The Step-Daughter should not have seen the Father in Pace's room; he should not have become real to her. The Father's suspension as pervert simultaneously fixes him as a Character.

Yes, but haven't you perceived that it isn't possible to live in front of a mirror which not only freezes us with the image of ourselves, but throws our likeness back at us with a horrible grimace?

Mortified by the staging of the family's drama, the Son makes this protest to the Manager toward the end of Act III. It is particularly significant as Pirandello is known as the progenitor of the "mirror theater," a theater that concerns itself with the confrontation of the figures on the near and far side of the mirror relation. In the case of Six Characters, these figures are the Actor and Character. The Son charts two effects of the mirror-relation between Actor and Character. Both spring from the inability of the Actor as mirror to reflect the Character as it would see itself, its inability to return the Character's proper self-image.

In the second and more straightforward complaint, the image of the subject imitated in the other renders that likeness grotesque. In the first, vaguely reminiscent of the Medusa, the fascinating image of the Actor would freeze the Character it reflects. Put otherwise, the animation of the image requires the petrifaction of the body; the life of the persona or mask is the death of the person. The animation of the Character in the place of the Actor, an animation that takes place through imitation, is the Character's defacement. This meditation on the petrifying effect of the mirror, one that kills the Character by fixing him, perhaps reads in tension with the Father's comments on the Character's life and reality. According to the Father, both inhere precisely in the fixity of its image. Unlike transitory man, the mask is real and alive insofar as it cannot change. The Character's drama and role are fixed for all time. Perhaps the difference inheres in the process of alienation. The frozen image is fatal when reflected in the Actor because the places the self-image in the place of the other.

She isn't a woman, she is a mother.

The Father introduces the Mother to the company with this qualification in Act I. It would define the Mother's reality and define what she is as a Character. She is the consummate figure of grief, mourning the Characters' inexorable fate, bearing, its anguish, and serving as its horrified spectator. In this respect, she is not even a woman, but she is first and foremost a mother in anguish. Pirandello elaborates this fantasy of maternal suffering further in his preface to the play. There the Mother is posed against the philosophizing Father, incarnating nature without mind in her suffering—she suffers the torture of what has befallen the family without thinking about it as the Father does. Caught, like the other Characters, in the unchanging and inexorable reality of both her drama and role, she laments that she suffers her torture at every moment. Her lot as mourner is fixed for eternity.

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