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The Manager asks what really happened. The Son replies that he silently went into the garden. Mother sobs and looks toward the fountain. Apprehensively the Manager asks about the Child. Father murmurs that Mother was following her. Son ran over to her, jumping to drag her out when he saw the Boy standing stock still like a madman, watching his drowned sister in the fountain. Step-Daughter bends over the fountain to hide the Child and sobs. A shot rings out behind the trees where the Boy is hidden. Mother cries in terror and runs with several Actors toward the trees. Some cry that the Boy is dead; others that it is only "make believe" and "pretence." "Pretence? Reality, sir, reality!" cries the Father terribly. "Pretence? Reality?" the Manager rejoins. "To hell with it all. Never in my life has such a thing happened to me. I've lost a whole day over these people, a whole day!"
As the Manager complains, the play, botched by the Characters' incessant interruptions, has become impossible to finish. Earlier in Act III, he resumes his charge that the Father is overly philosophical: like the Step-Daughter, he would probably also prefer that they stage a series of extended monologues, allowing the Characters to elaborate their respective plights. For the Manager, however, drama lies not in philosophizing but action. Thus, in this final scene, he futilely attempts to combine the action, running the scene of the stepchildren in the garden and the non-confrontation between the Son and the Mother simultaneously. Constrained by the playing space, he joins simultaneity in time with simultaneity in space, a simultaneity marked by the Son's easy passage from the house to the garden. Both scenes would culminate in the drama's tragic end: the ambiguously accidental death of the Child and the suicide of the Boy. Thus the family's two accessory figuresthe silent innocents who almost symbolize the troupe's misery—eliminate the step-family from the original household and seal its fate. As noted previously, their deaths are senseless, apparently unmotivated. The elimination of the stepfamily that drives this drama renders tragically necessary. Death is the children's primary purpose. Ironically the Son, who is in some sense the cause of their demise, discovers them, breaking his aloofness to save the Child.
Despite its aspirations to tragedy, the final action goes off with a whimper. As Pirandello writes, the ending happens "stupidly and uselessly," dispersing the "sterile experiment" of the Characters and Actors. The play concludes with the firing of a pistol—what Pirandello contemptuously describes as the "going- off of a mechanical weapon on stage"—that indicates the Boy's suicide behind the make-shift trees. A brief màleà follows, punctuated with a series of exclamations. The Mother cries in anguish for her son. More importantly, some actors declare the Boy dead; others disavow his death, calling it "only make believe," or "only pretence." The Actors' cries reiterate the at least manifestly central thematic conflict in the play, the contention over the reality on either side of the Actor/Character looking glass. With a "terrible cry," the Father protests as he has throughout: "Pretense? Reality sir, reality!"
Against this forceful pronouncement, a final mirroring between the play's would- be authors follows. The dull-witted Manager echoes the Father comically, saying, "Pretence? Reality?" He renounces the "sterile experiment." As throughout the play, he returns us to the business of the stage, untouched by the real drama before him: his reaction to the ostensibly tragic denouement is to bemoan the loss of rehearsal time. Moreover, he remains a vulgar realist at heart—his exclamation "never in my life has such a thing happened to me" refers not only to the loss of rehearsal time but to the implausibility of the spectacle that has just unfolded as well. The end is thus clearly ironic, posing the Manager who cannot stand Pirandello as the one who "doesn't get it," the one whom has effectively been played a fool.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Six Characters in Search of an Author!