A new sunny day started in Rome. Thousands of people entered the huge gates of the “Colosseum” in groups. It was the largest structure of its type, a huge oval ground area, with surrounding walls, arches and columns that rose four stories. Each story enclosed people from different classes. A special furnished colonnaded gallery was reserved for the symbol of power, the Emperor. The ceremony started. A parade of gladiators dressed in purple and gold cloaks marched around on foot, and stopped in front of the Emperor’s gallery where they thrust their right arms forward shouting, “Hail Emperor! We, men, who are about to die salute thee!”(Hibbert 46). They were willing to sacrifice their bodies and souls for a bloody form of entertainment that served political purposes. The Emperor and his court encouraged these ceremonies to placate the people of Rome, and deceived them in to believing that these battles represented a kind of spiritual sacrifice. However, these battles were used to maintain the Emperor’s own power and interests. Years passed and the scenario of Roman citizens being deceived by the symbol of power repeated itself. Starting in 1922, people had to follow Mussolini as the symbol of power, who was working for the common good of Italy. People of Rome were led to enter the World War, serving the selfish desire of their tyrannical leader. Thousands of young Italian soldiers died during World War 1. Believing in the myth that Mussolini was always right, they followed him in to World War 2. Italians had to travel through the train of events that took them from one kind of struggle to the other, sacrificing their lives and children, ignoring their right to live in peace and happiness, all for the sole benefit of their greedy and power hungry emperor.
In the short story “War” by Luigi Pirandello, passengers had to go through the same train of events of sadness and sacrifice, deceiving themselves and repressing their emotions for the greater interest of their country and king. In an attempt to describe true humanity, Pirandello takes us in a train of symbols, to discover the cycle of human emotions, which is infrequently reflected in the outward appearance of the travelers.
At night the normal time for humans to rest and sleep, loving parents have to wait in the train station for the local joining train between Fabriano and Sulmona, the way back from Rome to see their son off to war. When the train finally arrives at dawn, the only place they could find is in “a stuffy and smoky second-class carriage”(Pirandello 439). The smoke in the carriage is a symbol of obscurity, which gives the sense of the faint ability of the passengers to see the truth. The stuffy carriage itself gives the reader a sense that the passengers are products, canned and stuffed in special boxes for a specific purpose. The mother is described as “a bulky woman in deep mourning was hoisted in -almost like a shapeless bundle” (Pirandello 439). She was already in her black mourning clothes, the color of sadness and sorrow. It symbolizes the darkness of unknown future that her only son is facing. Her husband, who seems as if he had carried all the years of struggle and sacrifice inside his own body, is “a tiny man, thin and weakly, his face death-white, his eyes small and bright and looking shy and uneasy”(Pirandello 439). The description gives a sense that he is almost dead; his eyes are bright, which is the only symbol of a loving soul. In the same carriage, five other passengers have all spent the night aboard the train before continuing their journey. Pirandello uses the train as the main setting of the story, symbolizes the long journey of emotions that humans go through during their lives.
As the story unfolds, it becomes more obvious that most of the passengers are going through their own journey through emotions and self-deceit. The husband feels obliged to explain his wife’s, the “bulky woman,” grief and mourning. A discussion follows the husband’s explanation. In their discussion, all of the passengers claim they are suffering more as their children have been sent off to war. As the discussion gets more absurd, another passenger “a fat, red-faced man with bloodshot eyes of the palest gray” (Pirandello 440), interrupted the discussion pointing out that what they are saying is nonsense. He claims that although his son died at the front, he is not mourning, and is, in fact, happy and proud of the sacrifice made by his son. He claims that this is the right thing to do, and the first purpose for our children’s lives should be for the king and the country. He claims that we shouldn’t cry, or be sad when our sons die in the front. Instead, our real feelings should be pride and happiness. On the other hand, the description that Pirandello gives him tells a different story. “His livid lip over his missing teeth was trembling” (Pirandello 441), which gives a sense that he is about to cry. “His eyes were watery and motionless, and soon after he ended with a shrill laugh which might well have been a sob” (Pirandello 441). This shows his repressed emotions, trying to express themselves. Although he is trying to cover them with a mask of happiness, they still are trying to come out as watery eyes, a livid lip, and a shrill laugh. Affected by this man’s words, the mourning mother, starts thinking that maybe she should be like the others and ignore her real feelings. Maybe she is supposed to go with the train of events and wear the mask of emotionless for the sake of the king and the country. However, she is not convinced of the man’s sincerity. “She turned to the old man asking him: “then … is your son really dead?”” (Pirandello 442), as the man is reminded of his loneliness, that his son is dead, he breaks down crying. The old man is a clear symbol of deceived humanity by the greater power of the country and the king. He tries to wear the mask of happiness to ignore reality. He tries to contain himself in a world of illusions, which he prefers to the real world in which he lost his only son.
With the train trip, Pirandello takes us in a journey through the illusionary world of self-deceit and hidden emotions to help us discover the real emotions that parents have toward their children. Moreover, the fact that Parents cannot get over the loss of a child; it does not matter how good the cause is.