Pirandello the Profound

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)

Without actually using material from his plays we can see from critical comments on his work that Pirandello had a deep intuitive understanding of reality. For example, he had the ability to see that the false-self survival strategy was the underlying motivation of most human behavior. “From the beginning, Pirandello was determined to tear off man’s social mask and to show how the psychological mechanism conditioning man’s behavior operates.”[i]

To analyze how the characters in his plays would look being controlled by their survival strategies he designed marionettes that he believed depicted unconscious behavior. His plays produced what one critic described as “automatisms of character.” We could say he depicted people “sleepwalking” through life.

Uncovering illusion was a major goal of Pirandello’s work or what he might have called the “the discrepancy between what is and what appears to be.”[ii]  This illusion, which is the context we call P-B, requires “a repetition by habit, of certain actions.”[iii]  These repetitive behaviors we call reactions unfortunately also happen to be self-destructive. “If man wants to survive, he has to keep up his illusions about himself and his fellow-beings.”[iv]  Pirandello’s body of work is remarkable in its attempt to awaken humanity to the reality that we could all experience in the present moment if we could find the courage to deeply experience what is happening on stage in a Pirandello play.

Pirandello’s plays are criticized for being intellectually obscure but those of us who understand the structure of human consciousness revealed by the content of the Simple Reality Project have an advantage. For example we know that playwrights and other artists are always trying answer the questions of a lost and bewildered humanity—where are we?—or what is the nature of reality? Closely related to the first question for most of us is a deep yearning for self-understanding or a clearer identity, i.e., who are we? Theatre critic Laura Collins-Hughes reveals that she understands Pirandello’s purpose in his masterpiece Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) seeing its basic purpose was “an inquiry into the nature of identity and reality.”[v]

The narrative structure of Six Characters is simple as the six characters wander into a play rehearsal. “When they arrive, pathetic and grim in an eerie shaft of light, they are a family—two middle-aged parents, four children—fully imagined in the mind of a playwright, defining traumas and all. But to live, they need to perform the drama he left unwritten ‘The tragedy is in us,’ the father replies. ‘We are the tragedy.’”[vi]

Here it is in a nutshell—the human condition. We are born into an ongoing drama searching for our identity which is handed to us in a pre-written script. Our identity is pre-determined by the pre-existing narrative, and we face severe sanctions if we fail to follow that story line. Within this unfolding drama, with a delusional identity we are doomed to behaviors that leave us in a state of despair. Pirandello’s insights nearly a century ago are still relevant today. He was trying to tell us something but so far we have not been listening.

Pirandello the Profound

[i]     Abcarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz. Literature: The Human Experience. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982, page 1035.

[ii]     Ibid.

[iii]    Ibid.

[iv]    Ibid.

[v]     Collins-Hughes, Laura. “In Need of an Ending to Their Family Tragedy.” The New York Times. October 3, 2014, page C3.

[vi]    Ibid.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.

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