Six Characters in Search of an Author:
Why the Play Was Worth Reading After All
I must admit that reading Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello turned out to be a rather trying ordeal. The brief foreword in the textbook warned me that I was about to be introduced to "the self-conscious, reflexive theater of modernism", adding that the author [Pirandello] expressed a particular "existentialist interest in consciousness" (201). Since I have never considered myself a fan or either modernism or existentialism (or, for that matter, anything that ends with an "ism"), I was mentally preparing for some long, tedious and boring philosophical musings. However, halfway through reading the play, I found myself more intrigued than I originally expected. Instead of long, elaborate monologues or endless, morbidly contemplative insights I found a rather lively dialogues and briskly moving action. Encouraged, I read on. Even though I was quite confused by the plot (or rather, the lack thereof), I was hoping that eventually the author (and I) would arrive at some sort of logical and sensible conclusion. I other words, I was hoping that by the time I get to the end, things would "reveal themselves" and my confusion would be lifted. Alas, after reading the last sentence of the play, I felt disappointed. With a certain note of surprise I noticed that I also felt rather angry: after all, I spent more than an hour of my time reading this piece but the author has failed to tell me what the play was about! I honestly felt some sort of "righteous indignation" and I suddenly remembered reading in the introduction that when the play was first performed in Rome, "the audience booed, yelled madhouse', and mobbed the author afterwards
" (202). Well, I could certainly sympathize with their feelings.
It wasn't until a few hours later, when I was finishing one of Carl Hiaasen's novels, that I realized why I felt angry with Pirandello: the writer actually made me think! Reading Six Characters in Search of an Author required mental effort! I guess that was the moment when I finally realized I've become a lazy reader. Having to read a piece by an author who in fact expected his readers to think and forced them to draw their own conclusions gave me (I'm ashamed to admit) a novel and somewhat uneasy feeling. Once I realized that the main difficulty I encountered while reading Pirandello's play was the necessity to concentrate and to think about what was happening in the story, I started looking at Six Characters with a completely new attitude. Between Bridget Jones's Diary and The Confessions of a Shopaholic, it is not often that one gets a chance to read something that would actually make one stop and think (sad but true). I wondered if that was the reason why the theater audience wanted to beat up Pirandello after the premiere
After all, people go to the theater to be entertained the price of the ticket gives the audience a certain sense of entitlement: the playwright is obligated to provide the theatergoers with a good story and an easy-to-follow plot. Instead, Pirandello made the spectators think (which I hear can be painful for some people). Instead of providing his audience with amusement, he confused them; instead of giving them answers, he left them with unanswered questions. No wonder that crowd was angry!
I have to admit that besides the obvious (and not so obvious) themes and questions introduced by Pirandello in Six Characters in Search of an Author, the very fact of reading his play had a certain "wake-up call" effect on me. Obviously, I have gotten so used to reading mostly an equivalent of the so-called "soft and easy favorites" that I found myself annoyed by any text that required deeper thought or even a slight mental effort on my part. Well, that in itself was an eye-opening observation and I have to give the credit to Pirandello (and to Professor Baird, who in her wisdom made me read this play) if it wasn't...
Cited: Davis, Paul, et al., eds. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Twentieth Century, 1900 – The Present. Book 6. Boston/New York: Bedford/St, Martin 's, 2003. 6 vols.
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