Today I will do a cultural analysis of Pirandello’s, “With other Eyes.” For your benefit, I will post a summary so you can understand the short story if you have not read it.
Anna, Vittore Brivio’s wife of three years, gets her husband’s clothes ready when she discovers a portrait. The portrait is of Brivio’s first wife who had an affair during the marriage. She is first disgusted with the portrait and sees no similarities between her and the beautiful woman pictured. She wonders why her husband would marry to completely different people. As she looks more and more at the picture she realizes she is not that different from the woman in the photograph. She tries to recall some things about the woman and remembers that Brivio challenged the wife’s lover to a duel. The lover refused saying he would not fight a mad killer. The wife, Almira, supposedly committed suicide. “Anne had very vague information about the dead woman: she knew only that Vittore, when the betrayal was discovered, had, with the impassivity of a judge, forced her to take her own life” (Pirandello 150).
She at first could not relate to this woman who would cheat on the man she holds so dear, but then, realizes that Vittore does not love her back. Her father did not approve of the marriage but Anna fell into despair and sickness until her father “agreed” to let her marry him. After the marriage she never saw her family again and still hasn’t for three years. She realizes how alone she really is and that her husband never appreciated the sacrifices she made. She then sees herself in the portrait and feels that the portrait is pitying her. “And it then seemed to her that those kindly eyes, intense with passion and heartbreak, were pitying her in their turn, were condoling her over the abandonment, the unrequited sacrifice, that love which remained locked up in her breast like a treasure in a casket to which he had the keys but would never use them, like a miser” (Pirandello 155).
Based on the summary, I will now share my analysis on Pirandello’s With Other Eyes.
Luigi Pirandello is an interesting writer of the “Great Enlightenment” period that may have drawn from his own experiences in life to write his stories. In the story we see the focus around Anna and her first husband’s dead wife. Pirandello had many hardships in his life, but one of his greatest tragedies occurred when his wife slowly descended into madness for fourteen years. The central theme that Pirandello often focused on in his work was the search to distinguish reality from illusion (Columbia Encyclopedia). “Since truth was not ascertainable, man was condemned to live in moral and cultural confusion, or even anarchy. These alienated beliefs may partly explain Pirandello’s acceptance of Mussolini as a man of order” (Columbia Encyclopedia). There was obvious unrest during World War II and many political ideas in the world. Pirandello, since he did not want anarchy, might have seen Mussolini as a “hero” that would unite the Italian people and end the chaos in the world.
Marriage and adultery were central themes in many 20th century writing. Before the 20th century, women were often beaten and publically humiliated if they committed the crime of adultery. By the 19th and 20th century the punishment for adultery became less of a concern and by the mid-20th century adultery just became grounds for divorce (sexuality-encyclopedia). However, even though the grounds for punishment may have grown more lenient over the ages men were often afraid of becoming a “cuckold.” If a woman cheated on a man in this time it could ruin a man’s reputation. Most men in society would lose respect for the man who was cuckolded and make fun of his misfortune. Brivio, rather than have his good named tainted, would think it would be justifiable to murder his wife. If anyone suspected that Brivio was the cause of his wife’s suicide it would be punishable and not be considered an honor killing.
“Anna had very vague information about the dead woman: she knew only that Vittore, when the betrayal was discovered, had, with the impassivity of a judge, forced her to take her own life” (Pirandello 150).
It seems rather strange in this case that nothing was done to Brivio for murdering his wife. Other things may have been done to cover up the murder, but we only know what we read from the text. It could be perhaps that because the story is set in the late 19th century that a crime like this could be overlooked. However, it could just be an assumption that Vittore murdered his wife, but it is interesting to note that there was no evidence that he did this. Forensics was not very well-developed in the 1900’s and perhaps the authorities could not prove he caused her suicide. Again, we do not have any detail into the death other than what Anna tells the readers.
Q: Can we assume it is only rumored that Brivio murdered his wife? If not, why do you think he wasn’t punished? Do you think that he said cruel things that eventually made her kill herself?
Dueling in the 20th century
Dueling was very common at this time and was often done to protect the honor of the family name. There were many movements to discourage and band dueling starting in the early 19th century. Many of the people in support of these movements considered honor killings murder and suicide. The supporters thought that honor killings disrupted the social order and would lead to a never-ending cycle of duels between feuding families (Richard 383). In the 20th century dueling was still common so it was not odd for Brivio to challenge his wife’s lover to a duel.
“She knew that[Arturo Valli] had married a few years later as if to prove his innocence of the blame that Vittore wanted to ascribe to him, that he had vigorously declined Vittore’s challenge to a duel, protesting that he would never fight with a mad killer” (Pirandello 134).
Q: Did you see Valli’s reason for not fighting as cowardly? Why do you think he didn’t fight? (Did he not value the love he shared with Almira enough to fight in a duel, or maybe, did he not believe in duels?)
BELL, RICHARD. “The Double Guilt Of Dueling: The Stain Of Suicide In Anti-Dueling Rhetoric In The Early Republic.” Journal Of The Early Republic 29.3 (2009): 383-410. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.
ENotes. ENotes.com, 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.enotes.com>.
“Pirandello, Luigi.” Credoreference. 2008. Columbia Encyclopedia. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.
Pirandello, Luigi. “With Other Eyes.” Great Short Short Stories. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2005. 149-55. Print.
SparkNotes. Sparknotes, LLC, 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011
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