The Oil Jar and Other Stories by Luigi Pirandello

I stumbled upon the short stories by the brilliant Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello. This 9780486284590_lparticular collection of eleven shorts ruminate upon the nature of simple emotions and human relations but on a deeper, psychological level. Tragedy and farce of human life are well balanced in Pirandello’s concoctions.

“Citrons from Sicily” narrates the story of Micuccio who comes to the city to claim an old flame Teresina, now become a famed singer. With her old image in mind, Micuccio is disconcerted by what he presently sees; the innocent Teresina has been transformed into a loud, brazen woman who entertains her suitors and dresses somewhat immodestly. Her mother tries to console Micuccio who had helped them during their unfortunate days. Towards the end, the distraught Micuccio leaves them with a gift of oranges.

“He turned around uneasily and then looked at the old lady’s sorrowful, loving eyes, as if to read an explanation there. But what he read there instead was an urgent request to ask no more for the moment, to put off explanations till a later time”

“With Other Eyes” recounts the story of a wife who experiences a myriad of emotions upon finding an old picture of her husband’s first wife. Love, jealousy, denial, pride, self-pity all contribute to her finding the reason for her misery.

“Vittore Brivio treated his wife like a child capable of nothing but that ingenuous, exclusive and almost childish love with which he felt himself surrounded, frequently to his annoyance, and to which he had determined to pay attention only on due occasion”

 She concludes that she is stuck in a marriage of unreciprocated love, “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.”

 Next in “A Voice”, we meet the rich but blind Marchese who in care of his kindly nurse, has fallen in love with her. Lydia is haunted by irrational thoughts echoing from what people would say about their engagement. When a certain doctor Falci arrives and in veiled words, accuses her of keeping her fiancé blind in order to secure his wealth, she rethinks her decision to get married despite the ferocity of their love. The doctor’s character is perhaps the most interesting. He is invalidated in the beginning but poses a great threat to the sanity of Lydia and her firm belief in her own love for the blind Marchese, which only later on falters.

“He had gradually formed a concept of life so devoid of all those friendly and almost necessary hypocrisies, those spontaneous, inevitable illusions composed and created by each of us without our volition, through an instinctive need—for social decency, one might say—that his company had now become intolerable.”

“The Fly” tells the story of two brothers and their cousin who is fatally ill. When the brothers fetch a doctor to help their ailing cousin, one of the brothers becomes a victim to the same disease. It’s a powerful story decrying the evil of selfishness and jealousy even in one’s dying moments.

“The Oil Jar” is a somewhat humorous story of a powerful Don Zirafa who mistreats his workers and it is this cruelty which leads him to part with an expensive oil jar he had invested in. He hires Uncle Dima who had discovered a resin cement which “couldn’t even be broken by a hammer.” In his arrogance and little regard for others’ advices, he forbids Zima to use his secret ingredient to mend the jar. What follows is a series of farcical actions that eventually lead to Don being butt of the joke for the entire village.

“To wrench a word out of his mouth you needed a hook. It was haughtiness, that taciturnity, it was sadness rooted in that misshapen body of his; it was also a lack of belief that others could understand and rightly appreciate his deserts as an inventor”

“It’s Not to be Taken Seriously” is a brilliant, incisive sketch of the character Perazzetti which can be best described by the following extract: “He had an extremely active and terrifically capricious imagination, which, when he saw other people, would fly out of control and, without his volition, would arouse in his mind the most outrageous images, flashes of inexpressibly hilarious visions; it would suddenly reveal to him certain hidden analogies, or unexpectedly indicate to him certain contrasts that were so grotesque and comic that he would burst out laughing unrestrainedly.”

The story is terrifically entertaining on an introspective level.

“Perazzetti knew clearly, from his own experience, how different the basic essence of every man is from the fictitious interpretations of that essence that each of us offers himself either spontaneously, or through unconscious self-deceit, out of that need to think ourselves or to be thought different from what we are, either because we imitate others or because of social necessities and conventions”

“Think it Over, Giacomino!” recounts the story of an aged Professor Toti who in all good intentions want his young wife and child to be financially secure after his death. He even takes a poor student under his wings, only later to be tossed out despite his innocent intentions.

“A Character’s Tragedy” is another wonderful short story, and my favourite of the lot, where the author Luigi Pirandello details on his creative form whereupon his characters come alive and demand an audience from him. In this story, a character from a novel written by someone else demands that Luigi give him life, and do justice to his characters motivations and actions as the original author failed to do so. This story masterfully analyses the relationship of a writer with his characters, and somewhat denounces plagiarism.

 “Because it’s easy for anyone to wish to be one kind of person or another; the real question is whether we can be the way we want to be”

“A Prancing Horse” is an absurd story of two horses who are employed to carry hearses but are unable to fully comprehend the nature of their job.

The last story Mrs. Frola & Mr. Ponza, Her Son-in-law” is my second favourite story from this collection. It is a story of two people who condemn each other to be insane and for the people of their community there is no way to discern which of the two speaks the truth. The circumstances around their warm relationship are sketched in a believable way so as to make even the reader suspicious of both characters. But:

“One thing is certain anyway: that both of them manifest a marvellous, deeply moving spirit of sacrifice for each other; and that each of them has the most exquisitely compassionate consideration for the presumed madness of the other”

Credit is due to the translator Stanley Applebaum who did justice to the stories, the dialogue and the masterful characterization.

My ratings:

  1. Little Hut – Sicilian Sketch 1/5
  2. Citrons from Sicily 5/5
  3. With Other Eyes 4/5
  4. A Voice 4/5
  5. The Fly. 4/5
  6. The Oil Jar 4/5
  7. It’s Not to be Taken Seriously 4/5
  8. Think it Over, Giacomino 3/5
  9. A Character’s Tragedy 5/5
  10. A Prancing Rorse 5/5
  11. Mrs. Frola and Mr. Ponza, Her Son-in-law 5/5

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