Six Characters in Search of an Author | Study Guide

Luigi Pirandello

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Six Characters in Search of an Author | Act 1 | Summary



As the play begins, the stage has no scenery, and the auditorium is almost completely dark. There is a prompter's box and a seat for the Director. Tables and chairs are prepared for rehearsal at the front of the stage.

The Foreman arrives wearing a tool belt. He begins hammering nails into the stage. The Stage Manager rushes out to stop him, saying the Director will arrive soon for the rehearsal. The Foreman reluctantly leaves. Nine or 10 male and female Actors file onto the stage. They are preparing to rehearse a play by Pirandello. They're all dressed in bright colors, and their actions have a natural, improvised feel. They greet the Stage Manager and talk in small groups. Some smoke cigarettes or read magazines. One Actor plays the piano at the rear of the stage.

The Stage Manager quiets the Actors as the Director arrives. The Director is wearing a bowler hat and smoking a cigar. He gets his mail from his Secretary and asks if everyone is here. Just then the Leading Lady rushes in, carrying a small dog with her. The Director grumbles about the Leading Lady's attitude. He calls the Actors to begin rehearsing the scene.

As the Prompter reads stage directions, the Director gives instructions to the Actors and Stage Manager. When the Prompter says the Leading Man needs to wear a chef's hat, the Leading Man interrupts. He thinks a chef's hat is ridiculous. The Director, upset, says he can't get good plays anymore. Now he is forced to produce this Pirandello play, which nobody likes. The Director suggests that Pirandello makes his plays difficult on purpose, and the Actors laugh.

The Leading Man has to wear the chef's hat, the Director says. He adds that the Leading Man will be beating eggs because he "[symbolizes] the shell of those eggs." The Actors think the Director is joking, but he is serious. He explains that the Leading Man represents reason, and the character of his wife represents instinct. The Leading Man says he doesn't understand. The Director confesses he doesn't either. He suggests the Leading Man face the front of the stage, otherwise no one will comprehend Pirandello's difficult dialogue. The rehearsal continues.

Meanwhile the Doorkeeper escorts a group of people—the Six Characters—into the auditorium. The Characters look lost and confused. Pirandello specifies that the Characters should look completely different from the Actors. They can be lit differently or physically separated, or the Characters can wear masks. The masks show the Characters are "figures constructed by art" and more real and unchanging than the Actors. Their clothes should also be unusual, designed "with rigid, full folds like a statue." The adult Characters have individual driving emotions or goals. The Father's is remorse. The Stepdaughter's is revenge. The Son's is disdain. The Mother's is grief, and she has wax tears fixed on her mask.

The Father is about 50 years old. He has an "uncertain, pointless smile." He is typically gentle but prone to angry outbursts. The Mother wears black, with a widow's veil, and looks down at the ground in shame. The Stepdaughter is 18 and dressed in elegant mourning clothes. She has contempt for the Boy, a shy 14-year-old wearing black. But she loves the Little Girl, a 4-year-old in a white dress. The Son is 22, angry at the Father, and indifferent to the Mother. He wears a mauve coat with a green scarf.

The Director is surprised the Characters were allowed in, since no one is supposed to enter during rehearsal. The Father explains they're searching for an author. The Director is confused; there's no author on set, since the Actors aren't performing a new play. The Stepdaughter says the Characters can provide the basis for the new play. The Father suggests the Director step in as the author. The Mother, the Little Girl, and the Boy approach the stage.

The Father and the Stepdaughter assure the Director they have "a painful drama" that will make him rich. The Director says they're crazy. The Father points out there are plenty of true "absurdities" in life. He suggests it may be a form of madness to bring imaginary situations to life—as the Director and Actors do. They "make something seem true which is not true."

The Actors get upset, and the Director defends the theater to the Father. Actors, the Director says, bring life to "immortal works of art." The Father agrees the theater creates living characters who are "less real" than real people "but more true." When the Director asks what he means, the Father explains that characters are born—they come to life just like people or objects in nature. When he says he was born a live character himself, the Director and Actors burst out laughing.

The Father is hurt. He points out that the Characters have a sad story to tell. As the Actors can see, he says, the Mother is in mourning. The Mother and two children walk onstage, and the stage becomes "bathed in fantastic light." The Son and the Stepdaughter stand apart. The Actors applaud what they think is a performance for their benefit.

The Director angrily orders the Characters out of the theater. The Father is astonished. Surely, he thinks, the Director is used to invented characters coming to life on the stage. Maybe the problem is that the Characters aren't in the Prompter's script. The Stepdaughter tells the Director they're all interesting Characters who happen to be "lost" at the moment.

The Father explains further. The Characters aren't exactly lost. The author who created them didn't want to put them in a work of art. Characters are immortal, the Father says. Authors will die but characters won't. The Father names two characters from literary works who found "an imagination" to give them life. All the six Characters want is a chance to live for a moment through the Actors and the Director.

The Actors scoff. The Father claims the Characters can start acting right away, without a written script. He claims the drama itself is inside the Characters, expressed in their passion. The Stepdaughter approaches the Father, pretending to embrace him passionately but backing off with a harsh laugh. The Father snaps at her to stay out of it. The Stepdaughter then turns to the Actors, offering to dance and sing for them as "a two months' orphan." She sings and dances along to a popular song. The Actors approach her, strangely compelled.

The Director is shocked and asks the Father if the Stepdaughter is crazy. "Much worse than that," the Father replies. The Stepdaughter says they'll see her appear when the drama unfolds. She picks up the Little Girl and kisses her. The Little Girl, the Stepdaughter says, will be taken away from her mother. The Stepdaughter grabs the Boy and claims he'll do "the stupidest of things." Then the Stepdaughter will leave the family. After "something very intimate" happened between her and the Father, she explains, she can't stay with the family any longer. She also hates how the Son's contempt grieves the Mother. While the Son is legitimate, the Stepdaughter and the two children are "bastards." The Son refuses to acknowledge the Mother as his parent, and he hates her and the three other children. The Stepdaughter becomes increasingly excited and agitated as she speaks.

The Mother starts to plead with the Director but faints before she finishes speaking. The Actors are concerned. The Director calls for a chair for the Mother. The Father urges the Mother to take off her veil, while the Mother begs the Director to stop the Father "from carrying out his plan."

The Director demands to know what's going on. He asks how the Mother can be a widow if the Father is alive. The Father says she was married to another man who should be with the Characters onstage. The Mother cries out in protest. The Father clarifies that the other man is "absent" as well as dead. He claims the Mother's drama isn't about the two men she married, since she didn't really love him. Her drama's about her relationship to the four children.

The Mother protests that the Father forced her to marry another man. The Stepdaughter accuses the Mother of lying for the Son's sake. The Stepdaughter claims the Mother wants the indifferent Son to believe she didn't abandon him willingly. Although the Mother swears she is telling the truth, the Stepdaughter says the Mother was happy with her deceased husband—who's also the Stepdaughter's father. Her father loved the Mother and the Boy, the Stepdaughter says. She screams at the Boy to speak. The Mother insists she didn't leave her son and home behind because she wanted to. The Father agrees, saying it was his idea.

The Actors and the Director are now interested in the drama, moving forward to listen. The Son coldly says the Father is about to lecture everyone on "the Demon of Experiment." The Father says the Son is mocking him for using the phrase "the Demon of Experiment" to explain away evil. He also uses the phrase to cover up his guilt, the Stepdaughter adds. The Father says words don't work for his guilt. The Stepdaughter accuses the Father of quieting his guilt with money, revealing that he intended to pay her a large sum, presumably for sexual favors. The Actors gasp.

The Son calls the Stepdaughter "filthy." She explains the money was real—it was in a blue envelope in Madame Pace's shop. Madame Pace is a woman who lures "poor girls from good families" like the Stepdaughter into working in a brothel. The Son says the Stepdaughter is tyrannizing the entire family with the money, although the Father never paid. The Stepdaughter laughs "we were really going to do it." The Mother, aghast, says the Stepdaughter should be ashamed.

"Shame?" the Stepdaughter protests. "It's my revenge!" She is desperate to live out the scene in the shop where the Father propositioned her. The Father is blushing now, she says, but he was pale then. She urges the Director to believe her. The Director confesses he is lost.

The Father says he'll explain the situation. The Stepdaughter, he insists, left out relevant facts in order to paint him as a villain. The Father feels words are the heart of the problem. Everyone has their own perspective or "world" within them. So people speak to each other without understanding the other person's meaning. For instance, the Mother interpreted the Father's compassion as cruelty.

The Mother disagrees: he ran her out of the house. The Father says it only seemed this way to her, and argues that he loved the Mother for her poverty and humility. As he speaks the Mother makes gestures of denial. The Father gives up. He tells the Director the Mother has a frightening "mental deafness." The Stepdaughter interrupts to say the Father's intelligence has done the family no good. The Father laments he intended to do good, but only evil came of it.

The Leading Lady has been watching the Leading Man and the Stepdaughter flirt. Disturbed, she asks the Director if the rehearsal will continue as planned. The Director tells her he wants to listen to the Characters' story first, and a few cast members agree. The Director motions to the Father to continue and explain more clearly.

The Father says he once employed a poor man as his secretary. The Father noticed the man and the Mother had a "mutual understanding" and affection. Neither of them, he claims, did anything wrong. The Stepdaughter adds the Father made the choice for them. The Father insists he wanted to do both of them, and himself, a favor. He was getting tired of the looks between the man and the Mother.

The Director asks why the Father didn't just fire his secretary. The Father did, but then he had to deal with the despondent Mother at home. The Mother claims she was grieving because the Father had taken the Son away. The Father explains he wanted the Son to "grow up strong and healthy." The Stepdaughter points at the Son and laughs. The Father says he sent the Son away to a wet nurse because he thought the Mother wasn't strong enough to care for the infant. And, he says, he always tries to do what's moral. The Stepdaughter laughs even harder at this statement. The Director demands she stop laughing, and the Stepdaughter withdraws suddenly.

The Father emphasizes that he sent the Mother to his former secretary only because she was suffering. He wanted her to be free of him. The Mother adds that the Father wanted to be free of her too. The Father insists his intentions were good, despite the "evil" events to follow. After his former secretary took the Mother to a faraway town, the Father stayed interested in his new family. He claims this interest was pure, and asks the Stepdaughter to back him up. The Stepdaughter says she was a "little sweetie" in her pigtails and school uniform while the Father watched her. The Father shouts she is betraying him.

He continues explaining his past. Once the Mother left his home, the Father wandered alone through the house "like a fly without a head." When the Son returned home he had no attachment to the Father. With no family left of his own, the Father was attracted to the Mother's new family, which he claims he "brought into being." To prove to himself that the Mother and her children were happy, the Father kept watch on the Stepdaughter from afar.

The Stepdaughter remembers him following her home. She didn't recognize him but her Mother did, and she almost didn't send the Stepdaughter back to school. Soon afterward the Father brought the Stepdaughter a hat covered in roses.

The Director interrupts to say the Characters are making the story too long. "Story is right!" the Son scoffs, saying the tale is "Fiction!" The Father insists it's not fiction but life. In either case, the Director says, it won't work on the stage. The Father agrees. After this background information, he prepares to reveal the drama itself.

The Father and the Stepdaughter explain that when the Father's former secretary died, the Mother's family was impoverished. The Mother and her children returned to the Father unexpectedly. The Mother protests she couldn't have guessed the Father would feel the way he did. The family had moved away, the Father said, and he'd lost interest. When they suddenly returned, the drama began. The Father, meanwhile, was lonely and sexually frustrated. He thought of "unconfessable things," gave in to temptation, and tried to make things right afterward.

He says everyone feels the same way, but not everyone has the courage "to say certain things." The Stepdaughter points out that many have the courage to do those forbidden things. Yes they do, the Father agrees, but only in secret. He argues it's brave to talk about shameful but common human desires out loud, like the desire for a woman and "the beast" of lust. Once a woman gets close to him, he says, she'll shut her eyes, indicating she'll keep their secret. The Stepdaughter says that when the woman decides to open her eyes, she no longer feels ashamed, but she can see the shame of the man. Her father's "intellectual elaborations" make her sick. He has reduced life to bestial desires, ignoring any aspirations to higher ideals like modesty and purity. She thinks his guilt is disgusting and fake.

The Director interrupts, saying he just wants the facts of the situation. The Father says, "A fact is like a sack." Facts need to be filled with reasons and emotions to stand on their own. He didn't know the Mother went to work for the dressmaker Madame Pace because of the family's poverty. The Stepdaughter mockingly says Madame Pace is "a high-class dressmaker." Madame Pace appears to serve wealthy women, but women end up serving her. The Mother says she would never have worked for Madame Pace if she'd known Madame Pace only wanted the Stepdaughter. The Stepdaughter says Madame Pace brought the Mother damaged fabric to sew and then deducted from the Mother's pay. Meanwhile the Stepdaughter was roped into working in Madame Pace's brothel. As the Actors listen, they gasp and are stunned.

The Stepdaughter met the Father, "an old client," one day in Madame Pace's shop. The Mother stopped the Father and the Stepdaughter "almost in time." The Father argues the Mother stopped them just in time for him to recognize the Stepdaughter. But now he feels ashamed every time he looks the Stepdaughter in the face. The Stepdaughter asks how she can go on hoping to be a virtuous woman according to her father's "morally sound" aspirations.

The Father tells the Director they've found the heart of the drama here. People think of themselves as single individuals, he says. But instead, each person contains many selves and appears differently to different people. He argues it's unfair to judge individuals based on one action "as if our [lives] were summed up in that act!" The Stepdaughter betrayed him, he feels. She took him by surprise in a place where they never should have met each other. Now she wants to make "the reality of a fleeting moment" his entire life.

There's plenty of drama to come from the other Characters too, the Father says. He gestures to the Son. The Son says to leave him out of it, since he doesn't belong in the group of Characters. The Stepdaughter says the Son is "refined," while the others are "common" and poor. She points out that the Son can't look at her because of the wrong he has done her. She claims she is on the streets because of the Son, and the actors gasp. The Son refused to welcome the Mother's children into his home, the Stepdaughter says. As the legitimate Son, he rejected them all.

The Son explains his side of things. He was at home when the Stepdaughter, "an impudent type" he'd never met before, arrived and asked for the Father. The Stepdaughter then began demanding the Father's money. The Father breaks in to insist that the money was for the Mother. The Son continues, saying he was shocked when the Stepdaughter, the Boy, and the Little Girl moved in and claimed they were his half-siblings. He can't put his feelings into words even now. The Son describes himself as "a character that, dramatically speaking, remains unrealized." He wants no part of the drama.

When the Father protests, the Son exasperatedly asks when the Father has ever cared about him. The Father admits the Son is right. Still, he adds, the Son's withdrawn attitude toward him and the Mother has dramatic potential. He points out that the Mother is crying. The Stepdaughter calls the Mother a fool.

The Father argues the Son is actually "the pivot of the action." The Son has made the Boy frightened and humiliated, the Father says. The Boy might be the most tragic character of all. He is humble and silent, ashamed to take charity. The Director says children don't work onstage anyway. The Father assures him the children won't be there long, and the little girl will be "the first to go."

The Director decides the family's story is great material for a play, although the way they presented it was disrespectful. The Father says the Characters are "born to the stage." The Director misunderstands—he thinks they have a desire to act. The Father says they're acting only the parts assigned to them in life, the way everyone does.

The Director still doesn't understand, but he says he'll find them an author. No, the Father says. The Director himself has to be the Author. The job is easy, claims the Father. He has the Characters right in front of him. The Director protests that the script has to be written. The Father suggests someone could take down the scene as the Characters rehearse. The Director confesses that he is tempted to go through with the idea. He invites the Father to discuss it further in his office and tells everyone else to wait for 15 minutes.

The Director and the Father go offstage. The Actors complain to themselves. They don't want to improvise a drama. They don't even know who the Characters are; the Characters could be "madmen or crooks." They decide to see what happens.


The play includes a few conventions of early 20th-century Italian theater, seen in Act 1. The Director's title was Direttore-Capocomico, and he served as both a director and a stage manager. He handled the actors as well as the instructions for sets and props. While the capocomico in an Italian comedy was the lead actor or artist in an ensemble, Pirandello's translation indicates the Director is "head of the work" or acting in a supervisory capacity. The Prompter stood in an onstage box and helped actors with their lines.

Once the Actors enter they behave as if there's no audience. Their dialogue is improvised. Readers and live audiences might notice how different the Actors' natural behavior is from their rehearsed, studied performances. The invisible "fourth wall" between the stage and the auditorium doesn't completely erode. No one steps out of character to acknowledge the spectators' presence or talk to them. But the artificial nature of the theater becomes clear. As the Prompter reads detailed stage directions, Pirandello reveals how easily a printed script can create a new world.

Some strong personalities emerge among the Actors, revealing recognizable character types. The Director is a controlling authority. The Leading Lady is entitled and pompous. The "gay and brightly colored clothes" the stage directions specify for the Actors show their desire to be the center of attention.

The theater is an easy mark for Pirandello's satire, but he doesn't stop there. He pokes fun at his own plays and at what critics and live audiences expect from him. He openly acknowledges critics find his work difficult to understand. He highlights the tension between actors and playwrights. The Director and Actors' confusion reveals the whole theater to be a bizarre artificial world. The Actors laugh at the chef's character symbolizing the shell of his eggs. They're completely bewildered when one character represents reason and another represents instinct. When critics, directors, and readers read deep allegorical meanings into plays, Pirandello implies, they may sound ridiculous rather than insightful.

The Characters approach the stage as a different kind of presence. Masks set the Characters apart from the other actors. They're not real people. But they're not ghosts either. Instead they're what Pirandello calls "created realities." He specifies that their clothes should be different from what people can find in stores. The Characters' appearance indicates they don't inhabit a human world. In Pirandello's original stage directions, the entering Characters are surrounded by a light representing "the faint breath of their fantastic reality."

The Characters recall the masked personalities in the historic Italian theater form Commedia dell'arte. Actors in the Commedia wore masks of instantly recognizable characters. The Commedia characters had transcendent appeal no matter which actor played them. They were unchanging and long-lasting like the Characters. The Mother is compared to the "mater dolorosa" or "sorrowful mother" sculptures of the Virgin Mary in Catholic tradition, another recognizable type.

The Characters' appearances reveal their personalities. The Father's "uncertain, pointless smile" is an enigma, showing a man whose personality can change from gentle to angry. The Mother's demeanor is passive and ashamed, and she hides behind her veil. The Stepdaughter wants her mourning clothes to be noticed. The Son is dressed differently from the rest, setting him apart from the family.

The Director and Actors don't know why these strange people have invaded their rehearsal. They can't accept the existence of independent Characters whose lives have leapt off the printed page. The Father isn't sure why they're so surprised. He points out that improbable things happen all the time in life. If his existence as a Character is strange, he feels it's even stranger for people to invent stories and act them out as if they're real.

The Director defends art based on its immortality. But the Father feels that anyone who accepts the art form of plays should accept the independent existence of characters. His appearance onstage is just as legitimate as that of an actor playing a part. What's more, a character's reality is more vivid and long-lasting than a person's reality, which can be fixed. The Father doesn't see himself as invented but born, alive and more "true" or legitimate than any human.

The difference between "true" and "real" recurs in the play. It begins with the Father's assertion that the Characters are "less real ... but more true" than humans. Reality, to the Director and Actors, means life lived offstage—complete with birth and death. They have trouble seeing reality as different from truth. The Father sees truth as bigger than life itself—a reflection of life that helps people see life more clearly, if they can. Truth is what the imagination creates on a "higher plane" than the real world. The Father argues the Characters' story is truth, although it may not be reality. Later he'll question the definition of reality too.

The play's staging indicates that the Characters exist on a different level than the Actors. The Characters aren't quite real or unreal. They're mysterious. The Mother walks across the stage with "tragic solemnity," and the Characters are "bathed in fantastic light." Their otherworldly aura commands the Actors' respect.

Like the Characters, the Actors develop as a distinct group. They become the Characters' live audience, applauding "as at a show performed for their benefit." The Actors imagine the Characters exist only for their entertainment and inspiration. At first the Actors think they can watch the Characters' tragic story at a distance without being affected themselves.

Even if the Characters do exist only for a reader or live audience's benefit, they still have the edge of immortality. As the Father says, characters live on after their writers die. Readers remember the characters in classic books and plays. If the writer's imagination is vivid enough, the characters emerge with a life of their own. The Director's sarcastic question, "Through all eternity?" implies eternal life is a ridiculous desire. Art's immortality contrasts with humans' inevitable death. The Director still pictures the Characters as humans, not as art.

While the Father uses straightforward monologues to defend his presence, the Stepdaughter provides a vivid performance of her story. She is dynamic and emotionally volatile, giving the Actors someone to watch. She courts the Actors' sympathy by saying she is "a two months' orphan." The vaudeville theater song she sings, "Beware of Chu Chin Chow," was a popular piece in the 1920s. It's a song a young aspiring actress might perform at an audition. The Stepdaughter lets the Actors see what she thinks they want to see—an entertaining show. The Actors have a "strange fascination" with the Characters, which shows they can be inexplicably compelling.

The Stepdaughter has her own agenda, however. Her agitated version of the family story is rife with betrayal but short on specific details. She says the Boy did "the stupidest of things," but she doesn't explain what he did. She does reveal how the Characters are connected through the different webs of tension within the family. As the Actors feel the emotional impact of her revelations, the onstage excitement builds.

Finally when the tension has reached its peak, the Mother faints. Her collapse is a turning point. From then on the Characters seem real—not strange people clamoring for attention, but real humans living a tragedy. The Mother's emotion is heart-wrenching and less calculated than the Stepdaughter's. The Mother doesn't list the ways she has been wronged. She only cries out with fear and "infinite anguish." The word infinite reveals she'll never find relief. The Father explains how the Mother inhabits a fixed and painful role in the story. She exists only as a mother, not as a woman.

Once the Actors are invested, the Characters' tale becomes more complex. The narrative of the Mother's second husband comes out. The Stepdaughter and the Son chime in with their opinions of the family saga. The Actors learn what stakes the Characters have in each other's fates.

Similar in style to a soap opera, the Characters' story is deliberately melodramatic and over-the-top. There is sexual tension, incest, rejection, and painful family reunions. Although the plot is scandalous, the narrative carries real passion and anguish. Now the Actors pay attention. They imagine the Characters are putting on a show for them, a show deliberately designed to hold the interest of a live audience.

The Son, meanwhile, becomes part Character and part audience member. Pirandello imagines an audience member as anyone who is watching others perform a drama, standing at a critical, doubtful distance from the drama itself. The Son says repeatedly he won't perform in the Characters' drama. But unlike the Actors or the potential observers of a performance, he engages with the Characters as a family member who has an investment in the story. He is in the unique role of both observer and observed.

One of the Son's observations involves how the Father excuses his own crimes. The phrase "Demon of Experiment" shows the Father sees himself as an element of art, and art is experimental. The Father feels he is inspired only by the idea of evil acts. He repeats his intentions were good and he didn't understand the consequences. He wants absolution or forgiveness, but his family won't give it to him.

As the play progresses the Father, the Stepdaughter, and the Son tell contradictory versions of the same tale. The three characters represent "mind" or thought, and each competes for the position of reliable narrator. The Director and Actors wonder whom to trust and believe. The Stepdaughter, for instance, wants to confirm the truth of her account by showing the details onstage. Placing herself in the drama's central role and taking control of the story allows her to "tyrannize" the rest of the Characters. She also can expose the Father's crimes to the outside world.

The Father's speech about a "world of things" illuminates the impossibility of an objective reality. Everyone sees the same events differently, he argues. For example, the Characters each give different versions of the same story. Absurdist plays sometimes question concrete versions of reality, showing how what is real to one person may not be real to another.

The Father's speech also reflects Pirandello's view of multiple personalities inside each person. Individuals are whole worlds unto themselves. They live inside their own world, becoming the main characters in their own stories. The Actors begin to see themselves as characters too, playing different roles and creating their own realities on and off the stage. Readers of the script and potential observers of a live performance might also consider the roles they perform in their own lives.

When the Mother emotionally denies the Father's version of events, he becomes more aggressive. He accuses her of "mental deafness" and tries to prove her grip on reality is compromised. Meanwhile he defends his own good intentions. The Director and Actors aren't sure whether to believe him, but they can see his struggle. He is fighting for forgiveness he knows he'll never get.

The Father portrays himself as conflicted and genuinely well-meaning. However, his motivations still seem like attempts to justify his deeds after the fact. He sent away the Mother and the Son because he thought they'd be better off. Instead, their sense of family and home is fractured. The Father doesn't quite grasp why the other Characters are upset.

As the Father retells the family history, he becomes an author himself. He claims he brought the Mother's second family into being, as an author brings characters into being. The Son grew up independently of his father, as characters can grow beyond an author's intentions. The Son thinks the Father's version of events is "fiction," meaning lies. Although the Son doesn't question the fundamental reality of the Characters, he observes the Father as a kind of storyteller.

The Stepdaughter sees the Father as a perverted observer who was grooming her from a young age. She calls him a "clown" and thinks he knew he was doing wrong the whole time. She'll repeat the Father's phrase "morally sound" to mock him. While the Father speaks, the Stepdaughter becomes more frantic to tell her own version of the narrative.

Meanwhile a growing tension develops between the Actors and the Characters. The Leading Lady isn't happy when the Stepdaughter flirts with the Leading Man. The Actors resent the Characters' power to shape what's happening onstage. The Characters resent the Actors' presence in their lives.

But the Director is seeing a drama take shape in front of him. After the Father and the Stepdaughter clarify their motivations, they promote their saga to the Director as a viable play. The drama, the Father promises, will fulfill all the aims of successful theater. The play will be new, fresh, and complex, what any stage director would wish for! Plot twists, betrayals, and unpredictable violence will emerge.

The Father makes a bid to ground the drama in his own emotional agony. He tries to justify his most controversial deed—propositioning the Stepdaughter. He compares his dignity to "a stone on the grave." The shame his actions caused is a permanent state, like death. This shame now defines his life. By sharing publicly what he has done in secret, the Father thinks he is courageously bringing truth to light. His description of blindness and closed eyes indicates his belief that everyone commits crimes behind closed doors, but no one talks about them. He makes an appeal to the Director's sympathies by describing how he is tortured by "the human beast" of unfulfilled desire. Like the phrase "the Demon of Experiment," "the human beast" becomes a concept the Father uses to emphasize that he is just a Character in a drama. These phrases put a distance between him and his actions, letting him avoid responsibility.

The Stepdaughter paints the Father as a knowing criminal who doesn't care about human decency. She thinks he is embodying the identity of a beast or an unthinking animal to avoid the moral responsibility of being human.

Although the Father and the Stepdaughter make their case against each other, the Director and Actors never get an objective view of what happened between the Characters. Like the theater audience for Pirandello's play, they see and hear only the Characters' interpretations. The reality of the scene changes with each retelling. The Director wants to know "the facts," but there may not be any. The Father says facts don't exist without the human biases of reason and belief to interpret them. Facts may vary from person to person. This idea introduces the possibility of truth and reality being determined by each individual.

However, the observing Actors want a story. The stakes are becoming higher. It's questionable whether the Mother interrupted the Father and the Stepdaughter "in time." The Stepdaughter claims her reputation is ruined, and she'll never be seen as "morally sound" again.

The Father steps out of the drama to address the lingering questions Pirandello asks in the play. How can different versions of reality be true at once? How can the Characters all say different things and still be reliable? Part of the answer the Father gives is that each person can be many different people. The Father sees himself as repentant. To the Stepdaughter he is a villain. The Stepdaughter sees herself as a victim. To the Father she is a liar. The Son sees himself as an individual. To the rest of the family he is one of them. Their identities change based on the lens of the observer.

Pirandello argues in his essay "On Humor" (as he uses the term, broadly and philosophically) that people know only a small part of who they really are. When people realize they're a different "self" for everyone they meet, Pirandello says, they enter a state of anguish and confusion "where even the simplest illusionary joy of knowing 'who we are' is negated." The Father depicts how this state of anguish has affected him. The Stepdaughter's "treachery" involved turning the Father into a version of himself he never wanted to see. She created a new reality for him, one he resents. He refuses to be cast in the role of a pervert or criminal. The Father wants an author to write him into a life where he is not "suspended, hooked" in a shameful moment. He needs dramatic possibilities and the potential for change.

The Son, meanwhile, considers the other family members "intruders" in his life story. The Stepdaughter is an invader who complicated his quiet life, similar to the way the Characters invade the stage. The Stepdaughter claims he rejected her and her siblings because they were working class and illegitimate. He had ownership of the home and the family story and refused to write them into his world. The Son becomes "the pivot of the action," according to the Father, because the Son was the one who left all the other Characters out in the cold.

In the Son's version of reality, the Characters aren't his family. The estranged Mother might as well not exist. He "remains unrealized" since he hasn't had the chance to present his version of events, nor does he want to. Dramatic realization would require him to express his true feelings to others, like the Director, the Actors, and even the anonymous author who created him. The vulnerability and emotion needed to be a Character is something he is not willing to give. Instead he is self-contained.

The Boy, on the other hand, has no choice but to let others interpret his reality for him. The Father describes how little the Boy can control his "painful situation." The Boy has been uprooted from his home for reasons he doesn't understand and forced to stay with a half-brother who hates him. The Boy's passiveness in the face of pain foreshadows his shocking gesture at the end of the play, where he finally takes action. The Father's reference to the Little Girl as "the first to go" also foreshadows her death.

The Father deflects his family's real hurt and anger by pointing out the dramatic twists and turns. His estranged Son's hatred, for instance, is apparent in a scene with great emotional potential. The phrase "born to the stage" reveals why the Father is so eager to share the family drama. The Director thinks the phrase is a figure of speech, meaning naturally skilled actors. The Father takes the phrase literally. He was born for no other purpose than to act out his drama on a stage.

But the Father doesn't stop with the Characters. He points out the theatricality and artifice of real life, saying "every man acts the part assigned to him." When he says "everyone's" becoming an author, it's a subtle dig at the craft of writing. Virtually all individuals, he implies, are vain enough to think they can create their own world.

Act 1 ends with a shift in the action. The Characters' play is about to become a performance, not just a story. How will their narrative change?

The bewildered Actors realize they'll have to create something unscripted and novel. They can't simply read their lines. They reference the Italian improvisational theater genre of Commedia dell'arte, where actors wore masks and played recognizable character types. Improvisation comes with an element of danger. The Actors aren't safely within the confines of a known story. They don't know what will happen.

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