Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)
The play Six Characters in Search of an Author experiments with the limits of realism. It exposes unhesitatingly the loopholes and shortcomings of realism. Perhaps this play alone is a play to pronounce that realism cannot succeed confidently to tackle the new problems in the lives of modern man. Pirandello proposed, through the medium of this play, that realism has no right to assume a sovereign status in the universe of play writing. According to Pirandello, reality can no longer remain an antithesis of illusion. In the world solely guided by the tenets of modernism reality can become a part and parcel of illusion and vice versa. Reality can be exchangeable with illusion. The boundary between the illusion and the reality is in a position to blur. This happened perceptibly in the last part of the play. At last both the manager and the father were left debating over whether the death of the Boy and the child was reality or pretense. Their debate continued to persist, but the tragic death had already occurred. This philosophical scrutiny of the relation between the illusion and reality is an element of modernism.
The technique of Pirandello in this play is characterized by an ironic parody of naturalism. Throughout the play the characters persistently insist on the literal accuracy of every movement, gesture, and intonation of the actors. The play uses aspects of naturalism such as the realistic stage, setting, behavior and dialogue. The father is led by wretched needs, implying he was a slave to his instincts, driven by the animalistic motives suggested in naturalist philosophy. However, the play also presents a satire on natural acting when no one can hear the hushed conversation of the stepdaughter with Madame Pace, the Director argues that the requirements of the theatre must be respected.
Pirandello's brand of ant naturalism takes some aspects of naturalism, then presents it with its shortcomings. In other words, he uses naturalistic means, but not ends. The play undercuts the romantic conventions of exclamation, cataclysm and exaggerations of character. It is also technically anti-naturalistic: the curtain is up at the start of the performance, the workings of the theatre are foregrounded, the scenery is changed during the play, and masks are used to distinguish between the Actors and characters. Although it could be argued that satire creates exaggerations, no attempt towards naturalistic illusion is made. To make use of the naturalistic devices in an ironically paradox manner is a kind of experiment in the late 19th century dramaturgy. This ironic parody of naturalism adds modernist dimension to Six characters in Search of an Author. The play discusses the tragedy of modern man's failure to communicate. The real problem faced by the modern people is the lack of communication amidst them. In modern society each person has his or her solipsistic world within himself/herself.
At modern time words, languages were supposed to be inapt and inappropriate to communicate truth, to communicate reality. In the play the son does not try to understand the depth of motherly love and affection. The mother longs for the son, but the son takes no initiative to feel for her, to receive her love. The Boy and the child are also forced to live in the world of estrangement. The step daughter and the father want to project their immutable reality on the stage. But the director and actors fail to understand the characters' reality because the director's conception of reality is somewhat different. Therefore, the persistent debate between them begins. Perhaps the playwright had been accustomed to Heisenberg’s theory of uncertainty and Einstein's theory of relativity. Heisenberg had proved that our search for knowledge is doomed to remain uncertain. Einstein's theory of relativity claimed, in a similar way, that truth is always plural and relative. In the play also the father talks about the possibility of not knowing the truth of others. This tragic compulsion to live in the world of uncertainty is the miserable plight of modern man. Hence, the play appears to have dramatized the tragedy of modern man's failure to communicate.
The play brings into the foreground, another element of modernism. The play calls into question our sense of identity or of self. In the modern world, identity is no longer stable, self is volatile. The identity of modern man is the identity of instability. The self of modern man is prone to isolate. So much inner passion and drives push modern man into actions that they themselves are confused about who they are, where they are heading, what their duty is and what is to become of them. In the play Six Characters in Search of an Author, six characters are given no name by the playwright. They want to be born as characters in a drama. That is O.K. so far as their aspirations are concerned. But when the question of their names, their selves and their identity arise, they remain anonymous. Even the manager, the leading lady, and Juvenile lead are given no name in the play. They are recognized by the kind of profession they do. In the modern world we and our identity become what we do and how we relate ourselves to those who are in almost the same and similar plight. This diminishing aspect of identity and self of modern people is equally dealt with in the play. Therefore the play is thematically modernist in nature.
The play dramatizes the subconscious. The love of the mother for her aloof son is at the subconscious level. Love for somebody else at a subconscious level is always dangerous and self-torturing. Similarly the Father's instinctive passion for the stepdaughter is also at the subconscious level as the Father himself said "I am a slave to my instinct." The play has developed the notion of meta-theatre as an experimental modernism. It is a play about a play, theatre within a theatre. So, we can conclude that the play is a landmark in the modern theatre in terms of its use of modern elements.