Right You Are (If You Think You Are), by Luigi Pirandello

We were having a debate about unreliable narrators over on Argumentative Old Git‘s blog, and nothing exemplifies the idea better than Right You Are (If You Think You Are) – and the idea of the relativity of truth too (which might, or might not, be something different). Pirandello’s play is a version of Rashomon (and when I say Rashomon, I mean In A Grove; and when I say version of, I mean written before).

The plot: a man comes to a new town with his wife and his mother-in-law, but makes them live in different houses and never see one another. When the citizens of the town question why he does this, he claims that the mother-in-law’s daughter, to whom he was married, died several years ago and he re-married, but that the mother-in-law refuses to accept this and believes his new wife is in fact her daughter. The mother-in-law, when questioned, claims on the contrary that it is her son-in-law who is mad, her daughter merely left him for a time because of it and when she went back, her son-in-law didn’t seem to recognise her, but that they managed to persuade him to re-marry her as if she were a different woman. The play consists of the citizens’ attempts to establish which of the two is telling the truth. There are all wound up by a character called Laudisi, who persistently claims throughout that truth is relative, it is based on each person’s perception, and no objective understanding of the situation will ever transpire.

I know, that’s a bit of a long plot summary for me! – So I shan’t bore you with any attempts to dig out the deeper meaning of Pirandello’s play; in fact, I’m pretty sure his only interest in all this relativity is to amuse the reader / onlooker; but it’s a superbly constructed piece – better, at least, than Henry IV, the other play of his I’ve read recently, again about delusion (a man believes he’s Henry IV and everyone has to fit in with his delusion – but aren’t we all acting a part in life anyway?), which I felt fell apart a little dramatically in the second half.

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2 thoughts on “Right You Are (If You Think You Are), by Luigi Pirandello

  1. I’m sure I have this play somewhere on my shelves – I shall try to get hold of it this weekend: it’s possibly best not to comment till I have first read it. My impression of the two Pirandello plays I have read so far (“Six Charaters in Search of an Author” and “Henry IV”) is that they are hugely entertaining puzzles, but possibly not much more. I may be wrong – I don’t insist on this: Pirandello is not a writer whose works I know at all well. But from reading your summary of “Right You Are…”, it does strike me that to go from the premise “The absolute truth may be impossible to ascertain in certain circumstances” to the conclusion “Absolute truth does not exist” is a non-sequitur.

  2. Yes, I think you’re right. Pirandello does go to ridiculous lengths in the play so that no objective evidence (like a marriage / death certificate) could be brought to bear on the question at hand – and Laudisi’s pleading that even if such evidence could be produced, it would prove nothing, does sound a bit like wishful thinking.

    I suppose it wasn’t put forward, that perhaps it was the amusingness or the easy pseudo-profoundness of the relativity of truth which has made it so popular in the c20th.

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