Luigi Pirandello’s metanarrative masterpiece, Six Characters in Search of an Author, plays with many aspects of metanarrative, including reality versus fiction and self-aware characters. However, memory and perception plays an important role in how the six characters story is told. Despite being characters in a play within a play, the characters do offer conflicting perspectives during their recounting of their story. As the character of the Father says, the problem lies with the words.
The Father. But don't you see the the whole trouble lies here. In words, words. Each one of us has within him a whole world of things, each man of us his own special world. And how can we ever come to an understanding if I put in the words I utter the sense and value of things as I see them; while you who listen to me must inevitable translate them according to the conception of things each one of you has within himself. We think we understand each other, but we never really do. Pirandello's Six, Pgs. 18-19
In a play such as this, all the audience has is words. Yes, there is also stage direction and acting and occasionally props, but the crux of the story is propelled through words. So, if characters words cannot be trusted, how is the audience to know who is telling the truth? As Pirandello himself says in a reflective essay about his work, “…the impossibility… of establishing a mutual understanding on the empty abstractions of words; the multiple personality of every one of us, a composite with as many faces as there are possibilities of being in each of us” (Pirandello Confesses 41). Memory is built on perception and bias, which is guided by our personal experiences, so, despite two people having lived through the same event, they will recall it differently. This is obvious through the retelling of the relationship between the Father and the Step-Daughter.
The Father at first tries to deny that he had watched the girl when she was young, but rushes to defend himself when the Step-Daughter carries on. A few exchanges later, after the Mother blames the Father for the emotional distance between them, the Father comments,
It happened quite suddenly; for after he had obtained some job or other, I could find no trace of them; and so, not unnaturally, my interest in them dwindled. But the drama culminated unforseen and violent on their return, when i was impelled by my miserable flesh that still lives... Pirandello's Six, Pg. 25
The Father continues to not take any responsibility for his actions, recounting a different story than his family. They continue their story, explaining how they are reunited in a place none of them expected. Hubert C. Heffner sums up, “with all of his assumed dignity, sensitivity, and constant philosophizing, this intellectual, forced by the common call of lower animal nature, must resort to a brothel” (33). There he and the Step-Daughter nearly complete their transaction, however, only the Step-Daughter is committed to fully playing their parts. The Father starts the scene, but he only says a few lines, eerily quiet for the rest of it. The Step-Daughter in anguish explains the truth, that he did not recognize her and that instead of showing kindness to a young woman in mourning, he told her to take off her frock.
The theme of the play comes down to these questions: What is reality and what is truth, and does it really matter if they are not one in the same? Memory can be warped and changed, but it can still hold Truth.
Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. E. P. Dutton, 1922.