As the story opens, the main character is on the ground in a dark, deserted train station, having been thrown off the train, though he has no memory of how or why. In fact, he cannot remember why he was on the train in the first place, or where he was going. He leaves the station and finds that it is just before dawn, and he is in an unfamiliar city. He has little memory of who he is or what he does for a living; he just remembers, ‘‘I’ve always worked, worked very hard, very hard indeed.’’
Walking down the street, he recognizes no one, although some people wave at him. In his suit pocket he finds a wallet he is sure must belong to someone else; since he does not recognize the suit he is wearing, he assumes the wallet must belong to the suit’s rightful owner. Inside the wallet he finds a large, outdated banknote, and a photograph of a beautiful woman in a swimsuit, with her arms outstretched toward him. He does not recognize the woman, but he notices that the photo ‘‘is in the place where you put your fiance´ e’s photograph.’’
Exhausted and hungry, he enters a restaurant, where is treated like ‘‘an honoured guest.’’ He shows the proprietor of the restaurant the banknote he found in the wallet, and learns that this type of note is no longer in circulation, but that the bank will exchange it for him. The proprietor directs him to the bank, where he is given a large sum of money for the banknote. He returns to the restaurant, but nothing on the menu appeals to him. As he leaves, he finds a chauffeur-driven car waiting for him, which takes him to his house. He does not remember the car or the house, and feels he is ‘‘a stranger here, a kind of intruder.’’ He begins to explore the house, and when he opens one of the doors, he discovers that it is a bedroom; waiting for him on the bed, with arms outstretched, is the beautiful woman from the photograph. He embraces her. ‘‘Is it a dream?’’ he wonders.
When he awakens the next morning, the woman is gone, the bed is cold, and the house has an old, musty smell it did not have the night before. When he looks in the mirror he discovers, to his horror, that he is now an old man. ‘‘So suddenly! Just like that! How is it possible?’’ He is still wondering how this could have happened when there is a knock at the door, and someone tells him his children have come to see him. He has no recollection of having had children. ‘‘But when?’’ he puzzles. ‘‘I must have had them yesterday. Yesterday I was still young.’’ The children enter, bringing their own children with them—his grandchildren. They admonish him for having gotten out of bed: ‘‘they know perfectly well that I can’t stand on my feet any longer and that I’m in a really bad way.’’ Time continues to accelerate; the grandchildren, who were small when they entered the house, grow up before his eyes, his children now have gray hair, and he finds that he is no longer able to get up from his bed. ‘‘And with the same childlike eyes that a little while before those children had—oh, how grown-up they are now!—I sit there, looking at my old children, standing behind these new ones, and there is great compassion in my gaze.’’ Thus the story ends, with the main character clearly at the end of his life.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Luigi Pirandello, Published by Gale Group, 2010