According to the Pirandello translator Frederick May, Pirandello once wrote in his private notebook, ‘‘There is somebody who’s living my life. And I know nothing about him.’’ This sense of detachment from one’s life, even from oneself, is an important theme of ‘‘A Day Goes By.’’
From the moment the story begins, the main character knows nothing of his identity or his surroundings—he is a stranger to himself and his own life. He is also estranged from the other people he encounters when walking through the city; the words he uses to describe the others and himself are opposites. For instance, he concludes that he must be wrong, and they must be right, and while he ‘‘can’t even be certain . . . that I really exist,’’ the others are ‘‘without the slightest hesitancy, so naturally convinced are they that they must do what they’re doing.’’ Even when the others wave to him in greeting, he cannot believe that they are waving at him, and suspects ‘‘that it’s this suit they’re waving at and not me.’’ This illustrates the psychoanalytic concept of persona, the image we project to the world, which is often very different from our true self. When we begin to equate the persona with our identity, we experience an alienation from our true identity, losing touch with who we really are. Here the suit represents the image the main character is projecting. The suit is just one of the trappings of his life, his image as an ‘‘important and respectable’’ man. It does not represent his real self; he has no knowledge of that self. Even when he sees himself in the mirror at his house, he has no recognition of himself. He refers to the image in the mirror as ‘‘this old man’s face,’’ and he is unable ‘‘to convince myself of the truth of what I’m seeing.’’
It is only at the very end of the story that the bleak nature of Pirandello’s tale is relieved by some positive language. Though he still has no recognition of his children or grandchildren, he observes ‘‘mischievously’’ that his children have sprouted some gray hairs, and he regards his family with ‘‘childlike eyes,’’ looking upon them with ‘‘great compassion.’’ The idea that the main character feels compassion indicates that his alienation, at least in regard to his family, has lessened; one does not normally feel compassion for people from whom one is completely alienated.
The concept of identity, and how it is defined, is a common theme in Pirandello’s work. For example, in one of his most famous plays, Henry IV the main character, an actor playing the role of Henry IV, falls off his horse, and when he regains consciousness, he is convinced that he actually is Henry IV, an eleventh-century Holy Roman Emperor. ‘‘A Day Goes By’’ presents the reader with a list of ways by which individuals may define their identity: family, work, reputation in the community, religion (represented by the ‘‘holy picture’’ the main character finds in his wallet), love, financial status, appearance. It is interesting to note that the only thing the character remembers with certainty is that he has always worked, ‘‘worked very hard, very hard indeed.’’ It is common for men (and in more modern times, women as well) to define themselves first and foremost by their work. The photo of the fiance´ e and the holy picture are in his wallet, a typical place to keep proofs of one’s identity (such as a driver’s license).
The French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser writes of another method of defining one’s identity (or subjectivity), which he calls interpellation. He describes one method of interpellation as ‘‘hailing.’’ He wrote in his 1969 essay, ‘‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,’’ ‘‘when we recognize somebody of our (previous) acquaintance ( (re)-connaissance the street, we show him that we have recognized him . . . by saying to him ‘Hello, my friend,’ and shaking his hand (a material ritual practice of ideological recognition in everyday life).’’ This recognition and response ritual confirms for us our identity as members of a society or an ideology. In Pirandello’s story, the main character is ‘‘hailed’’ repeatedly by people on the street, who wave to him, and again by his fiance´ e/wife, who raises her arms to him in welcome. On the street, he fails to respond and complete the ritual; he does not choose to define himself as one of them, as a part of society. However, he does accept the embrace of his fiance´ e/wife when he encounters her in his house. Also, at the end, he responds to his children and grandchildren affectionately, looking on them with compassion. The main character has chosen to define himself first by his work, and secondly, by his family.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Luigi Pirandello, Published by Gale Group, 2010