The Paradox of Consciousness in The Late Mattia Pascal

Near the conclusion of The Late Mattia Pascal, after Mattia has returned from his two-year absence and reclaimed his name, he wonders what the point of his extraordinary life was. Mattia’s fellow librarian, Don Eligo, contends, “it proves that outside of the law, and without those individual characteristics which, happy or sad as they may be, make us ourselves, we cannot live” (243). Interestingly, Mattia begs to differ, claiming that far from regaining his individuality, he has become a social free-floater, a position that ironically gives him peace and stability.Through the rest of Luigi Pirandello’s novel, Mattia’s multiple lives lead him on a journey of discovery, beginning with his feeling of waywardness and ignorance and concluding with his more mature conception of the limits and options forced on him by his environment. His experiences are a paradox of self-awareness: As Mattia becomes more conscious of the elements of his identity that make him who he is, he also begins to understand the futility of trying to change his identity because he cannot control the entire past, present and future context of his life. However, by realizing and accepting his impotency, Mattia gains a greater degree of freedom in deciding his own fate. As such, this is a story about growing and re-evaluating one’s priorities and aspirations.The Late Mattia Pascal proves the truisms that ‘ignorance is bliss’ and ‘knowledge is power’. The novel demonstrates that to truly know oneself and understand the extent of one’s influence over environment (according to Anthony Caputi, “the matrix within which the experience, art and the world were composed and decomposed,” and in this case, it is the determining factor of fate) is both a potent and debasing quality (48). Throughout the text, Mattia attempts to resolve what Jonathan Druker terms the “crisis of modern consciousness”, unwittingly seeking the “explicit acknowledgement of the radical split between the consciousness and the unconsciousness in the human psyche” (57). Here, ‘Self’ will be defined in Druker’s language, as “one’s consciousness of one’s own being or identity,” which occasionally “entails a greater awareness of the gap between the Self and the world” (57). Meanwhile, the meaning of ‘identity’ will be developed by exploring the connotations of collective and individual identity, independent and dependent identity and productive and barren identity. At the beginning of Mattia’s adventures, he is in full escape mode, disgusted by his domestic situation, trying to ignore the cause-and-effect reality of his life. He does not want to acknowledge the cruel twists of circumstance – his youthful idleness and promiscuity, his adult inertia – that result in the deaths of his daughters and his mother, leaving him with a dead-end job, a harpy stepmother and an unhappy marriage. Mattia blames fate, as if he is “an actor in a tragedy” lead on by an unseen director, doomed to “new chains” (38, 49). He complains, “the immobility of my existence inspired me with sudden, strange thoughts,” but not action, and for some reason he feels he cannot rectify his own situation and can only shout with anger, shaking his fists at the sea (45). Strangely, even as his daughter and mother took post-mortem control and “chose to die” or “hurried into the other world,” Mattia is unable to replicate that level of activity and initiative (46-7). He eventually leaves Miragno not by a conscious decision, but by “acting almost on the spur of the moment” (48). But this small spark of protest, which eventually blooms into Mattia’s experimentation with this entire identity, is evidence of his first tries at self-examination. He realizes the level of his dependence on status quo; his name inexorably entwined with the mundane and a browbeaten life “almost without hope” and is prompted to action, even if it is only the miniscule effort of denial rather than rote acceptance (33). This is also the reader’s first encounter with the Pirandellian mirror, which Druker claims, “reveals the socialized individual in the process of fleeing from society. Any number of Pirandello’s protagonists effectively isolate themselves from the world” (59).For Mattia, any chance of isolation exists away from Miragno, so he strikes out for Monte Carlo. There, especially in contrast with his stifling former existence, even the underwhelming shabbiness of the casino thrills him. His improbable winning spree gives Mattia the false impression of freedom from the bad luck of his past and convinces him that he “could charm and master Chance, bind it to my whim” (58). However, while Mattia is enamored with the apparent possibilities of finally taking control of his life, he is unaware that the forces of fate and luck seem to quietly clamp down harder around him, binding him into a pre-existing destiny. Despite glancing mockingly at a roulette pamphlet, he still cannot resist the urge to buy it (49). After his first pot is stolen, he continues playing because “Luck, for some secret motive of her own, chose to contradict me…”. Mattia is then possessed by “the gambling fever”, gripped by “a strange, brilliant state of intoxication” in which he acts “almost automatically” as if controlled by an external force (54-5). In retrospect, he attributes his winnings to a power beyond his control, musing that “unhappily, I know what Fortune was preparing for me, by first favoring me in that way” (63). Perhaps most tellingly, Mattia is uncomfortable making autonomous decisions not already made blatant by his immediate environment – previously, he gave up his youth and married Romilda because it was the most obvious step to take. Here, at the cusp of a promising new life, he is hesitant to escape to America, to forget his obligations to his wife, to start fresh until another man’s suicide makes the shift too easy to pass up. At that point, Mattia only successfully transitions into Adriano Meis because he cannot muster the initiative to return to Miragno to clear up the confusion.Douglass Radcliff-Umstead writes that The Late Mattia Pascal is steeped in the “tragic dichotomy between an individual’s longing for complete freedom and the forms of life which society imposes upon him” (16). As our protagonist tries to shrug off his Mattia-esque characteristics in order to metamorphose into Adriano, he reaches the apex at which he feels most independent but is also most cuckolded by the ever-adjusting demands of his environment and, by extension, his fate. At first, the transformation is seamless: He fabricates a plausible back-story (87), adopts a random, untraceable name without any connection to his prior life (83) and emerges from the barber’s a “monster” of a German philosopher born of the “necessary, radical alteration of the features of Mattia Pascal” (80-1). Mattia/Adriano is satisfied that he has cheated fate by generating an isolated, sovereign being and has “cut off any memory of my previous existence” (83). By associating fate with identity and assuming that it is just loosely connected coincidences instead of an intricately meshed network of causality, Mattia fools himself into believing that he can easily discard all the flaws and restraints that defined his life in Miragno once he also abandons the Mattia name.Yet even as Mattia is thrilled by his “unique, boundless freedom” of being “Alone! Alone! Alone! My own master!” he is still involuntarily a pawn in a greater design (89). For example, the nebulous figure of Chance/Luck from Monte Carlo is still playing a hand in Mattia’s conversion: “Fortune had suddenly cut me free from all tangles, severed me from ordinary life, had turned me into a bystander…” (83). Little does Mattia realize the ominous overtones of his statement until he realizes that, at the height of his independence, his hands are tied and he has become a societal dud, an infertile clone who cannot interact in the community he aspires to because he cannot afford to be exposed as a fraud. As Radcliff-Umstead writes, “Pirandello views Hamlet as the modern hero paralyzed by superior forces. The Pirandellian hero will be forced into a puppet’s impotence” (16). Mattia is the Frankenstein who fears to buy a puppy, who stoops to talk to birds, who despairs “that in my unlimited freedom, I found it difficult in some way to begin to live. When I was about to come to a decision, I felt myself restrained, I seemed to see all kinds of obstacles and shadows and hindrances” (102). As Mattia begins to notice old characteristics resurfacing and finds his new life falling into familiar patterns even as he takes ever more drastic steps to integrate himself in his new Roman existence, he slowly comprehends the complex maze of former associations, ingrained neuroses and physical distinctions that prevent him from fully embracing life as Adriano. Mattia knows he cannot avoid his surroundings or his past and cannot live out of context. First, he is reluctant to throw away his wedding ring and then unconsciously strokes the exposed loop on his finger, leading Signora Caporale to pry into his mysterious background (which he claimed, even to himself, he had locked away) (84, 128). He is also traumatized by “that poor wretch buried in the Miragno cemetery under my name … And was he still there in the silence, present and invisible at my side?” (178). So as Mattia’s consciousness of the network he is plugged into expands, he accepts that there is some residual, essential Mattia left behind within Adriano and any other reincarnation of himself that cannot be fixed by eye surgery or beard trimmings. “It’s true that nothing can be invented without some kind of roots, deep or shallow, in reality,” he thinks. “How many threads bind our invention to the complicated tangle of life, threads we have severed to make our creation a thing apart!” (88).Furthermore, even if Mattia could somehow command every aspect of his own actions, decisions, dress, etc. (which he attempts to do), fate and the environment would still maintain the upper hand by moving the rest of Mattia’s surroundings out of his control. As A.M.I. Fiskin points out, Mattia must play within boundaries that are pre-set by the past or be exiled outside those lines and “assume the role of a spectator of life” (48). No amount of make-believe can prevent Papiano from robbing Mattia, setting into motion his second ‘suicide’ and no level of pretentious skill can win Adriana’s life-long love. “It is true that in Pirandello, there is no metaphysical reality, and it is equally true that the realization of this fact is an outgrowth of and cause of tragic pain in the characters,” Fiskin notes, while identifying another “social or socio-psychological reality which is a most important element…” (50). Mattia does not actually want solitude; his search is for a better, more rewarding version of his earlier life. In order to achieve that, he must exist within a socially pre-ordained set of roles, which, paradoxically, prevent him from ever attaining his true desires.Although he is once again like a puppet manipulated by circumstance, Mattia is now different from other mannequins. He has developed a bitter self-consciousness, which Druker describes as “not merely living, but watching oneself live with an objectifying detachment, as if with an eye not quite one’s own,” like having access to the vantage point of the puppet master and the puppet but had none of the control (64). Mattia recognizes the societal constraints keeping him from happiness in his Adriano reincarnation and knows that there’s not much he can do because he’s made himself into an outsider looking in. In fact, he yearns to be like a true puppet, either ignorant or complacent about his dependence on fate rather than being agonizingly aware of it, with “no anguish or perplexity, no hesitations, obstacles, shadows, pity – nothing!” (140).But Mattia does have these emotions and he does have a history, and he must deal with them both, unlike these puppets. Despite constant references to rebellion late in the novel, Mattia allows that there are too many aspects of his internal ‘Self’ that he can never escape, that “instead of freedom, it could better have been called solitude and boredom” (212, 180-1). So by story’s end, Mattia has learned his lesson, accepted his relative immobility and impotency, agreed that in “my determination to avoid binding the cut threads together, even weakly, had come to what end? This: the threads had become knotted together again by themselves; and life, despite my caution, my opposition, despite everything, life had swept me off with its irresistible force” (181). But ironically, after announcing defeat to the superior forces of fate following his distressing journey of self-discovery, Mattia becomes more active than ever. Caputi’s theory that Pirandello’s characters find “no resolution but a recognition and acquiescence” suggest that, in being aware of the futility of challenging fate, Mattia actually attains a greater amount of self-will because he now knows the game (41). By seeing more options, the final Mattia is willing to take chances the first Mattia would have run from, knowing that fate will ensure that what should happen will happen. “Now,” Fiskin writes, “he deliberately plays the part that chance imposed upon him once before; out of fairness to the girl he pretends suicide, and Mattia Pascal returns to life” (48). He can do what he wants now: Thinking “I should kill that mad, absurd fiction who had racked and tortured me for two years, that Adriano Meis, condemned to being a coward, a liar, a wretch …”, Mattia does not deny himself, and with an “All right! Away with the loathsome puppet!”, he takes the initiative to discard his despised disguise and become a happier, stronger Mattia (213). He then confronts his old demons for the first time in his live, threatening Pomino and Romilda with legal duress but exulting in his ability to decide not to enact it: “I wanted to avenge myself, and I’m not going to” (237).And so the story closes with Mattia re-inhabiting his original place in the town, more secure and willing than he was the first time. Having experienced the entire arc of existence – from disinterest in his surroundings to wise consciousness of the robust web of cause and effect and history – Mattia is happier understanding why certain things happen to him and knowing which events he can avoid. However, Druker emphasizes, “Mattia’s brand of self-knowledge does not lead to closure” (65). Adriano was not a botched experiment, but rather an awkward growing phase for Mattia. Druker continues, “Clearly, Mattia’s journey of return is not only real but also psychological. Read this way, the novel is a bildungsroman of dysfunction because it renders impossible the coherent formation of Mattia’s personality” (63). Mattia’s only tenuous identity is as the late Mattia Pascal – he explains, “I can’t really say that I’m myself. I don’t know who I am” (244). Paradoxically, by returning home to Miragno, Mattia has finally achieved a measure of anonymity and fluidity, and claims, “I am now in such an unusual condition that I can consider myself already outside of life and therefore without obligations or scruples of any kind” … “I am outside of life, and nothing matters to me anymore” (4, 30).WORKS CITEDCaputi, Anthony F. Pirandello and the Crisis of Modern Consciousness. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. 31-65.Druker, Jonathan. “Self-Estrangement and the Poetics of Self-Representation in Pirandello’s L’umorismo”. South Atlantic Review 63, 1998. 56-71. JSTOR. U of California Berkeley Lib., Berkeley, CA. 12 Nov. 2006 Fiskin, A.M.I. “Luigi Pirandello: The Tragedy of the Man Who Thinks”. Italica 25.1, Mar. 1948. 44-51. JSTOR. U of California Berkeley Lib., Berkeley, CA. 12 Nov. 2006 Radcliff-Umstead, Douglas. “Pirandello and the Puppet World”. Italica 44.1, Mar. 1967. 13-27. JSTOR. U of California Berkeley Lib., Berkeley, CA. 12 Nov. 2006