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"One, none, and a hundred thousand" - Who Are We?

Magritte, R. (1953). Golconda. (1)

How does literature define our perception of the world and represent our identity as readers? One, none and a hundred thousand, it's a novel about the facets of the identity of a person within the society. The playwright and writer Luigi Pirandello was the pioneer of "theatre within the theatre", which can also be interpreted as the reader within the book, identifying oneself as the character.

During the 19th century when Pirandello was active, in Europe there were increasing new life rhythms subsequent to the industrial revolution and the productive subdivision of time. Consequently, there was a progressive subordination to the market laws, where individuality disappears as it grows an automatism of life. This political and social context changed the role and the perspective of many intellectuals, artists, literates and it was the time where it germinated the theory of alienation. The author Luigi Pirandello was an Italian prominent writer, poet, and playwright that received a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for his psychological themes and innovative narrative in theatre and novels. Pirandello is world-famous for his works and analysis between outer reality and identity, focusing on personality traits and the identity crisis facing the walls of society. His first novel that was successful was published in 1904, Il Fu Mattia Pascal (The Late Mattia Pascal), about a man estranged from life and seceded from society.

One, none and a hundred thousand was published in 1926 yet Pirandello started writing the story in 1909 that Pirandello himself confessed that it was the novel "...bitterest of all, profoundly humoristic, about the decomposition of life." The storyline is about the main protagonist's self-image that fights with the perception of the outer world that has a quite different image than the one he has. The struggle to reclaim a unitary identity in the face of a multi–faceted world.

“The idea that others saw in me one that was not the I whom I knew, one whom they alone could know, as they looked at me from without, with eyes that were not my own, eyes that conferred upon me an aspect destined to remain always foreign to me, although it was one that was in me, one that was my own to them (a "mine," that is to say, that was not for me!)—a life into which, although it was my own, I had no power to penetrate—this idea gave me no rest.”

(Luigi Pirandello, One, none and a hundred thousand)

Pirandello criticizes the daze set off by the new industries and the uproar of the city mass. In his 1908 paper L'Umorismo, (On Humour) he opposes the terms of form vs life, appointing appearance versus deeper reality and true self. He had acute psychological observations and expresses how living in society is like being on a stage where characters interface with an audience.

The forma (form) is the self-deceptions that we create in order to make sense out of life. Social customs, norms, common decency. The Vita (Life) is the underlying stream that constantly flows and ferment underneath the forma. It can be interpreted like the conscious and unconscious yet for Pirandello is more relevant to social placement and role. Following the theory of alienation, Pirandello made the definition of persona vs character. The individual forced to live within the "form", is not a "persona" that follows his own wishes or it's whole, consistent and aligned with his true will but he acts the role that society or his moral requires. In this way, he becomes a "character", a mask. Hence, the character experiences a split between what he has become and what he really is: A double or an alienated self that replaces the true self. Just like in my previous article of Narcissus and Goldmund on the joint participation of more elements within an individual, there are similarities of different elements that a person carries yet the souls in Pirandello's pieces are characterized by alienation in a humoristic and extravagant narrative, portraying the destitution of the self.

Munch, E. Evening on Karl Johan Street. (2)

In the novel One, none and a hundred thousand the protagonist Vitangelo Moscarda is an ordinary man, he is the slacker son of a banker who lives off a trust fund, he is involved in an unhappy marriage, and he is not at ease with his appearance. It's his wife that makes him aware of his odd nose and that triggers him an identity crisis. Vitangelo decides to completely shift his life. He gives away to charity all of his inheritance that leads his wife and bank associates to accuse him of madness. Vitangelo is left by his wife and he ends up in an hospice. So, when he ran the risk to become "one" (a social identity, the conventional mask of the character of a banker), that in a way it would reflect the other "hundred thousand" anonymous and equally conformed, Vitangelo finally becomes "none", no one, yet a real person that follows everything he really wishes in life, following the stream that flows beneath him. He doesn't live in a form yet in the senseless course of life: Without a name, no identity, and no concerns. In an ironic way, Pirandello is trying to say that to escape the duplicity and the alienation (either social or individual), there's no need to become the imposed one yet it's necessary to be no one in order to walk through life in a carefree way and get lost in nature.


  • Pirandello, L. (2017). Uno, Nessuno, Centomila. Einaudi.

  • Gardair, J.-M. (1977). Pirandello E Il suo doppio. Abete.

  • Gioanola, E. (1997). Pirandello: La follia. Jaca Book.

  • Laing, R. D., & Comba, L. J. (1983). L'io diviso: Studio di psichiatria esistenziale. Einaudi.


  • (1) "Golconda" di René Magritte: Opere D'ARTE SPIEGATE BENE. Frammenti Rivista. (2020, December 2).

  • (2) Guardian News and Media. (2020, March 27). 'We are all Edward Hopper Paintings now': Is he the artist of the CORONAVIRUS AGE? The Guardian.

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