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From Luigi Pirandello's «Il fu Mattia Pascal» I take the following excerpt (chapter 13, «Il lanternino»). I wonder how to interpret it, and I have two different interpretations in my mind.

E questo sentimento della vita per il signor Anselmo era appunto come un lanternino che ciascuno di noi porta in sè acceso; un lanternino che ci fa vedere sperduti su la terra, e ci fa vedere il male e il bene; un lanternino che projetta tutt’intorno a noi un cerchio più o meno ampio di luce, di là dal quale è l’ombra nera, l’ombra paurosa che non esisterebbe, se il lanternino non fosse acceso in noi, ma che noi dobbiamo pur troppo creder vera, fintanto ch’esso si mantiene vivo in noi. Spento alla fine a un soffio, ci accoglierà davvero quell’ombra fittizia, ci accoglierà la notte perpetua dopo il giorno fumoso della nostra illusione, o non rimarremo noi piuttosto alla mercè dell’Essere, che avrà soltanto rotto le vane forme della nostra ragione?

One interpretation is as follows: that Mr. Paleari's lantern is a fiction, as he says, and is one such thing that will be destructed by the Being. Therefore, the perpetual night that he alludes to one clause earlier in the same sentence also will not exist, like all other forms of our judgement; in other words, we have here an instance of exclusive disjunction that presents us with two alternative options. Mr. Paleari means to say that only the second option is viable, while the first one is what necessarily appears to us; it's the fiction that we have before we die. We will be left to the Being's mercy, and we won't come under the perpetual night, and all that is implied in the sentence.

But there is also another interpretation: Mr. Paleari refers indeed to the innumerable colorous forms of judgement that we all have during our life-time. So, their abolition that comes together with the death and that he is referring to is, supposedly, exactly that night that we expect to have gathered around us when the death comes. Later, Mr. Paleari argues that this night is fictitious, and that the destruction of the forms of judgment should be explained otherwise; but for now, he just accepts this equation. But for now, the sentence after the disjunctive word serves as an argument that supports the (erroneous, in his eyes) conclusion that the perpetual night comes after the lantern perishes. The arrival of this night and the destruction of the forms of our judgement are just one thing, for now.

I have a question. Is there something in the language used in the excerpt (or perhaps around) that non-ambiguously or with a very high probability rejects one of these interpretations? Or no such outright rejection is possible, and the excerpt is indeed ambiguous? Also, maybe I should interpret it some other way?

(I wouldn't like to ask for full-fledged literary criticism, and I'd just like to know whether it is possible to draw an immediate conclusion from the excerpt or something near it.)

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I am not sure I quite understand your two interpretations, but as an Italian native speaker, for what's worth, I don't see any ambiguity. The narrator describes those metaphorical lantern and darkness, and wonders whether at the end of one's life we will merge with that darkness (ci accoglierà ... quell’ombra) or we will join the Being (rimarremo ... alla mercè dell’Essere, whether in a Parmenidean sense or else, we should ask Pirandello).

Probably my sense of the sentence not being ambiguous derives partly from that piuttosto (= rather): will it turn out to be so-and-so, or rather so-and-so else?

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  • Thank you. So, it was the word “piuttosto” that I didn't understand. Somehow, I just connected it with “mercè” (“piuttosto alla mercè”) and was too sure to ask a question. Yes, that's the first interpretation. – Wanderer Mar 18 '17 at 14:10
  • @Wanderer Piuttosto is, here, pleonastic: you can remove it without changing the sense. Probably Pirandello felt it useful because the first adversative clause (ci accoglierà davvero quell’ombra fittizia, ci accoglierà la notte perpetua dopo il giorno fumoso della nostra illusione) is quite long. – egreg Mar 18 '17 at 17:10

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