My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante
Contributed by Eleanor Sherer
Adolescence - Chapter 34-37
Summary

On Elena’s fifteenth birthday, she is excited about the party the Sarratores and Nella will host for her. She is shocked to get a letter from Lila that day, struck by how intensely Lila writes, and questions whether the time she, herself, has spent in education has been useless, fearing of never having the capacity to write like that. She summarizes the letter she received: “She had turned suddenly and realized that the big copper pot had exploded. Like that, by itself. It was hanging on the nail where it normally hung, but in the middle there was a large hole and the rim was lifted and twisted and the pot itself was all deformed, as if it could no longer maintain its appearance as a pot.” (229)

In this letter, Lila explains that Marcello has been coming to her home for supper consistently. He has additionally given the family a TV as a present, which created some excitement among the nearby families. Lila, however, feels tense and torn; her brother and parents are angry with her, and Marcello is threatening. She encourages Elena to remain in Ischia and not come back home. Elena is upset that her friend is suffering and decides to respond to her letter, however she is distracted by all her birthday celebrations

At night, she goes to bed like normal, sleeping in a little bunk in a side of the kitchen. She is still not asleep when Don Sarratore enters the kitchen to get a glass of water. He starts talking to her, before suddenly kissing and caressing her. He tells Elena that both of them will go for a walk alone together the next day, and then leaves her. Elena is in shock and embarrassed about the excitement she experienced. The following morning, she gets up and leaves before anybody is awake, taking the ship back to Naples alone: “As soon as the boat moved and the island, with its tender early-morning colors, was distant enough, I thought that I finally had a story to tell that Lila could not match. But I knew immediately that the disgust I felt for Sarratore and the revulsion that I had towards myself would keep me from saying anything.” (233).

When she returns, Elena is lauded for her more womanly appearance. She meets Lila, and they catch up. Marcello has become increasingly intense concerning the proposals, despite Lila continually declining. Her parents see a brilliant future with the help of the Solara family and are influencing her, however Rino has been protecting his sister’s right to decline, which is resulting in arguments occurring inside the family.

Elena and Lila come across Stefano, driving an expensive vehicle. Stefano reminds Lila of a promise she made, and Lila clarifies to Elena that he has been asking her to ride in his car all summer. Lila had told him that she will go for a drive once Elena comes back. Elena reluctantly agrees to go, worried about what kind of relationship may develop between Stefano and Lila, and what could happen if Marcello found out about it. As they drive and talk, Stefano inquires about shoes displayed in the shops window. Lila coquettishly proposes he get them, and is stunned when he quickly drives to the shop to buy them. To the delight and surprise of her brother and father, Stefano purchases the shoes and shows an interest in other designs. Soon after this, Lila starts a relationship with him, enjoying the luxuries he provides.

“When you saw her, she gave off a glow that seemed a slap in the face of the poverty of the neighborhood. The girl’s body, of which there were still traces when we had woven the plot that led to her engagement to Stefano, was soon banished to dark lands. In the light of the sun, she was instead a young woman who, when on Sundays she went out on the arm of her fiancée, seemed to apply the terms of their agreement as a couple ... she seemed to have discovered the joy of dipping into the inexhaustible well of her beauty.” (264)

Analysis

This section highlights the way both Elena and Lila struggle to maintain integrity and independence while still being subjected to the men’s predatory advances. Elena has been approached by members of the Sarratore family, particularly Donato. She is stunned when he makes sexual advances towards her. The experience undermines all the freedom and certainty she had been delighting in her amid her time away from home. The sexual attempt making the island seem dangerous and insecure.

Lila, as anyone might expect, leaves out several details from every story she tells Elena, demonstrating her capacity to be shrewd and manipulative. She is under extreme pressure to marry Marcello, and he is utilizing his wealth to influence her parents into supporting the relationship. Similarly, Stefano has power and wealth which suggests that Lila is not immune to the benefits that a wealthy man can provide. However, Lila feels that she has more authority and control in her relationship with Stefano.

The first quotation in this section (“she had turned suddenly…”) summarizes the letter Lila sent to Elena, in which she describes her anxiety and distress about her situation with Marcello. When she reads this letter, she astonished by Lila’s vivid language. The quote demonstrates Lila’s ability to use foreshadowing and symbolism to heighten the emotion and intensity of what she describes. The rapid destruction of the plot foretells likely dangers and threats, and the imagery of the damaged and warped physical body implies the likelihood of sexual violation.

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