My Brilliant Friend
Elena Ferrante

by

Karim Chandra

Themes
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Friendship

As indicated by the title, the theme of friendship is central to this novel. The narrative structure retrospectively presents Elena and Lila’s childhood, making the readers aware that, over time, their friendship endures. The novel conveys occurrences from both of the girl’s childhoods and puberty, showing the influence that their friendship has on both of them. Their friendship began when they were children and it shaped them into the adults they would become. The novel presents this friendship ambivalently, making it rather interesting. This means it becomes painful and even destructive, particularly for Elena. Whilst most romantic relationships in literature are frequently presented as being tempestuous and volatile, friendships — particularly those between female characters — are often seen as supportive and positive. This novel is exceptional in giving consideration to the darker facets of female friendship, particularly the most competitive aspects of it.

Education

Whilst growing up, Elena and Lila acquire two comparable — but different kinds of — education. They acquire formal education in a schoolroom setting where their learning is structured and tested. Observations of their surroundings also provides them with a more significant kind of education, including learning about real life motivations, needs, vulnerabilities, and connections. Their division heightens when Lila stops her formal education after her parents decide they are unable to afford her school fees. While Elena’s education revolves around academic subjects, like Greek and Latin, Lila’s education is acquired from observing people in her surroundings and getting to understand their characters and motivations.

Jealousy

Various kinds of jealousy are displayed by several characters in this novel; Elena and Lila, in particular. Elena envies Lila’s courage, her aptitude to defend herself, and how she instinctively learns and studies even after she is forced to stop school. As they grow older, Elena envies the alluring effect Lila has on men. Despite being less obvious, there is a possibility that Lila is jealous of Elena for continuing with her studies; Lila follows along as Elena continues to study more complex subjects. Jealousy also causes tension in the neighborhood with affluent characters, such as the Solara brothers being able to afford luxurious items, a foreign concept for many who live there.

Community

Community is a key theme in this novel, with the neighborhood where both Elena and Lila grow up in essentially being like their whole world. Contact with people from other areas is limited; and because most families live in the area for generations, this means that old rivalries and feuds stay the same for decades. The community also makes its inhabitants feel like they truly belong. Although they might fight among each other, they can be aggressively loyal when it comes to defending their own. This is evident when Enzo and Rino are involved in a fight with some young men from another neighborhood, and where the Solara brothers rescue them.

Violence

Elena and Lila are accustomed to violence at a young age due to the rough conditions of their neighborhood. They regularly witness fights, arguments, and even know about Don Achille’s murder. This knowledge of violence makes them view the world as an unstable and volatile place, and that it is important to always be on-guard. Elena and Lila are victims of childhood violence, with rocks being thrown at them, or be physically abused by their families — like when Lila was pushed out of the window by her father, resulting in a broken arm. Later as they keep growing, acts of violence turn more sexual in nature; they are clearly at risk of being assaulted, and Lila is ready to protect herself and Elena with the use of physical force.

Money

Elena and Lila grow up in poor households and visualize what they would do if they had money. Even at a young age, they understand that money has the capacity to buy prestigious objects, like fashionable clothes, and its power to open opportunities. Lila visualizes her family gaining wealth and this motivates her to go on with her plans of manufacturing and designing shoes. Her family, however, has a different idea of becoming rich and wants Lila to marry Marcello, thus granting her financial security. Lila is hesitant to marry Marcello because of his money and refutes the idea of Stefano using his money to win her over. But she is proud of the privileges she acquires by being engaged to Stefano.

Dependence

This theme is mostly developed by Elena. As the story’s narrator, Elena mentions several times in the book about how she depends on and seeks Lila’s approval and attention. She only feels confident and happy about the direction her life takes, only in relation to Lila. When she is admitted to high school, Lila struggles with family issues as well as lack of motivation and direction. Lila envies Elena’s ability to attend school but does not get a chance to further her education. As far as Elena is concerned, school provides a good outlet for her and gives her a sense of fulfilment. But while she excels, Lila appears to be in disarray. Later, when Lila finally finds something to motivate herself and to give her a life purpose, Elena becomes jealous and begins to fall. It seems as if her sense of achievement is, in part, based on Lila downfall or accomplishment.

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