Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist Summary and Analysis of Act One, Scene Two


Scene Two takes place in a different room in the police station. There is a large, open window in front of which the Maniac stands. The Inspector enters, massaging his hand, and asks a Constable what the Maniac wants. The Maniac quizzes him comically about his hand, then asks to close the window, which the Inspector dryly refuses to allow.

The Maniac introduces himself as Lord Justice Malcolm, first counsel to the High Court, here to reexamine the facts surrounding the death of the anarchist. He has come early, he explains, to catch the Inspector and his boss off guard. The Inspector is visibly nervous and sends the Constable to fetch the Superintendent. He picks up the phone to call Bertozzo, but the Maniac says that isn't necessary as he has all the paperwork already. 

The Superintendent bursts in and chastises the Inspector for giving him orders and for punching Bertozzo. He sees the Maniac and the two exchange humorous words about the Inspector. Once the Superintendent learns who the Maniac supposedly is, the Maniac introduces the case. The anarchist, he reminds them, had been seized by a "raptus" (a type of suicidal anguish) that prompted him to throw himself out the window. He then asks the policemen to reconstruct what happened.

The Superintendent explains how on the night of the anarchist's death, he told the anarchist that they had proof he planted bombs at the railway station. In truth, they had none; they merely assumed he was guilty as he was the only anarchist railwayman in town. The Maniac notes that the anarchist had committed suicide in part out of fear of losing his job, and so infers that the Superintendent must have frightened him about that as well. The Inspector interjects that he told the anarchist his dancer comrade had confessed to planting a bomb at the bank, and that the anarchist took the news badly. The Inspector also told him that his alibi - that he had been playing cards all afternoon - had collapsed. The Maniac notes that the Superintendent later stated there was no proof that implicated the anarchist, and the Superintendent admits they made a mistake. He claims it was necessary to use a little "psychological warfare" in order to do their jobs.

The Maniac is unsympathetic, pointing out that the Superintendent lied not only to the suspect but also to the media. He reveals that there is damning evidence that both the Inspector and the Superintendent were negligent and that their careers are ruined. Naturally, the two are visibly upset. The Maniac encourages them to jump out the window, since all hope is gone. He even pushes them to the ledge by force. 

The Constable reenters and the three other men return to the floor. The Superintendent and the Inspector admit that they had both seriously considered throwing themselves out the window. They blame the government, who has asked them to foment a sense of disorder. The Maniac, however, suddenly admits that he made everything up and that the Ministry is happy with the two policemen. However, he says their panic has proven that they drove the anarchist to throw himself out the window. The Inspector argues that they weren't even present when the anarchist jumped, which the constable confirms. The Superintendent, however, reminds them all that they should be talking about the second version of the facts they had presented rather than the first. In that version, the policemen lied about their evidence at 8pm, but the anarchist didn't jump until four hours later, at midnight. Therefore, it couldn't have been their misinformation that prompted the suicide, since so much time had passed. 

The Maniac now appears to be on the policemen's side. He says they must prove that by the end of those four hours the anarchist had completely recovered from the mental anguish he suffered as a result of the policemen's lies. They decide that the anarchist and the dancer were no longer friends anyway and so the anarchist was not so upset about the dancer having planted a bomb, although the Maniac points out that the first version of the report noted how depressed he was. The Maniac decides that something must have helped the anarchist to change his mood. He comes up with a story: the policemen were saddened by the anarchist's anguish, so the Superintendent put a hand on the anarchist's shoulder and the Inspector pat him on the cheek. The Inspector then told the anarchist not to lose heart - anarchy would never die - and they all sang a song. The policemen object to the fictions, but the Maniac argues that the public would love such a story. The scene ends as they all sing an anarchist protest song. 


This scene is comprised both of slapstick humor and serious interludes, in which anger overcomes laughter. Fo deliberately intersperses such moods in an attempt to rouse his audience to action. The play was never intended to be pure comedy, but rather an emotionally effective tool to educate the audience and leave them with enough unsettled feelings to inspire them to take action. 

The scene reveals the central conflict of the play: the Maniac wishes to reveal the truth, while the Inspector and the Superintendent seek to conceal it and exonerate themselves. The characters' zeal to achieve these opposing goals leads to increasingly ridiculous and comical dialogue. 

As the scene begins the Inspector is rubbing his hand, having just punched Bertozzo in the face. The Maniac asks, "What's wrong with your hand?... If it's nothing, why are you rubbing it? What is it, an affectation? Some kind of nervous tic?" (17) In their coverage of the Pinelli case, Italian newspapers noted the compulsive movements and other nervous habits of Calabresi, the real-life inspector who interrogated the anarchist; the reference thus reconfirms that the Inspector represents Calabresi. As they talk, the Maniac refers several times to the open window, never letting attention stray too far from the issue at hand. 

As the Maniac plays the part of judge, two themes emerge: first, that the police are using informants to create a climate of fear; and second, that the police cannot be trusted to tell the truth. "We have informants as well, you know," the Maniac says, explaining that he has come early to catch the policemen off guard. We also see how quickly the Inspector changes his story when the Maniac asks him if his presence bothers him. At first he responds "Not in the slightest," but when the Maniac draws attention to his twitching neck - supposedly a nervous tic of a liar - the Inspector changes his answer to "Or rather... yes it does. A lot." (19)

The Maniac again demonstrates the way in which language can be manipulated to disguise the truth. When the Superintendent reprimands the Inspector for punching Bertozzo, the Inspector tries to defend himself by explaining that Bertozzo had blown him several raspberries. The Maniac quick-wittedly turns his words around: "Yes, I'd already marked him out as somewhat tetchy, and I now discover from what you were saying that he's allergic to raspberries from the north of England - which, between you and me, are really rather bland, especially compared to free-range raspberries from say, Scotland or Jersey" (21). The Superintendent, now utterly confused, lets the matter slide. 

As in Scene One, the translator has modified cultural references to make the play resonate with a British audience. Fo gives his translators freedom to change the text however they wished in order to speak to their own audiences - a reflection both on his sense of populism and the weight he placed on the political aspect of his plays. For example, in the original, the Maniac asks the Superintendent if he used to run an anti-fascist camp in southern Italy - a reference to Marcello Guida, head of police Milan at the time of the Pinelli case.  But in this version the Maniac asks if the Superintendent was "connected with the supply of freelance troops to the Balkans" in the early 1990s. This is a reference to the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, a territorial conflict between political and cultural factions in Bosnia and Herzegovena. Incidents of "ethnic cleansing", genocidal massacres of one group by another - e.g. the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks by the Orthodox Serbians in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre - became endemic to this conflict. The nature of this allusion carries the same weight as Fo's original reference.

Fo does not alter the tone when the Maniac brings up the case around which the play revolves, maintaining instead a flippant, comic mood appropriate to farce. He does, however, draw upon many real-life facts from the case. The Maniac's use of the term "early stages" refers to the fact that there were several versions of what happened the night of the anarchist's death. The Maniac also explains the Inspector's assertion that the anarchist was "seized by a raptus" (23) and threw himself out the window to his death by quoting an imaginary authority figure (Bandieu), thereby ridiculing the real-life judge's report which was full of references to medical and legal experts on suicide.  

Scene Two contains an element of self-reflexiveness as the Maniac has the Superintendent and the Inspector reconstruct the events of the night of the anarchist's death, in essence having them create a play within a play. Such a device extends the "alienation effect" and reminds the audience that they are watching a play, allowing them to maintain the distance necessary to think critically about the issues raised. 

The scene also points out some of the controversial methods used by the police in times of corruption. For instance, the Superintendent's "proof" that he was an anarchist railwayman is that of coincidence, not evidence. The Maniac uses irony to poke holes in this argument:

"Absolutely, it's blindingly obvious. So if the bombs must have been put on the train by a railway worker, we can deduce that the bombs that went off at the Law Courts were planted by a judge, that the Memorial to the Unknown Soldier was bombed by a soldier, and the bomb at the Bank of Agriculture was the work of either a banker or a cow" (25).

The Superintendent tries to justify his actions, explaining, "Our job is to interrogate suspects...[a]nd in order to make them talk, from time to time we need to use stratagems, little traps and a certain amount of psychological warfare". (28) Such methods, of course, can often have tragic results. The Maniac turns the tables on the police. He tells them: "...there is damning proof of gross negligence on your part," and that "the Home Office are going to crucify you" (29). He then encourages them to jump out the window since their case is so hopeless. Later he admits he made everything up, just as the Superintendent and the Inspector had done in an attempt to extract a confession from the anarchist. Yet both men also admitted they seriously considered throwing themselves out the window, vividly illustrating the point that the deceptive methods and "psychological warfare" so commonly used by the police could easily have prompted a suspect to commit suicide. 

Another emerging theme is government complicity in this deception. The Superintendent and the Inspector both blame the government for the situation the Maniac has led them to believe they are in, summarizing the "strategy of tension" behind its campaign of terror: "Those bastards in the government. First they ask you to help - 'Ferment a little subversion, chip in with a bit of repression, go on, spread a sense of gathering disorder...' '...then sit back and wait for calls for a state clampdown!' So you get stuck in...." (33) The Maniac, too, reiterates this government strategy as he thinks up what the anarchist might have said to his dancer comrade: "'The police and the fascists are using you to create a sense of unrest. Your group's full of paid agent provocateurs who can manipulate you as they like. And it's the left who'll end up with egg on its face...'" (37-8).

A staunch socialist, Fo ridicules the hierarchy and trustworthiness of the police department through comic remarks. When the Inspector begins, "So have I got this right - ?" (33), the Superintendent interrupts, asserting his authority: "Of course you haven't. Let me do the talking" (34). The Maniac, too, humorously tells the Inspector, "Who asked you? Please let your superior do the talking. That is incredibly rude. Only speak when you're asked a question, is that clear?" (24). Fo also ridicules the several accounts of what happened the night of the anarchist's death, and begins to point out the myriad inconsistencies in their reports. The Maniac refers to the second version of the story as "The Facts, The Remake" (37).

At the end of the scene, the Maniac twists around the officers' words into a new, hilarious version of the facts. He does so by playing on their egos and sense of self-preservation. Earlier in the scene, the Superintendent said his deputy entered the room with the anarchist rather than him, but the Maniac retorted it is unattractive to blame one's subordinates. The Superintendent quickly changes his story and agrees that yes, he accompanied the anarchist. Now, when the Superintendent again says he wasn't in the room with the anarchist, the Maniac responds "No, you have to be there, this is a crucial moment," and he again changes his story: "Okay, I was there." (39) As the conversation progresses, the revisions get more and more ridiculous. The Maniac says he bets the Superintendent couldn't help putting a friendly hand on the anarchist's shoulder, and that the Inspector then gave him a pat on the cheek and said 'Come on, come on, don't lose heart - you wait, anarchy will never die!' (41) In each case, the men object but then agree with the Maniac's story, with encouragement from the Constable. The scene concludes with the policemen singing an anarchist protest song, which the Maniac insists they must say they sang with the anarchist in order to win the public's sympathies. In this way Fo makes the point that stories - even those in the official record - can be very easily invented, and that the truth can be easily twisted by those who know how to manipulate language.