Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist Summary and Analysis of Act Two, Part 1


Act Two picks up where Act One left off. The men finish singing, and the Maniac says they have now proven (through his invented story) that the anarchist must have been feeling pretty relaxed. The question is, what happened between this point and midnight to cause him to have his "raptus" and jump out the window? The Superintendent tries to answer, but the Maniac reminds him that he wasn't there - or at least, the easiest way to prove he is innocent is to say he wasn't there. 

The Inspector explains that he, four constables, and a sergeant spent that time questioning the anarchist. They did so in a "jokey manner" (44), a term which the Maniac mocks. Most of the jokes were about the anarchist's dancer friend, the Inspector notes, and he agrees with the Maniac that the anarchist must have taken offense and therefore thrown himself out the window. However, the Superintendent reminds them that they had already determined the two anarchists didn't get along anymore. The Maniac infers the anarchist railwayman must have been pretending to be upset to give himself a reason for committing suicide and threw himself out the window in order to destroy the policemen's reputations. The policemen express doubt at the story, and the Maniac agrees it is ridiculous; however, the policemen's version, he says, is even less believable. 

The Superintendent asks to close the window, as it is getting cold. The Maniac uses the request to segue into another logical inconsistency in the policemen's story: that the window was wide open at midnight in December, when the temperature was below zero. He also asks who gave the anarchist a leg-up, as it would have been extremely difficult for him to reach the window. The constable notes that he tried to stop the anarchist but only managed to catch hold of his shoe, which came off in his hand. However, witnesses reported that the anarchist was wearing two shoes when he reached the pavement. Did the constable put the shoe back on in flight, or did the anarchist perhaps have three feet? The Maniac proposes a solution: the anarchist was wearing a galosh over one of his shoes, and that is what the constable caught. 

The front desk calls to let the Superintendent know that a journalist has come to see him. He wants to refuse, but the Maniac advises him to let her up as she could cause trouble if angered. The Superintendent assumes the Maniac will leave so the Journalist won't find out there is a judge investigating the case. The Maniac says he would never abandon his friends in a time of need and decides to change character, becoming Captain Mark Weeny from Forensic. By the time the Journalist arrives, the Maniac has adopted a false moustache, a patch over one eye, and a brown glove. He later indicates that the patch covers a glass eye and the glove, an artificial hand.  

The Journalist begins her questioning. She asks the Inspector why he is called the Window-Straddler, reading a letter written by another anarchist stating that, during his interrogation, the Inspector had forced him to sit on the windowsill with his legs dangling outside. She continues the inquisition by noting that the previous inquiry did not include the report on the trajectory taken by the anarchists's body, which would have established whether or not he was alive when he went through the window. Furthermore, the inquiry also left out the evidence of a tape recording of the time an ambulance was called, which occurred five minutes before the anarchist supposedly jumped. The Superintendent, Inspector, and Maniac all give ridiculous answers - sometimes they call ambulances just in case something happens and this time they were correct; they were thinking ahead; or perhaps the reporters' or ambulance station's watches were fast or slow. The Inspector gives the Maniac a slap on the back to commend him for his answer, and the Maniac's glass eye pops out. 

The Journalist is unconvinced and asks about the bruises on the back of the dead man's neck. The Maniac explains that there has been a version of events floating around that says that a few minutes before midnight, one of the interrogators lost control of himself and gave the anarchist a whack on the neck. The whack half paralyzed the anarchist, so they called an ambulance. In the meantime, they opened the window and two policemen leaned the anarchist out, hoping the cold air would revive him. However, they accidentally dropped him, each man thinking the other was holding on. The Journalist says the story would explain a lot, including the reason the prosecutor stated the death should be classified as an "accidental death" rather than a suicide. As they speak, the Inspector slips on the Maniac's glass eye, and the Constable fetches some water to rinse it off. When he returns, the Maniac takes a drink and accidentally swallows the eye. 

The Superintendent and the Inspector are both concerned about the story the Maniac has offered, but the Maniac says he will prove it is unreliable. The Journalist notes that the judge conducting the inquiry similarly dismissed the evidence given by three witnesses as unreliable because the witnesses were elderly and disabled. The Maniac says that yes, ex-workers without the money to purchase supplements or medications to keep their memories sharp are lower-class witnesses, although if an old witness turned up well-dressed in a Mercedes, his testimony would most certainly be accepted. The Maniac comes out from behind the desk, and everyone is surprised to see that he is wearing a wooden leg. 


The action builds in Act Two as the Maniac points out logical inconsistencies in the police reports that require even more ridiculous fabrications to explain than those he invented in Act One. The farcical elements increase, with characters acting increasingly desperate, and there is an element of mystery as more and more information is revealed. 

There is a darkening of tone with the introduction of the Journalist, whose lines are serious and present additional evidence implicating the police. To balance the increasing seriousness of the inquiry, the Maniac's antics become more and more outrageous. He wears a false moustache, a patch over one eye, a brown glove covering a wooden hand, and a fake leg. His glass eye falls out when the Inspector slaps him on the back, and later he swallows the eye when he goes to rinse it off. The dramatic moments caused by the Journalist's assertions are interspersed with moments of knockabout humor, as Fo believed laughter helped the audience to think about topics and would eventually lead them to act. 

Much of the Maniac's disguise holds symbolic value. His eye, hand, and leg are all false, as is his identity. The eye may symbolize the way in which people are willing to look at things through false eyes if it suits their purposes, yet the fact that it pops out and is later dirtied suggests that such false ways of seeing things cannot be sustained. 

Fo continues to satirize police bureaucracy, and by extension, bureaucratic institutions in general; for instance, the Maniac tells the Constable to shut up because, "only senior officers can swear" (46). He introduces the themes of undercover informants, expanded upon in the second part of the act, and class privilege, as expressed through the unequal treatment of witnesses: "Can't afford vitamins, protein, organic honey or calcium phosphate to keep your memory sharp? Well, hard lines, I'm the judge and I'm turning you down, you're not up to it, you're a second-class citizen" (63).

Fo also continues to draw on facts of the Pinelli case for colorful details in the play. The anarchist dancer really did have a limp, as the officers joked. The details the Maniac gives about the dancer sewing beads onto Liberty lampshades come from the report by Judge Amati, who conducted the first inquiry into the anarchist's death and who implied that these materials could have been used to make bombs. The Constable's assertion that he grabbed on to one of the anarchist's shoes to try to save him was one of the more heroic stories that emerged about the supposed efforts the policemen had taken to keep the anarchist from jumping. The Journalist's line of questioning about the trajectory taken by the body had been the topic of debate in the media in the weeks after the anarchist's death, and the phrase "accidental death" also appeared in Judge Amati's report. 

The language, as in Act One, is idiomatic, although the Journalist speaks with more formality than the others. The translator has kept the language colorful through other means as well, such as the alliteration in the Maniac's declaration: "So you're scuppered by your sheer sense of honesty, while this spiteful little anarchist is lying in his grave smirking!" (48) These linguistic fireworks boost the comic elements of the play as it draws to a close, setting the stage for more serious questions.