My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend Summary and Analysis of Adolescence 34-37


On Elena's fifteenth birthday, she looks forward to the party the Sarratores and Nella will throw for her. She is surprised to receive a letter from Lila that day. She is struck by how powerfully Lila writes, and questions whether all of the time invested in her own studies has been a waste since she fears she will never be able to write in this way.

In the letter, Lila explains that Marcello has been coming to the Cerrullo home for dinner almost every night. He has also given the family a television set as a gift, which has caused a sensation among the local families. Lila feels tense and torn; her brother and parents resent her, and Marcello has threatened her. She urges Elena to stay in Ischia and avoid returning to the neighborhood. Elena is distraught that Lila is suffering and tries to compose a letter in response, but finds herself unable to do so, and distracted by the pleasant celebrations of her birthday.

That night, Elena goes to bed as usual; she sleeps in a small cot in a corner of the kitchen. She finds it difficult to sleep and is still awake when Donato Sarratore comes into the kitchen for a drink of water. He initiates a conversation with her, and then abruptly kisses and fondles her. He tells Elena that the two of them will go for a walk alone together the following day, and then leaves her. Elena is in shock, and also ashamed of the pleasure she experienced during the encounter. The next morning, she gets up and leaves the house before anyone is awake, taking the ferry back to Naples alone.

When she returns, Elena is praised for her improved appearance. She is also met by a relieved Lila, who is becoming increasingly agitated. Marcello is becoming more and more demanding about her formalizing an engagement, which she continues to refuse to do. Her parents see a bright future under the protection of the Solara family and are pressuring her, but Rino has been defending his sister's right to refuse, which is leading to tensions and quarrels within the family.

Lila and Elena encounter Stefano, who now also has a luxurious car. Stefano alludes to a promise Lila previously made, and Lila explains that he has been asking her to ride in his car all summer. To defer, Lila has told him that she will only go for a drive once Elena returns. Elena reluctantly agrees to go, concerned about what sort of relationship might be developing between Stefano and Lila, and what could happen should Marcello find out. As they drive and talk, Stefano asks about the custom shoes displayed in the shop window. Lila flirtatiously suggests he buy them, and is shocked when he immediately drives to the shop to do so. Much to the surprise and delight of her father and brother, Stefano buys the shoes and expresses an interest in the other designs. Lila, however, accuses him of trying to buy her.


This section highlights the way in which both Lila and Elena struggle to retain autonomy and integrity while being subject to predatory gestures from men. Elena has idealized the Sarratore family and especially Donato. She is shocked when he makes sexual overtures towards her. The experience undermines all the independence and confidence she had been reveling in her during her time away from the neighborhood, since it turns out that the island is no safer or more respectful. Moreover, Elena realizes that her tie to Lila remains strong, and wants to support and care for her friend.

Lila, not surprisingly, has omitted details in what she tells Elena, showing her ability to be crafty and manipulative. She is indeed under intense pressure to marry Marcello, and he is using his wealth to bribe her parents into supporting the relationship. However, as Lila quickly discovers, she is also carrying on a relationship with Stefano. Stefano also wields wealth and power, suggesting that Lila is not immune to the advantages this kind of man can offer. However, Lila seems to be under the impression that she has more control and authority in her relationship with Stefano, and that he is therefore a better choice.