Dino Buzzati’s short story “The Falling Girl” is about a young woman who jumps off a skyscraper in an attempt to reach a party below. It’s a popular short story for students.
Summary of “The Falling Girl”
On the roof of a silver skyscraper at dusk, Marta, nineteen, looks out at the city. She sees the streets and buildings, and the blue of the ocean in the distance. The lights are on and the city bustles with activity and optimism.
Marta leans over the railing and lets go. She falls but feels like she’s hovering. Some of the rich people out on the upper floor balconies watch her. This interesting diversion happens sometimes. It’s one of the reasons these suits are so expensive.
The remaining sunlight makes Martha’s simple dress look better. Martha interacts a little with the millionaires as she slowly passes. She laughs happily and says she can’t stay. One of the men reaches for her but she rebuffs him. Marta is satisfied with the attention. Some others ask her to stay a while, but before she can answer she’s at the next floor down.
The street still seems very far away. The sun has gone down now, so Marta doesn’t look as seductive anymore. However, she’s completely gilded as she passes each lit window.
As Marta continues to fall, she sees working people through the windows. Some rush over and ask, with envy, where she’s going. She can’t stay and laughs again, but not as happily. It’s getting colder.
Looking down, Marta sees a bright halo where people are arriving for a party. It’s the kind of opportunity she wants, and she hopes she’ll make it on time.
Marta notices another girl, prettier and better dressed, above her who’s falling faster. She soon passes Marta by. Marta realizes there are many other young women, all excited, falling beside the skyscraper. Against all this competition, many of whom are fashionably dressed, Marta feels inadequate and loses some confidence.
It feels later now. The windows are dark and the offices are empty, and no one asks her to join them. The building below looks bigger and the activity has almost stopped. The lights below go out. Marta knows she won’t reach the party in time. The skyscraper is almost completely dark, with only a few top floor windows lit.
At 8:45 in the morning, Marta passes a twenty-eighth floor dining recess where Alberto is having his morning coffee. His wife sees a decrepit, old woman pass by. Alberto says that’s all they see. The higher floors get to see young, beautiful women. His wife points out their advantage—they can hear the thud when the person lands. He listens for a few minutes, but doesn’t hear anything. He goes back to his coffee.
Theme: Wealth Disparity
The theme of wealth disparity, which could also be considered as class distinction, is evident in the skyscraper’s tenants, the people on the ground, and the falling girls.
Although we aren’t told who the skyscraper’s tenants on the ground floor are (the lowest floor we’re shown is the twenty-eighth), it seems that everyone in this building is at least doing well, financially. The penthouse suites are occupied by millionaires having carefree social gatherings and enjoying cocktails. Below this we see a noticeable step down in wealth as weary office workers envy Marta’s freedom. We aren’t told much about the couple on the twenty-eighth floor. They’re both up at 8:45, possibly getting ready for their day. It seems they live what could be considered a normal life.
When some of the rich people ask Marta to stay, she politely refuses. If she went inside and joined them, she would lose “the lyrical light of the sunset” that elevates her off-the-rack dress. They would see instantly that she doesn’t belong. When they ask where she’s headed, she responds, “Ah, don’t make me say.” Marta’s motivation here could be to keep herself a mystery and not reveal she’s desperately trying to get to a party. This would reveal she’s from a different social and economic class, and they would probably lose interest in her.
As Marta falls, she sees people on the ground. In the light of a nearby building, she sees limousines stopping and people wearing jewels getting out. These are the glamorous people Marta wants to associate with, the ones who represent a better life.
The falling girls, most notably Marta, represent a lower level of wealth and social class. It’s not implied that the falling girls are desperately poor, although some of them could be. Marta wears a simple off-the-rack dress, but others are “dressed smartly, like high-fashion models and some even wrapped luxurious mink stoles tightly around their bare shoulders.” At this point, Marta starts viewing her descent as a contest, and realizes she’s competing against girls who have an advantage. One of these girls passes Marta quickly and is soon out of sight.
As Marta falls past the millionaire’s balconies, their expectation for life is evident in their comments. Some tell her she has her whole life ahead of her and there’s no rush. For the rich, this is true. They don’t have to rush because their money gives them options and opportunities.
They asks her to stop a minute and visit, because that wouldn’t change anything about their own lives. It would be a pleasant diversion to meet a pretty woman and find out what she’s doing. But when the evening ends, the rich would continue with their carefree lives and Marta would have to continue with hers, minus the time she wasted.
As Marta looks below, she sees people wearing jewels arriving for a party in limousines. This is what Marta has wanted since she was a child: “Down there opportunity was waiting for her, fate, romance, the true inauguration of her life.” Her economic situation denies her the opportunity to experience the finer things in life.
As Marta falls, she ages gradually until, by the twenty-eighth floor, she’s old, decrepit and frightened. Without wealth and status, she didn’t have the opportunity to experience the kind of life she wanted.
There’s no indication that the falling girls are trying to escape abject poverty. Presumably, they could live fairly normal lives, possibly like the tenants in the lower floors or the office workers. The girls who jump off the building don’t want that. They’re captivated by “dreams of greatness and glory”, and wouldn’t be satisfied with a modest life.
Marta fully accepts the view that wealth is necessary for happiness. Rather than rebelling against the system, she’s embracing it by doing everything she can to be a part of it. (see question #1)
The result of such a focus is disappointment and disaster for her and everyone else who chooses to pursue it. (see question #2)
1. Is Marta trying to kill herself?
No. I’ve heard this interpretation but it doesn’t make sense to me.
Marta jumps, not to die, but to live. She’s trying to get to her ideal life, the one she’s dreamed about since she was a child. The fact that this is a doomed attempt is obvious only to the reader. Remember that this story isn’t to be taken literally. In Marta’s world, jumping off a skyscraper seems like a reasonable chance to take as a way to get somewhere better.
2. Does the girl who passes Marta (or any of the falling girls) get to the party?
No. This seems unlikely. We’re told that the people on the lower floors can hear the “thud” of the falling women, and that they’re always old when they pass the lower windows.
The descent seems to represent the impossible task (for some) of rising from a lower economic class to a higher one. That no one makes it doesn’t mean that this rise is never accomplished, it’s just not accomplished in this way.
3. What is the significance of the man not hearing a “thud” when Martha lands?
The lack of a sound could indicate that Marta’s death goes unnoticed. She’s a lower-class old woman who died, which isn’t really noteworthy to anyone. Her life didn’t have much of an effect on anyone. By pursuing her dream in this way, she gave up the other parts of life. Now that she’s gone, no one misses her.
The lack of a concluding sound could also indicate that this cycle continues. There are many more falling girls who will continue to pursue wealth above all else.