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Edition #9
Transitions and Resolutions
Sofio Rukhadze
Edited by Miriam Zeghlache

Bound by Brilliance: Observing the friendship across the decades in Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan Novels’

The beauty of friendship and the hardships inevitably embedded within it, are one of the central themes of Elena Ferrante’s 'Neapolitan Novels'. The four books follow the complex female friendship of the two characters, Elena and Lina, thereby giving a unique look into the minds of two brilliant women trying to find their place in the world. Ferrante does an incredible job of showcasing the transformation of friendship over decades and does not sugarcoat the many difficulties it has experienced over this lengthy period. Elena and Lina, two best friends born and raised in conservative households, strive to demonstrate their worth through academic accomplishments and life choices, whilst simultaneously trying to understand their feelings toward each other. The evolution of their intricate friendship is shaped by personal transformations, societal demands, and the unique aspects of their personalities. Amid the chaos of their personal lives, over the years, they manage to rediscover their complex connection and reunite.



Throughout the story, it becomes clear that Elena, the narrator, has a love-hate relationship with her best friend, Lina. Even though we hardly see Lina’s internal thoughts and ideas, it is apparent that the two girls like to compete, proving to each other that they are better. Regardless of the fact that they deeply care about one another, their relationship is not always straightforward and is filled with periods of mutual silence. While both try to find their personas in a small neighbourhood of Napoli, Lina, and Elena are pitted against each other quite often. That happens for many reasons, but the core issue derives from the expectations and external feedback both women are receiving. It is as if society, which encompasses the neighbours, their teachers, family members, or friends, constantly compares the two. The common thought pertains that Elena is a better student than Lina or that the latter is naturally talented while Elena has to work for her success. The story highlights the realities of female friendships and the popular view of women. The societal mindset remains deeply ingrained, perpetuating the belief that women must always compete – be it for higher grades, men, or employment opportunities. Harmful rhetoric spread by the community causes their relationships to transition quite frequently, alienating the two as they fail to address their struggles, thereby internalising their rage and, at times, detesting each other. As the decades pass by, the two reconnect and rekindle, but the invisible competition is always present in their relationship. 



As we mature and become more comfortable with ourselves, we try to move away from comparisons and be more attentive towards our individual aspirations. We attempt to disregard societal expectations that often dictate prescribed paths for women while trying not to feel as if we are missing out on anything. That applies to those who assume domestic and maternal roles and those who decide to live a child-free life. Regardless of the path women choose, societal judgments persist, asserting that they are not fulfilling their maximum potential. The same happens in the case of Lina and Elena. Lina marries into wealth at the age of 16 and leads a prosperous life, yet she gazes at Elena's academic pursuits with a tinge of sadness, yearning for the opportunity to study and gain knowledge. In contrast, Elena constantly thinks of dropping out of school and marrying her boyfriend, therefore leading the same domestic life as Lina. This narrative evokes Sylvia Plath’s famous fig tree metaphor, which describes the hardships of womanhood. (Plath, 2008) Plath compares figs to the many paths she could take, and, unable to make up her mind, slowly starves herself. The two friends face a similar crisis which affects their feelings towards each other, or rather Elena's feelings towards Lina. Even though Elena becomes a published author, she still longs for Lina's intelligence. Elena’s resolutions and choices are intertwined with her desire to elicit admiration or, at times, jealousy from Lina. 



Elena and Lina have a strong and, at times, unhealthy dependency on each other. Curiously enough, this exact attachment is what consistently motivates them to reinvent themselves and make resolutions that they otherwise might not have made. Even though the friendship might sometimes seem toxic, it is notable that it has a positive impact on the development of the characters and the achievements these two share. When people form strong connections, the resulting relationship plays a crucial role in the transformation of their persona and, consequently, in their decisions. Seemingly, the distance they put between one another is inconsequential, as their decisions still bring them together, and they start their relationship all over again. Elena Ferrante wanted to showcase the importance of platonic relationships that can play a significant role in one's life. People tend to focus so much on romantic love while sometimes forgetting how platonic relationships can be equally complex, transformative, and life-changing. The ‘Neapolitan Novels’ do not dwell on romantic love but rather portray it as transient, due to the departure of one lover and the arrival of the other. The novel highlights friendship as the force propelling and developing the characters throughout their journey. 


Bound by their brilliant mind and character, the two girls evolve into women throughout the decades, and their friendship matures as well. Despite turbulence, they are still there for each other, motivating one another to strive for self-improvement, avoid complacency, and never settle. Just like in reality, the transitions of the friendships contribute to the character development and therefore, the decision made by the two. In a society that often attempts to foster competition among women, these two manage to establish a shared understanding, even though occasionally it proves challenging to entirely disregard external opinions. Ferrante, alongside other topics, showcases how connections we form throughout our childhood and youth profoundly influence our decisions, personality, and the path we take in life. In the midst of life's chaos, there are those who have gone through all of our layers, acknowledging and understanding us for who we truly are. There are those who have witnessed our darkest moments, and chosen to remain are the ones destined to stand by us for years to come.


Plath, S, (2008). The Bell Jar. Faber and Faber.

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