From Illness Narratives to Social Commentary: A Pirandellian Approach to “Nerves”


The concept of “nerves” is an integral component of the language of distress found in a number of societies. Individuals, however, often extend its meaning well beyond the realm of suffering. In this article, I examine some Sicilian-Canadian uses of “nerves” from a Pirandellian perspective. This, I believe, gives us an insight into how people (1) make use of illness narratives to give meaning to their life experiences, and (2) attempt to influence the thought and behavior of significant others. In the process, I address the question: how do we move away from anthropological definitions and explanations that tend to simplify or mask some of the rich complexities surrounding the meaning(s) of “folk” concepts?