Mattia Pascal recounts his extraordinary life in which he grows up in a distinguished family of diminishing wealth, marries a woman he proves to hate, and takes solace in a meaningless job at a provincial library in his Ligurian hometown (though it is just as Sicilian as it is Ligurian, if not more).
One day, fed up with the collected bickering of his wife and mother-in-law, he takes the train to Monte Carlo and miraculously wins a genuine fortune playing roulette for the first time. Shortly afterwards he discovers in the newspaper that a dead man found in the millrace near the town library where he works has been identified as him. The townspeople are sure of his suicide, as none can deny that Mattia had become more and more depressed as his family fortune continued to vanish, and his domestic life became an utter hell.
Mattia rethinks rushing back to the family that he ran away from and instead attempts to recreate himself into an entirely new person by altering his appearance, name and personality. As Adriano Meis, Mattia drifts around Italy and Europe, supporting himself with his winnings until he settles in a rented apartment in Rome. However, he soon finds that he cannot keep pretending to be a different person and decides to return home.
The home that he left, however, has changed, and perhaps even for the better since his "death". Mattia becomes a man in a truly singular position, dead to the world, yet as alive as everyone else. The late Mattia Pascal then recounts his first two "lives" with sardonic black humour that makes the novel extraordinarily accessible even though the Pirandello wrote it over a century ago.