Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Life is a mystery which unfolds through childhood via dreams, hopes, and aspirations, when all that is wanted is happiness. These dreams crumble when a person leaves the fantasy world of childhood and enters the adult world. Unfortunately, nothing becomes much clearer, for, as Arturo says at the end of the novel, “life remains a mystery, and to me the chief mystery of all is still myself.” This is the main theme of Arturo’s Island.

Arturo’s Island explores the desire of human beings to create for themselves a biblical Garden of Eden, so perfect and so beautiful that one can believe that it is paradise on earth. Arturo’s island, Procida, is such a place. The island is perfect because it has the unspoiled beauty of nature, the atmosphere of a primitive time when all was pure, and an isolation from the rest of the world. In such a Garden of Eden, one can sustain the illusion that there is no other kind of world. Just as the biblical Garden of Eden was destroyed by the original sin of Adam and Eve, however, so must all similar paradises be destroyed by the inexorable movement of time which propels human beings into adult knowledge.

Morante’s novels often offer a nostalgic look at the happy innocence of childhood, and she enjoys exploring the workings of the minds of young people. Conversely, she presents a bitter view of reality. Her characters sometimes fail to make the transition from fantasy to reality and are destroyed in the process. This is especially true in her novel Menzogna e sortilegio (1948; House of Liars, 1951). Some, like Arturo, are fortunate enough to make the transition and also to relive their fantasy childhood through nostalgic memories.