Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
As Ignazio Silone’s novel Bread and Wine opens, Don Benedetto, a Catholic priest, is sitting outside his modest home. It is his seventy-fifth birthday, and he is awaiting the arrival of some former students to celebrate the occasion. Don Benedetto is a socialist in the Fascist Italy of the early 1930’s, and he refuses to seek any accommodation with the regime. Talk of a new war of imperial expansion in Africa is in the air.
Three former students arrive. Each has found a place in the new social order, and the priest reflects sadly on the moral compromises people make to survive. Then talk turns to a former pupil and classmate, Pietro Spina, who has not compromised. As a student he was idealistic, compassionate, and fiercely committed to justice. He became a socialist and was later exiled to various places in Europe, where he lived and labored under wretched conditions. He is rumored to have returned recently to Italy, to work on behalf of the communists.
The scene shifts to Spina’s home village, to which, in fact, he has returned. He is seriously ill and is being hidden by a former comrade. When he is able to move, Spina leaves the village disguised as a priest with the name Don Paulo Spada. As Don Paulo, Spina sets off for the mountain village of Pietrosecca in the Abruzzi area. On the way, he comes across Bianchina, a young, unmarried woman apparently dying of complications from an abortion and in mental agony from fear of...
(The entire section is 927 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the Italian village of Rocca dei Marsi, Don Benedetto, a former Catholic teacher, and his faithful sister, Marta, prepare to observe the don’s seventy-fifth birthday. It is April, and war with the Abyssinians is in the making. Benedetto invites several of his old students to observe his anniversary with him. Three appear, and the group talks of old acquaintances. Most of Benedetto’s students compromised the moral precepts that the high-minded old scholar taught them. Benedetto asks about Pietro Spina, his favorite pupil, and learns from his guests that the independent-minded Spina is a political agitator, a man without a country. It is rumored that Spina returned to Italy to carry on his work among the peasants.
One day Doctor Nunzio Sacca, one of those who was at the party, is summoned by a peasant to come to the aid of a sick man. Sacca, upon finding the man to be Spina, is filled with fear, but the sincerity and fervor of Spina make him ashamed. Spina, only in his thirties, used iodine to transform his features to those of an old man. Sacca administers to Spina and arranges for the agitator’s convalescence in a nearby mountain village. Later, he furnishes Spina with clerical clothes. Disguised as a priest and calling himself Don Paolo Spada, Spina goes to the Hotel Girasole in Fossa, where he brings comfort to a young woman who is believed to be dying as the result of an abortion.
In the mountains, at Pietrasecca, Paolo—as Spina...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)