Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
The most important theme of A Coin in Nine Hands is the need for illusion in life. Without such illusions, most of the characters in the book would be unable to exist. The only two who live in reality, Dr. Sarte and Massimo, seem to be miserable. Clearly, the demand for supporting illusions is related to the political situation of 1933. Fascism seems to be an illusion in itself but not one that comforts the people; instead, it drives them deeper into other substitutes for life. Thus Mussolini is at the heart of the novel, even though his name is never mentioned and he is referred to only as “Caesar.”
A related theme is the lack of love or even connection between man and woman. All the married couples are separated except for Giulio and his shrew of a wife. Potential relationships, such as those between Marcella and Massimo or Dr. Sarte and Angiola, are incomplete or distorted. One of the ideals of this Fascist state was family, but it seems to produce the opposite effect. Everyone, from the highest ranks—Dr. Sarte—to the lowest—Oreste—is alone. Yourcenar says that of one of the main purposes of the book is “to confront the hollow reality behind the bloated facade of Fascism,” and it is nowhere more apparent than in these broken relationships.