Marcello Clerici (mahr-CHEHL-loh klehr-EE-chee), the protagonist, a man dominated by psychological tendencies that are reflected in the title of the novel. Since childhood, Marcello has desired to be recognized as being normal. As a young boy, he had several haunting experiences with guilt (the presumed consequence of social abnormality); these follow him into adulthood. One involved pleasure in killing small animals, then trying to convince himself, through others, that his actions were not abnormal. A second event was his traumatic violent experience with a homosexual stranger. When Marcello receives a special assignment to aid in the assassination of his former professor, a Paris-exiled critic of the Fascist regime, he initially assumes that he can maintain a separation between his “normal” life and the brutal world of Fascist politics. This attempt at psychological compartmentalization fails when Marcello decides to combine his honeymoon with the espionage assignment to Paris. Marcello’s thwarted quest to achieve normalcy carries through after his return to middle-class existence in Italy during the war. Although he seems to have overcome the trauma of Lina’s death, his discovery that Lino did not die from the gun wounds Marcello inflicted on him as a youth rekindles the nightmare of the futility of his actions: He had carried feelings of guilt and suffered psychologically for years for something that did not happen.
Lino (LEEN-oh), a homosexual chauffeur who attempted to lure the young Marcello by promising to give him a real revolver, something Marcello sought as a means toward establishing his credibility among friends and enemies alike. Lino’s treachery leads Marcello to seize the gun and shoot his amorous and confused assailant. Lino’s pitiful state is reflected in his invitation to the youth to kill him if he cannot possess Marcello....
(The entire section is 825 words.)