Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Consolation” is the English translation of the Italian title, which literally means “comforts.” A key to the meaning of the story is immediately provided in the opening words, which announce the prophecy of the fortuneteller that Arlia will be happy after passing through hardships and troubles. The theme of the story is how this illusory hope permits a poor woman, representative of Milan’s urban poor, to survive and to find partial, temporary consolation amid the suffering.

Father Calogero expresses well the situation facing Arlia and her family and, by extension, all the urban poor: “The world is full of troubles. It’s best to keep away from it.” This formula for surviving in a hostile world seems to work well for Calogero, who has “purposely become a priest so that he wouldn’t have to listen to the troubles of the world.” He has managed “to put a little fat on himself,” as well as having the money to pay for little Angiolino’s funeral and Fortunata’s dowry.

The other characters seem to be facing a life that seems to contain nothing more than hunger, fatigue, illness, and early death. Whatever progress is made is eaten up by the ills of life. The children, before dying, “gobbled up the small profit of the year,” the son-in-law Silvio “ate up his wife’s dowry.” Even Fortunata’s healthy babies eat “like horses,” bringing more trouble to their overworked grandparents.

The answering...

(The entire section is 452 words.)