Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alberto Moravia was a lonely, sickly, isolated child, suffering for most of his preadolescent and adolescent years from tuberculosis. Between nine and seventeen years of age, he spent five years in bed, including a period in a sanatorium in the Italian Alps when he was sixteen. It was during this confinement that he began writing; his first book of verse was published when he was thirteen. It is likely that “The Fall” reflects his experiences as a sickly adolescent to some extent. It certainly speaks to the burgeoning imaginative powers of a child trapped in hospitals and infirmaries with few diversions other than his imagination.

It has been said that Moravia regards love and sex as indispensable tortures, and that he probably fears women as much as he loves them. According to critic R. W. B. Lewis, everything in Moravia’s novels either is an extension of sex or is converted to it. In “The Fall,” Tancredi reflects not merely the normal confusion felt by a young boy entering puberty, but the heightened intensity experienced by a child with no normal social outlets. Although Tancredi’s exact age is never given, it is stated “that his childhood was over and that he was on the threshold of his turbid and troubled adolescence.” The shame, guilt, and confusion he feels over mysterious physical changes in his body leave him vulnerable to greater confusion when he sees Veronica’s naked legs in the adjacent room.

In the introduction to Bitter Honeymoon, and Other Stories (1954), the collection in which this story first appeared in English, Philip Rahv says the male characters in these stories “are at once fired with desire and filled with fear of the objects of their desire . . . ridden by a sense of the intimate menace of sex” and that they see the women in a way that reduces their humanness. Significantly, Tancredi sees only Veronica’s legs—disembodied parts of her, rather than the whole person. It is also interesting that when Tancredi hits the cat, his fear is not that the cat will die or attack him but that it will become attached to him. The responsibility of commitment may seem too intense for a solitary child unused to much human contact.