Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Bassani prefaced The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses with a quotation from Sophocles, and structured his novel as a tragedy, more or less respectful of the conventions of time, place, and action. The three “acts” are largely complete in themselves (train, Rimini, Ferrara). The action is limited to one slim drama, and the spotlight falls on only three characters. The fate of the protagonist is inevitable, born of a fatal flaw and the flouting of a sexual taboo no less damnable than in the case of Oedipus. Bassani has chosen the tragic genre to discern, in the ruins of one man’s life, a metaphor for a tragic age. Fadigati is doomed, because he is a deviant figure, and no society will tolerate those who are “different.” This has always been true, but under Fascism the state applied the standards of uniform behavior, and the pressures to conform reached the breaking point.

Intolerance, however, is not the main theme of The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses. That is to be found in the parallel lives of Fadigati and the Jewish narrator who befriends him. The page following the news of Deliliers’ betrayal announces the start of the concerted anti-Semitic campaign in the newspapers, and the similarities of fates are made explicit. The homosexual offends the virile masculine norms of Mediterranean society, as the Jew stains the purity of the Latin (or Aryan) race. The former will be driven to suicide just as surely as the latter will be deported to the prison camps. In the interim, they are drawn together in a despairing solitude in the gathering darkness of a Ferrara winter. Finally, they seem to be the only remaining characters in the novel. The narrator is more and more removed from his family’s preoccupations. His last conversation with Fadigati is on the telephone, and he alone reads of Fadigati’s death in the paper, announcing it as if talking to himself.