Leonardo Sciascia Essay - Critical Essays


Leonardo Sciascia’s novels usually develop from a single dramatic incident, through which his characters emerge slowly. The subtle analysis of poverty and deluded hope characteristic of his early essays is developed in his fiction to include the corruption of an entire social and political system. He goes beyond appearances to the core of each situation and brings out abuses and contradictions, finding in history the root causes for evils mistakenly held to be incurable. According to the writer’s definition, the present struggle for liberty and justice against political and social power is deeply rooted in the past.

The epigraphs of Sciascia’s novels indicate his emphasis on historical parallels and relationships. In Mafia Vendetta, his first novel, Sciascia uses a line from William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 (1591) to suggest that power and corruption existed then as they exist now. Mafia Vendetta, A Man’s Blessing, Equal Danger, and One Way or Another all deal with the social evils found in Sicily and elsewhere. Each of the four novels is based on actual facts. The story then unfolds like a puzzle: Everything falls into place, piece by piece, as its hidden pattern comes to light. Persuaded by the rigorous logic of theprotagonists, the reader understands the workings of society and is awakened to the dishonesty of the system.

Mafia Vendetta

Mafia Vendetta opens at a bus stop on a small town square where some fifty people are already seated on board the bus. A man in a dark suit—indicative of his social status—jumps on the running board as the bus is about to leave and suddenly falls to the ground, shot through the back. He was a small building contractor who had ignored the Mafia system of protection. By the time the police arrive, many of the witnesses to the crime have vanished; those who remain claim that they saw nothing. Later, a police informant and a young man who has seen the assassin are also gunned down. The informer had become so nervous after tipping off the police that he unwittingly betrayed himself. On the day he was shot, he had scribbled two names on an airmail letter, adding the words “I am dead. Regards” and his signature. Captain Bellodi, the officer in charge of the investigation, to whom the letter was addressed, feels deep compassion for the agonizing despair that prompted the helpless victim in his fatal decision to speak out.

The Captain is from Parma, and his way of thinking and acting underlines the cultural differences between the North and the South of Italy. Believing firmly that the Mafia must not go unpunished, he spares no effort to solve the case, but he is alone and helpless as he struggles against the law of omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence, and against complicity on the national as well as the local level.

The conspiracy of silence, a recurrent theme in all of Sciascia’s novels, originated in Sicily as a protective measure for the defense of the people against tyranny and injustice. In time, however, it degenerated into an oppressive social system and became one of the basic tools of the Mafia as it is known today: a secret society oriented toward the protection of vested interests.

Courageous and fearless, Captain Bellodi has Don Mariano Arena, the aging capo mafia whose name was one of the two on the informer’s last letter, brought to the barracks for the twenty-four hours of preliminary arrest, like any other common criminal. Sciascia’s account of the interrogation is a masterpiece of realism and dramatic urgency; particularly compelling is the characterization of the Mafia chieftain. Don Mariano divides humanity into five categories. The Captain falls into the first: “Men! and they are few.” He recognizes the Captain’s integrity, but, like all Sicilians, Don Mariano is deeply devoted to his family. Moreover, he has always been protected by the omertà of both the honest and the dishonest. Through his network of connections with influential politicians, he succeeds easily in sabotaging Bellodi’s investigation. In fact, when it becomes apparent that Captain Bellodi is too close to the truth, he is reassigned to his home city, Parma, in Northern Italy, where he sadly ponders Sicily’s crushing heritage of injustice and death. After Bellodi’s departure, everything he has accomplished is undone “like a house of cards blown down by the winds of incontrovertible alibis.”

A Man’s Blessing

Similar concerns inform Sciascia’s third novel, A Man’s Blessing. The Italian title, A ciascuno il suo (to each his due), derives from the Latin expression unicuique suum, a term referring to a principle of Roman law that means simply that the punishment should fit the crime. Here the concept is applied ironically.

The story develops from a dramatic incident, a double murder, out of which the characters’ and the Sicilians’ world gradually takes form. One...

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