Study Guide

A Soldier of the Great War

by Mark Helprin

A Soldier of the Great War Characters

The Characters (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Allesandro Giuliani dominates the novel, since it is his life he relates to Nicolo. Although a professor of aesthetics, Allesandro is not a typical academic. He rejects the traditional critical approach, claiming that critics “parse by intellect alone works that are great solely because of the spirit.” Drawn to art, Raphael’s portrait of Bindo Altoviti and Giorgione’s La Tempesta help illuminate his life. So, too, does nature— the seas, skies, and mountains. As a counterpoint, war also has its lures; as in everything else, Allesandro excels on the battlefield. Opposed to the twentieth century “isms” of communism, fascism, and nationalism, Allesandro’s polestars are love and beauty.

The rest of the characters revolve around Allesandro, satellites to his world. Signore Giuliani, his father, is the great influence on Allesandro’s life—his mother is almost absent from Allesandro’s story—but he is a shadowy and somewhat symbolic figure who represents family, love, and stability in a universe torn by war. Luciana, Allesandro’s sister, also remains a secondary figure; she too is an undeveloped character, of greater importance to Allesandro than to the reader.

Even Ariane remains obscure. When they meet in the hospital, she literally sits in the shadows, remaining nameless. She becomes the great love of Allesandro’s life, and he seeks her in both art and life until he finds her. Yet the reader is left with little...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

A Soldier of the Great War Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Alessandro Guiliani

Alessandro Guiliani (ah-leh-SAHN-droh gwee-lee-AH-nee), a professor of aesthetics in Rome, Italy. At the age of seventy-four, he travels to Monte Prato, seventy kilometers from Rome. He meets Nicolo Sambucca and recounts his life during World War I. His experiences show him to be a man of unfaltering resolve, individuality, and honesty. As the son of an attorney, he acquires his father’s sense of justice. He attends university in Bologna, studying aesthetics and protesting Italian involvement in the Turkish War. In 1914, he enlists in the navy despite his father’s discouragement. His tour of duty begins in the Nineteenth River Guard, stationed on the border between Austria and Italy. Alessandro and his friend Guariglia barely escape death after Austrian advances; they are both reassigned to a covert unit ordered to capture deserters in Sicily. Understanding the deserters’ motivations, he leaves his post and journeys back to Rome. He returns to an ailing father and the reality of his mother’s recent death. Although he fears arrest, he remains at his father’s bedside until apprehended by Italian troops and taken to Stella Maris. During his imprisonment, his father dies. A firing squad executes Alessandro’s comrades from the River Guard, but he escapes this fate through an unexplained reprieve. He begins to recognize his remarkable ability to sidestep death and his inability to save the individuals he loves. After his imprisonment, he is sent to the front lines. As Alessandro recovers from an arm wound, he falls in love with his nurse, Ariane. Austrians bomb the clinic, and his fear that she has died steals his passion for life. Although he accepts dangerous assignments, he survives. Eventually, he is captured by Austrian soldiers; he travels to Vienna as a prisoner of war. Overwhelmed by his desire to return to Rome, Alessandro escapes before his official release. He believes that Ariane might be alive and begins a diligent search. He is reunited...

(The entire section is 839 words.)