Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the protagonist’s contemplations, many issues are raised: the nature of democracy, progress in history, blessedness (that is, the sensation of universal harmony in which one takes part) versus personal dissatisfaction (which can be a stimulus to action and creativity), religion as the acceptance of human smallness, humanity’s triumph over adversity, and the importance of personal experience over abstraction. The number and variety of these issues demonstrate the fecund restlessness of Amerigo’s mind, and resulting as they do from Amerigo’s observations during his day as poll-watcher, they dramatize the insistence in Italian neorealism of looking at events in the context of the environment.

These issues, however, are not so much thematic in the story as illustrative of how Amerigo’s mind works. It is a characteristic of his mind that he can always perceive the antithesis of an idea and is challenged by the consequent conflict. Contemplating his reasons for going to Cottolengo, Amerigo observes how “his thoughts raced in such an agile objectivity that he could see with the adversary’s own eyes the very things he had felt contempt for a moment earlier.” This process itself—conceiving an idea, constructing its opposite, or opposition, and working toward a resolution—is a parody of Communist dialectic, with its thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

The central theme of the story arises out of Amerigo’s struggle with the...

(The entire section is 585 words.)