Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Anna, a plump, pale girl of fourteen, the younger girl in her family. On the day her father dies, she meets Giuma, the boy across the street. Although she ostensibly prefers playing with her girlfriends, she is drawn to this social superior and begins to play with him, or rather becomes the object of his imaginative play, every day. He talks to her, tells her endless fascinating stories, and even ties her to a tree. In later years, she enjoys hearing him recite poems by Eugenio Montale and eating ice cream with him at the Paris café. They imagine themselves part of the revolution, shooting and escaping over rooftops. At the age of sixteen, Anna finds herself pregnant, but Giuma refuses to marry her because of her youth and the war. Instead, he gives her one thousand lire, which he has saved to buy a boat, for an abortion. Frightened, she tells her plight to Cenzo Rena, an old family friend, who offers to keep her secret and marry her. Anna thus becomes the wife of the savior of the southern village of Borgo San Costanzo, where she gives birth to a daughter and gradually becomes sympathetic to the hard life of the peasants. She supports her husband’s revolutionary activities and nurses him through a life-threatening illness. After he finally gives his life for the peasants, she, like her friends and family members, faces the future at the end of the war with courage and hope.

Cenzo Rena

Cenzo Rena (CHIHN-zoh RAY-nah), a country gentleman, world traveler, and friend of Anna’s father. A tall, big man with a hairy face and graying mustache, he is almost forty-eight at the time he marries Anna. A practical and generous man, he lives in an old family home high on a hill above a peasant village in southern Italy. The peasant men seek his company and advice as a revered friend and protector. He works for the...

(The entire section is 786 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

This is a choral novel in which the collective experience of families and social groups is more important than that of separate individuals. One can clearly distinguish the individual voices, but all are linked to the thematic and historical chorus. Consequently, no one character stands out as the focus of the book. By the end of Part 1, however, it is clear that the remainder of the action will revolve around Anna and her middle-aged husband, Cenzo Rena. Anna emerges only gradually from the shadows. As a schoolgirl, she thinks of herself as unattractive and not very intelligent and is ashamed to have to wear dresses made out of curtains. She accepts the courtship of Giuma out of gratitude that someone is paying attention to her and in the full knowledge that he does not love her. Anna is completely passive in the acceptance of her pregnancy, Giuma’s indifference, and her marriage. The reader must see this as a consequence of being born female in a patriarchal society and remember that Anna is still a child. In the circumstances, she is fortunate to find in Rena a protector who is wise and generous in spirit.

Natalia Ginzburg’s characterization of Cenzo Rena is remarkable. Rena marries Anna out of loyalty and love for her father. He breaks in on the family’s torpor at the most unexpected moments and attempts to breathe some vitality into their ennui and passivity. In sweeping Anna off to the South, he offers her a protection which reflects his...

(The entire section is 497 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bergin, T.G. Review in The Saturday Review. XL (January 5, 1957), p. 4.

Clementelli, Elena. Invito alla lettura di Natalia Ginzburg, 1972.

Piclardi, Rosetta D. “Forms and Figures in the Novels of Natalia Ginzburg,” in World Literature Today. LIII (1979), pp. 585-589.

Quigley, Isabel. Review in The Spectator. August 24, 1956, p. 269.

Slonim, Marc. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXII (January 5, 1957), p. 5.

The Times Literary Supplement. Review. September 14, 1956, p. 537.