Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 786

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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 improvement of their living conditions and teaches them that in a war there are no real winners. After a fugitive hiding in his cellar shoots a German, he gives himself to the Nazis and Fascists to obtain the release of ten hostages. He is shot in the village square, but he leaves to the villagers a legacy of fervor for political equality and the desire to end their cycle of poverty and misery.


Giuma (jee-EW-mah), Anna’s childhood friend and the father of her child, a boy with wolflike teeth who is spoiled and rich. After having gone to school in Switzerland, he returns to Italy at the beginning of the war, a handsome and healthy seventeen-year-old. Although he despises Fascism, he will risk going to war. To everyone’s surprise and his own disgrace, he fails his high school examinations and returns to school a gloomy and silent young man who reads the works of Søren Kierkegaard rather than those of Montale. Later, in Turin, he studies commercial sciences and pursues philosophy on his own. He contemplates suicide but miraculously escapes death during an air raid shortly after having apologized to Anna for making her suffer. After the war, he overcomes his guilt through psychoanalysis and marries an American physician whom he meets in Switzerland. Together, they propose to bring about socialist reforms at the soap factory he has inherited from his father.


Ippolito (ihp-POHL-ih-toh), Anna’s brother and the loyal son of a revolutionary theorist who dies of lung cancer before the war begins. As an adolescent, he keeps a flea-ridden dog at the family’s summer home and roams the countryside carrying a gun. He has a dry, smooth, thin, white face and a look of world-weariness. He does not like girls or the ordinary pleasures of youth. During his father’s illness, he serves him as a slave, taking dictation, typing memoirs, readingFaust to him, and caring for his physical needs in the face of verbal abuse. After his father’s death, he develops a close friendship with his neighbor Emanuele, the elder son of a soap manufacturer. They become pedantic provincial intellectuals who secretly read subversive works and talk about revolution. Expecting a police raid one evening, they furtively burn a bundle of newspapers but never hear from the authorities concerning their vague ideology. When Italy enters the war on Germany’s side after the fall of France, Ippolito, sitting in the public gardens, commits suicide with his father’s revolver.


Giustino (jih-ews-TEE-noh), Anna’s younger brother, who ultimately fights with the partisans in Russia.


Concettina (kon-cheh-TEE-nah), Anna’s older sister, who has many suitors but marries a Fascist and flees Italy to protect her baby during the war.




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