Arturo's Island

by Elsa Morante

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

Arturo’s Island, written in the first person, is the narration by Arturo Gerace, now an adult, of his memories of his childhood on the island of Procida. His memories are a clear, vivid, detailed, and sometimes agonizing account of his adolescent experiences and adventures. At the same time, they reveal the young boy’s dreams and fantasies, his love for his father and for a mother he never knew, his absolute faith in his ability to live independently, and his difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood, from a fantasy world to the real world.

The novel begins with Arturo describing his life on the island. He makes it clear that he is proud that he has the absolute freedom to do as he pleases, and that he lives a carefree life that would be the envy of any boy. At the same time, however, he expresses his need for familial love, which he attempts to find in his father. The motherless Arturo adores his father, who, according to Arturo, constantly leaves the boy alone to go off on “fabulous adventures.” Arturo lives for his father’s return because he identifies with his father’s lifestyle; thus, he augments his own fantasies of what adulthood will hold for him.

One day his perfect life is shattered by the arrival of a sixteen-year-old Neapolitan girl, Nunziata, who is Wilhelm Gerace’s new bride and, therefore, Arturo’s stepmother. Arturo’s reaction is one of perplexity and defiance. It seems to him that this girl, barely two years older than he, has stolen his father’s affection. His dislike of Nunziata is transformed slowly. First he feels something resembling a child’s love for a mother: “Suddenly I saw in her a strange resemblance to my mother.” That feeling changes into sexual love, although it takes a sexual encounter with the widow Assuntina to open his eyes to his desire for Nunziata. His entry into the real world by way of his encounter with Assuntina and his deepening love for Nunziata is beginning to destroy his perfect fantasy. The final blow, which completely shatters his dreams, is learning that his father is not the heroic man of his fantasies but rather a homosexual who loves a petty criminal and whose fabulous voyages are nothing more than visits to all the gay meeting places in Naples. Arturo has matured and decides to leave Procida forever, returning there only through his nostalgic memories.

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