A Bell for Adano

by John Hersey

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 912

When the U.S. Army invades Sicily, Major Victor Joppolo is placed in command of Adano. He sets up his office in the city hall, rehires the janitor, and investigates the records left by the Fascist mayor, who has fled to the hills. Soon after his arrival, Major Joppolo summons the leading citizens of the town and asks them, through Giuseppe, his interpreter, what they consider the most important thing to be done. Some answer that the shortage of food is the most pressing problem. Others insist that what the town needs most is its bell, which was removed by the Fascists. The bell, it seems, had a soothing tone and it regulated the lives of Adano’s residents. The major promises every effort to recover the bell. Meanwhile, the problem is to obtain food and to have produce brought into the town. In order that his directives will be understood and carried out, the major issues proclamations that the town crier, after being silent for so long, hastens to shout in the village.

On Sunday morning, when the major attends mass at one of the churches, he notices a blond girl sitting in front of him. When he later asks Giuseppe about her, the interpreter assumes that the American’s interest has nothing to do with official business. Major Joppolo’s primary interest, however, is the girl’s father, Tomasino, owner of a fishing fleet. He has Giuseppe ask Tomasino to come to see him, but Tomasino, distrustful of authority, refuses to come to the headquarters. The major therefore goes to Tomasino, followed by practically all the townspeople. The old Italian is defiant, sure that the major comes to arrest him. Major Joppolo finally convinces him that he means neither to arrest him nor to ask for a cut in the proceeds from the sale of the fish but rather wants him to go out with his fishing fleet, despite the danger of mines.

The major and his policies are the subject of much discussion among the people. The Fascist mayor provides a great deal of amusement because he comes out of hiding and is paroled into Sergeant Borth’s custody. Every morning, the mayor goes to Sergeant Borth and publicly confesses a Fascist sin. Giuseppe is astonished to discover that the major means what he says when he tells him to report for work at seven in the morning. Gargano, the former Fascist policeman, learns that he can no longer force the others to make way for him when they stand in line at the bakery.

While driving through Adano one day, General Marvin finds the road blocked by a mule cart. The driver, having had his daily quota of wine, is sleeping peacefully. When the mule refuses to budge, the general orders the vehicle thrown into the ditch. Reluctantly, the soldiers dump the cart, mule, and sleeping driver. Swearing furiously, the general drives to the city hall, where he confronts Major Joppolo and orders that all carts be forbidden to enter Adano.

The next day, a group of townspeople besiege the major to explain that the carts are essential, for they bring food and water into the town. Major Joppolo countermands the general’s order and telephones Captain Purvis that he will accept full responsibility. Captain Purvis, anxious to keep out of trouble, orders Lieutenant Trapani to make a memorandum and send it to General Marvin. The lieutenant, out of regard for Major Joppolo, puts the memorandum among Purvis’s papers in the hope that the captain, who rarely looks through his files, will never find it.

Major Joppolo’s efforts to restore the bell are...

(This entire section contains 912 words.)

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not successful, for it has been melted down by the Fascists. A young naval officer in charge of a nearby station promises to obtain a ship’s bell for him.

In the meantime, Captain Purvis goes through the papers on his desk and finds the memorandum for General Marvin. He orders it forwarded at once. Lieutenant Trapani mails it, but addresses it to the wrong person at headquarters in Algiers. From there, it is forwarded to the general’s aide, Colonel Middleton. Every day the colonel meets with General Marvin and goes over important communications. Accordingly, he is halfway through Purvis’s letter before he realizes what it is. He tries to go onto the next letter, but it is too late. The general hears Major Joppolo’s name and that of Adano, and he remembers both.

The bell arrives in Adano. It is touched, prodded, sounded by the experts, and admired by everybody. When it peals forth, the townspeople declare that its tone is even better than that of the old bell. The major is a hero. To show their appreciation and affection, the townspeople take him to a photographer. A local artist paints his portrait from the photograph. At the celebration that night, Sergeant Borth becomes very, very drunk. He refuses to take orders from Major Joppolo, saying that the major is no longer in any position to give orders. Captain Purvis, says the sergeant, almost sobbing, received a letter from General Marvin, ordering Major Joppolo back to Algiers. The next morning, the major says good-bye to Borth, who apologizes for his conduct of the previous night. The major asks him to help his successor make the people happy. As he drives away from the town, he hears in the distance the tolling of a bell, the new bell for Adano.