John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano, which was published in 1944 and for which the novelist was awarded the Pulitzer Prize the following year, achieved enormous popularity in its day and was seen as a classic war novel. Because Hersey had experienced the war as a correspondent, the novel was thought to be considerably more realistic than it actually is. With some qualifications, the work can, however, be placed in that genre of American fiction called realism.
The situation of an Italian-speaking American officer, Major Joppolo, serving as administrator of the small Sicilian village of Adano allows Hersey to set out his beliefs about the primacy of democracy over Fascism, the duty of leaders to serve the people, the need for administrative control, and the disasters that result when people are left to their own devices. These beliefs coincided with the opinions held by many Americans at the close of World War II. It was consequently the perfect reading material for Americans who needed to believe that war was necessary and that the United States was helping the rest of the world by occupying Italy. It was also pleasant to believe that amid the difficulties of war there could be moments of humor and that one could encounter good simple folk. The novel is optimistic, often comic in tone, and ultimately romantic in its conclusion: When Major Joppolo is ordered by General Marvin to leave the town, he stops for one final time to hear the ringing of the bell that his efforts had brought the people. “It was a fine sound on the summer air,” the novel maintains, and the reader is left with the image of Joppolo as a decent man who has done his best. That the town has little future is immaterial; the residents of Adano will simply continue their bungling ways. The main conflict in the novel stems from the clashes between Major Joppolo, who believes in democracy and servant leadership, and General Marvin, whose selfishness and cruelty in shooting the mule and ordering carts out of the village make him...
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