A Bell for Adano

by John Hersey
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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250

Two cultures confront one another in this book; an ancient one, that of Sicily, whose people are very poor and who have lived for centuries under the domination of local landlords, and the American army of occupation from a wealthy country with a tradition of democracy. The Americans would be there a few years only. They might try to help the people, but after their brief occupation old patterns would soon reestablish themselves, including the dominance of the Mafia which Mussolini had suppressed during his dictatorship.

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As Hersey states in the preface to the novel, Major Victor Joppolo is a good man. The son of Italian immigrants to the United States, he soon realizes how much better off his family is, when compared with the people under his jurisdiction, (although hardly the rich Americans so many Sicilians believe their latest invaders to be). Hersey addresses the overwhelming difficulties facing a morally good man who tries to govern in a country where political leaders were never noted for such qualities as the term "good man" implies. General Marvin, on the other hand, is called an evil man. He is indifferent to the people in the path of his army, considering them as nuisances which might slow down his progress. On one level the novel is a morality drama in which good and evil clash, and good is defeated. A morality drama of this sort inevitably produces an oversimplification of both the characters and of the situations in which they are involved.

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