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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372

Bread and Wine is a political fiction novel by Ignazio Silone, published just before the onset of World War II as tensions rose in his native Italy. A work that rallies against fascism, particularly the fascist regimes of Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin, Silone wrote part of it while exiled...

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Bread and Wine is a political fiction novel by Ignazio Silone, published just before the onset of World War II as tensions rose in his native Italy. A work that rallies against fascism, particularly the fascist regimes of Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin, Silone wrote part of it while exiled from Italy. It concerns a Catholic teacher named Don Benedetto who learns that his former student has become a radical anarchist in response to political disillusionment.

The novel begins when Benedetto inquires about Spina, who used to be his favorite student, at a gathering of people from the school where he once taught. He learns that Spina now works to sow political rebellion in Italy. Meanwhile, a doctor named Nunzio Sacca is approached by an old-looking man who turns out to be Spina, who used iodine to give himself the disguise of appearing old. Spina puts on clerical robes and poses as a priest named Paulo, giving advice in a mountain town called Pietrasecca while battling disillusionment about his purpose. Soon, he gains a reputation as a kind of spiritual advisor, but he is unable to radicalize any of the town's denizens.

Eventually, Spina goes to Rome and returns to his undisguised identity. He observes students rallying for support of Mussolini and the war. He befriends a disillusioned student, who is later killed in an explosion while trying to prepare a bomb to destroy a church. He goes around Rome writing graffiti with anti-war sentiments but is discovered by someone who threatens to expose his name.

Paulo returns to Benedetto at Rocca. Both of them concur that the country is in dire straits, but they cannot find a solution. Benedetto becomes more involved in Italian politics and becomes a political target because of his candid voice. At one mass, he is poisoned after someone tampers with the sacramental wine. Paulo, after seeing multiple other friends threatened or dead at the hands of the pro-state forces, flees into the snowy mountains of Italy. His friend Cristina tries to follow in his tracks. The novel ends as she wanders the mountains hoping to reach him; after being driven to exhaustion, a pack of wolves encircles her, and she makes the sign of the cross.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 927

As Ignazio Silone’s novel Bread and Wine opens, Don Benedetto, a Catholic priest, is sitting outside his modest home. It is his seventy-fifth birthday, and he is awaiting the arrival of some former students to celebrate the occasion. Don Benedetto is a socialist in the Fascist Italy of the early 1930’s, and he refuses to seek any accommodation with the regime. Talk of a new war of imperial expansion in Africa is in the air.

Three former students arrive. Each has found a place in the new social order, and the priest reflects sadly on the moral compromises people make to survive. Then talk turns to a former pupil and classmate, Pietro Spina, who has not compromised. As a student he was idealistic, compassionate, and fiercely committed to justice. He became a socialist and was later exiled to various places in Europe, where he lived and labored under wretched conditions. He is rumored to have returned recently to Italy, to work on behalf of the communists.

The scene shifts to Spina’s home village, to which, in fact, he has returned. He is seriously ill and is being hidden by a former comrade. When he is able to move, Spina leaves the village disguised as a priest with the name Don Paulo Spada. As Don Paulo, Spina sets off for the mountain village of Pietrosecca in the Abruzzi area. On the way, he comes across Bianchina, a young, unmarried woman apparently dying of complications from an abortion and in mental agony from fear of eternal damnation. Moved by compassion, “Don Paulo” tells her that all is forgiven.

The next day Don Paulo travels to an inn in Pietrosecca, where he hopes the mountain air will contribute to his recovery. Life in Pietrosecca is extremely hard; the peasants are poor, intensely superstitious, and politically naïve, and they are without hope of any change in their condition. There is only one family of any material substance, the Colamartini family. The miraculously revived Bianchina arrives in Pietrosecca, seeking the compassionate priest who saved her life, believing him to be a saint or perhaps Jesus. While they talk, Cristina Colamartini arrives, and the two young women recognize each other as former classmates. A complex relationship develops between Don Paolo and the two women. Bianchina is physically drawn to him. Don Paolo is attracted to the radiant, idealistic, and devout Cristina.

Don Paolo later meets Zabaglione, a lawyer and former socialist leader in that area. Zabaglione tells him of the brutal methods the Fascists used to crush the socialist and Christian organizations that attempted to address the plight of the people. Zabaglione’s opinion is that the only organized resistance to the regime will come from radical students. Don Paolo arranges to meet with some students and is energized by their idealism and fervor. He prepares to leave for Rome.

In Rome, Don Paulo resumes his identity as Pietro Spina and meets with Battipaglia, the interregional secretary of the Communist Party. Battipaglia is an inflexible ideologue who expects and demands complete orthodoxy from all Party members. There is tension between the two men.

Before he leaves Rome, Pietro tries to find an experienced comrade to accompany him back to work in the area. He looks for a young man named Luigi Murica and learns that he is hiding from the police. Pietro goes to see Luigi’s girlfriend, Annina. She tells him of their love, idealism, and commitment to the socialist cause, all destroyed by government persecution.

On his way back to the mountain village, Pietro transforms himself back into Don Paolo, and he hears excited talk about the coming war in Africa. When he arrives, he is shocked at the scene of patriotic parades and drunken celebrations. That night, he scrawls revolutionary and antiwar slogans on buildings, before returning to his room. The next morning, Bianchina tells Don Paolo of the agitation and fear caused in the town by the seditious slogans. He tells her that he has decided to go abroad as soon as he is well. She offers to come with him. Later, Don Benedetto visits Don Paolo. Their meeting is emotionally charged. Both men have felt inadequate to the challenges of their times. Each has taken comfort from the thought of the other, working in the cause of universal brotherhood.

Murica comes to visit Don Paolo. He has rededicated himself to the socialist cause and is preparing to resume party work. The mood is optimistic as they part. The next morning Don Paolo receives a letter from Annina saying Luigi has been arrested. Later he learns that Luigi was tortured and killed in a manner reminiscent of Christ’s agony and death. Don Paolo goes to the Murica home to convey his profound sorrow and solidarity. Luigi’s father performs a ritual sharing of bread and wine, products of Luigi’s love and labor, in a reprise of Christ’s offering at the Last Supper of bread and wine as his own body and blood. Bianchina arrives. She tells Don Paolo that his identity is known to the authorities, who are on their way.

Returning to Pietrosecca, Pietro meets Cristina, who asks if the rumor about his real identity is true. He says it is and asks her forgiveness for the deception. He then attempts to make his escape on foot in a snowstorm. Later, Cristina sets out in pursuit, carrying food and clothes. Evening falls, and she loses his tracks. As wolves gather around her for the kill, she makes the sign of the cross.

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