Silone's novel is a compelling novel on fascism, communism, resistance, and freedom. The rich dialogue between his characters illuminates the struggle for political freedom and social change in Italy in the 1930s. As Silone focuses on the resistance movement in Italy, he illuminates the intellectual and physical struggle of citizens.
One of the characters, Pietro, discusses the meaning and importance of freedom:
"Freedom is not something you get as a present,” said Pietro. “You can live in a dictatorship and be free—on one condition: that you fight the dictatorship. The man who thinks with is own mind and keeps it uncorrupted is free. The man who fights for what he thinks is right is free. But you can live in the most democratic country on earth, and if you’re lazy, obtuse or servile within yourself, you’re not free."
Pietro also makes this statement: “Don’t be fooled by appearances. The strength of a dictatorship is muscular, not spiritual.”
The novel is a bold commentary on the rise of Mussolini and the Fascist Party in Italy. In his book, Silone speaks of the necessity of awareness for people to fight control, lies, corruption, and evil in a nation:
Awareness has infinite gradations, like light.
As Silone compels readers to face the socialist movement that crept into Italy in the 1930s, he emphasizes the need for an intellectual approach to citizenship and government:
How pitiful is an intelligence used only to make excuses to quieten the conscience.
Additionally, Silone challenges readers to consider what true, meaningful living really is:
We live our whole lives provisionally, we think that for the time being things are bad, that for the time being we must make the best of them and adapt or humiliate ourselves, but that it's all only provisional and that one day real life will begin. We prepare for death complaining that we've never lived.
As well, he exhorts all people to seize the day, live in the present, and make a difference, while bringing goodness into the world.
Sometimes I'm haunted by the thought that we only have one life and we live it provisionally, waiting in vain for the day that our real life will begin. And so life passes by.