Bread and Wine Summary
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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,299 words.)