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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

Sciascia’s Candido: Or, A Dream Dreamed in Sicily reflects the disillusionment and despair that man experiences in the process of trying to live a meaningful life. Like his great progenitor Voltaire, Sciascia re-creates a situation for discovery. Candido’s surreal growth to manhood shows the universe (Sicily) regularly and horribly malfunctioning at all levels. This disease appears in the family, church, and government. Everywhere dishonesty, misery, and injustice rule. Sciascia asks many of Voltaire’s questions and sheds a twentieth century view on them. He asks, man, are you for real? How do I live my life? How do I find essence in my existence? These questions are answered as the absurdity of the universe, in which Candido lives, becomes apparent.

Candido’s experience in the family unit is rocky and barren. He is born amidst man-made catastrophe—bombardment; his father, Francesco Munafò, a lawyer, miraculously escapes destruction. As he revels in his escape, he is struck by the virtue of the words candid, white, and pure; he feels reborn, and in the light of the shattering experience he names his son Candido.

Candido’s mother is no pillar in the family structure. She even refuses to breast-feed him, “unlike all mothers in that period.” Then she proceeds to fall in love with an American Captain, John Hamlet Dykes. Incredibly, Munafò begins to believe Candido is Hamlet’s son, even though the child is born about the time of the American’s arrival. Maria Munafò soon leaves her husband and child. As Candido grows up, his straightforwardness and honesty prove to be destructive. His simplicity causes havoc when he unwittingly causes the suicide of his father. Soon, he is dubbed “a little monster.”

Candido now lives with the “General,” his maternal grandfather, a Fascist turned Christian Democrat. Sciascia uses this setting to give his readers a perspective of the meaninglessness of the Italian political scene. Candido observes the events around him as he contemplates life; he analyzes the pieces of the puzzle more than the possible final products. At all times he speaks on issues as he perceives them. Much of what he says is shocking to his nurse Concetta, who goes to see Dr. Pangloss’s substitute, Archpriest Lepanto. They decide to watch him; but, in a subtle fashion, Candido takes over the role of observer, watching and analyzing as Lepanto tries to observe. In a subtle role reversal, the Archpriest discovers nothing while Candido discovers that the Archpriest needs reeducating and enlightenment. In the process a deep affection is kindled.

Under Candido’s influence, the Archpriest becomes more human, honest, and involved, as seen in his unusually direct way of dealing with a legal scandal involving a profligate priest who has been murdered by an irate father, a respectable lawyer in the community. Honesty gains Lepanto little, however, since both the bishop and the peasants deplore his truthfulness and reject him. Lepanto resigns as Archpriest and becomes known as Don Antonio. As he resigns, he parodies the Church: “’I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ but sometimes I am the blind alley, the lie, and death.” Thus, religion offers little solace and encourages hypocrisy. Candido’s moral education is complete.

Candido next tries a retreat to the soil. When he tries to improve farming techniques, the peasants on his land reject him; next, he fails in his attempts to give his land to the peasants. Soon he realizes the ludicrousness of his attempt to live close to the earth.

Candido’s political education begins soon after he forms a sexual partnership with Paola, the General’s young housekeeper, and both he and Don Antonio join the Communist Party. Like many of the Italian intelligentsia of the time, they regard Communism as a replacement for a Church that has none of the virtues it should have. Much of the Communist literature bores him, but he enjoys Gramsci. His need for a center forces...

(The entire section is 1,686 words.)