Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1686
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...
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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 him into embracing Communist thinking because he feels capitalism carries man toward disintegration, yet he enjoys reading Hugo, Zola, and Gorki, all imaginative writers.
The Communist Party fails Candido. When he tries to donate a piece of land to the municipality for a hospital, he is rejected because the land offers little opportunity for scheming and profiteering. Next, Candido is deserted by both his mistress and the Party, and his father’s family cheats him out of his property. As he is leaving for Paris with his cousin, Francesca, Candido realizes the impossibility of living a fruitful life in Sicily. He tells Francesca, “Do you know what our life is, yours and mine? It’s a dream dreamed in Sicily. Perhaps we’re still there, and we are dreaming.”
The novel closes as surrealistically as it begins. Candido accidentally meets his mother in a Parisian café, and she perfunctorily invites him to visit her in America. He refuses. “Here you feel that something is about to end and something is about to begin. I’d like to see what should come to an end come to its end.” The sense of ending in Kermodian terms seems imminent. For Frank Kermode, the end of one era of thought intersects and ushers in the beginning of a new time. Hopefully, in Paris, the home of reason, Candido will see a viable new light being born.
Candido: Or, A Dream Dreamed in Sicily demands attention. Deceptively light in treatment, it attacks all establishments. Sciascia’s novel has some autobiographical roots. Occasionally, Italian political parties back a well-known figure like Sciascia. Sciascia accepted the nomination for a local position with the purity of Candido, served eighteen months on the council, realized its ineffectiveness, and resigned. His disenchantment with the system finds its way into Candido’s land gift. Corruption is replete. However, this attack is only part of a universal disenchantment with Italy, and, beyond that, systems everywhere.
Sciascia’s question, “Man are you for real?” is tied up with the shifting realities shown in the book. The surreal beginning sheds light on the purpose of the novel. Candido is born in a grotto, and the Christian overtones are obvious: this Christ-figure makes a second coming to save a world threatened by destruction, hypocrisy, and corruption. Like Joseph, Munafò doubts Maria’s fidelity, while Concetta calls Candido her baby Jesus. However, she soon calls baby Jesus a little monster. By the age of five, Candido knows everything about his father, who resembles Joseph and who knows nothing about his own son.
Sciascia’s experience with crime mysteries adds deftness to his prose as the narrative progresses. The book pivots on discovery; reality constantly shifts as the narrative progresses, and in the process the reader and Candido are educated. In his father’s office, Candido listens to a murderer confess to a crime for which an innocent man has been arrested by his friend’s father. The simplicity of the prose is deceptive. We are told that the murderer confesses so that he can get advice about how he should behave if the innocence of the innocent man were to be recognized and the suspicions of the Carabinieri were to fall on him. The upshot of this is that Candido tells his friend and the Carabinieri, and the lawyer kills himself, not for harboring a criminal or hampering justice, but because he feels he has failed his profession and his code of conduct. Thus, the legal profession is shown to be underhanded and operates with corrupt systems and codes.
Everywhere, standards and concepts have lost their validity; the possibility of discovering laws of conduct and ultimate value disappears; man is directed away from good. Even someone as religious as Concetta, who has spoken of the murder with horror, tells Candido she would like to cut out his tongue for telling. Contradictory messages abound. Candido’s innocence appears evil and is treated as evil. The General’s political background and party shifts are smoothly handled. Although the General belongs to the Christian Democrat Party, his bedroom overflows with Fascist memorabilia. When Candido innocently asks if the General’s Fascist past was an error, the general furiously declares that the Fascists and Christian Democrats are the same. Ironically, the General, who knows little loyalty to kin or party, is deeply wounded when he sees himself down ten places in the 1948 election, and he accuses Candido of betraying him. This easy shift in standards and values becomes commonplace as the novel progresses.
If Candido dreams of finding substantial integrity in the Communist Party, he is also mistaken. Sciascia reveals the secretive and distorted life of the stagnating Communist Party. Like the Church, it speaks to no one; empty and devoid of purpose, it floats along. When he tries to complain to the Party about Zucco, who tries to get a bribe for negotiating a land deal, the Party does nothing.
Sciascia relates the history of a lost and corrupt Italy—and world—so lost that Candido-Christ cannot save it. In the author’s note, Sciascia specifically refers to the present age as being one of heavy times. His book shows that modern man has unparented himself, lost his values, his norms, his laws, and his religion. In the process an innocent like Candido tries to find solace and refuge in Paris, the city of reason, where he hopes he can best “cultivate his garden” and find essence in his life. He waits, however, for an end to brutish reason and for the beginning of a new age, one in which man does not arrange his realities to appear as illusions; where he does not fear the demands made on him by his family, society, or religion; where emptiness does not reign; and where there is room for a second coming.
As Sciascia says, this book was meant to be light. It is that, but the lightness is deceptive. It suits the illusion/reality theme, the double shifting perspective which is typical of surrealism. Perhaps Archbishop Lepanto’s mocking of the Church service best fits Sciascia’s message: “. . . sometimes I am the blind alley, the lie, and death.”