Ironically, Giovanni Verga’s greatest strengths as an artist, as well as his limitations, lie in his immersion in the life and spirit of Sicily. Verga was spiritually and emotionally molded by his Sicilian upbringing; and although throughout his literary career he made repeated attempts to shift his focus and widen the range of his subject matter, he ultimately realized that his true genius lay in his capacity to explore the hearts of his Sicilian countrymen. The problem, however, was that, over the course of years, this single theme proved limited; after Verga had revealed every aspect of the life he knew so well in depth and with great insight and sensitivity, nothing remained but to reiterate the theme and recast the old story in superficially new ways.
Verga’s story “Cavalleria Rusticana” represents the author’s talent at its best. The simple story, of a basically good-hearted but rather weak-minded young man swept by jealousy into passions he cannot control or understand, is a familiar one; in Verga’s hands, the tale achieves heights of emotional intensity yet remains starkly simple in its powerful realism. Characters and land alike come to life through the carefully observed and meticulously recorded detail. Particularly apparent in “Cavalleria Rusticana” is the author’s deep love for humanity and especially for the poor and ignorant, the helpless and suffering.
Also representative of Verga’s outlook is the feeling of powerlessness which pervades the story: Behind all the events and characterizations lies a pessimistic resignation, a sense of destiny, a conviction that events in man’s life are not subject to his free choice. This fatalistic vision, however, does not evince an emotional response from the author; his tone is always strictly objective and calm—sad perhaps but unresentful.
In “Cavalleria Rusticana,” as in all of Verga’s fiction, there is no mention of God—although the author was born and died a Catholic—and no attempt to personalize the external forces responsible for man’s essentially tragic situation. Likewise, there is no concept of sin in the story; man is not to be blamed for his actions, which are inevitable but pitied. Turiddu and the other peasants command the reader’s sympathy because they are not guilty of willful crimes so much as they are victimized by passions larger than they can comprehend.