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Last Updated on December 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Carlo Levi 

Christ Stopped at Eboli is Levi’s memoir, so he is naturally the book’s protagonist. In the narrative, Levi is exiled to the town of Gagliano in southern Italy by Mussolini’s government for political dissidence. Levi, who is a painter but has also studied medicine, is asked immediately upon...

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Carlo Levi 

Christ Stopped at Eboli is Levi’s memoir, so he is naturally the book’s protagonist. In the narrative, Levi is exiled to the town of Gagliano in southern Italy by Mussolini’s government for political dissidence. Levi, who is a painter but has also studied medicine, is asked immediately upon his arrival in Gagliano to help a dying malaria victim. As Levi meets the authority figures of the town, he comes to realize that the town’s two doctors are unqualified. Although he assures the two doctors that he does not wish to steal their clients, and although he would prefer to spend his time painting, Levi agrees to provide medical help to the townspeople. He is faced with threats of imprisonment, but Levi continues to help the townspeople in secret. When he is released from exile at the end of the book, Levi promises to return to the people of Gagliano someday.

Luigi Magalone

Don Luigi is the mayor of Gagliano. He greatly enjoys his role as warden of the exiled and takes pride in the fact that he has been described by “His Excellency the Prefect” as “the youngest and most Fascist mayor in the province of Matera.” Don Luigi tries to impress Levi, whom he sees as a gentleman, when they first meet. Though he originally enforces Levi’s ban from practicing medicine, Don Luigi agrees to turn a blind eye to Levi’s medical practices after Levi helps his daughter.

Dr. Milillo 

Dr. Milillo is one of two doctors in Gagliano and the uncle of Don Luigi, the mayor. He is an elderly man, well past his prime as a doctor: Levi’s first impression of him is that he “no longer ha[s] the slightest knowledge of medicine, if he ever had any.” Dr. Milillo feels threatened by Levi’s presence in the town, fearing that Levi—who is younger than Dr. Milillo and who has already been asked to see a patient—will try to take over Dr. Milillo’s position.

Dr. Gibilisco 

Dr. Gibilisco is the second of Gagliano’s doctors. He is younger than Dr. Milillo but equally unqualified for his job: though Gibilisco is younger than Milillo, Levi realizes that Gibilisco’s ignorance is “even deeper than that of old Milillo.” Gibilisco prides himself on the fact that the townspeople are dependent on him for healthcare and is “furious” at them because, according to him, they attempt to avoid paying for healthcare and have rejected his “feudal right” over their “life and death.”

Giulia Venere 

Giulia works as a housekeeper for the Magalone family and, later, for Levi. She is a hardworking woman and a “witch” who is highly superstitious, believes in magic and spells, and greatly reveres the spiritual realm. Levi is able to learn about the traditions, beliefs, and superstitions of the people of Gagliano through Giulia. When Levi is banned from practicing medicine, Giulia encourages him to continue anyway: since he has learned magic through her, he could “be a sorcerer” instead.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 562

Carlo Levi

Carlo Levi (LAY-vee), a physician and political prisoner, the narrator and protagonist of the story. Kind, contemplative, artistic, and observant, he has a deep compassion for those who are poor, ill, and disadvantaged. A painter by vocation, he would prefer merely to observe without becoming directly involved, but he cannot. His political imprisonment involves being sent to live in a small and remote southern Italian village, where he is watched closely at all times. He records the experiences and the impressions of his sojourn.

Luigi Magalone

Luigi Magalone (lew-EE-gee mah-gah-LOH-neh), the mayor. Smug and self-satisfied, the Fascist mayor enjoys the power and the prestige of his position. He gives orders to the prisoners for the sheer pleasure of seeing his requests enacted and is particularly zealous in the literal and unwavering application of Fascist laws and regulations in his village.

Giulia Venere

Giulia Venere (jee-EW-leeah veh-NEH-rah), Carlo Levi’s housekeeper. She is a middle-aged woman who is hardworking, unemotional, and strong. She is ignorant but is naturally intelligent and practical. Her life is linked to superstitions and traditions. Despite her natural wisdom and knowledge of life, she firmly believes in the magical powers of curses, potions, and incantations. The world has no secrets for her and no illusions, but she holds in great reverence and fear the realm of the spiritual and of the intangible. It is from her that Carlo learns much about the traditions and folklore of the village, and about the villagers themselves.

Don Giuseppe Trajella

Don Giuseppe Trajella (jee-ew-SEHP-peh trah-EHL-lah), the parish priest. Old and ailing, his most visible characteristics are those of rancor and bitterness toward the entire village. Although bright and cultured, he has no interest other than venting and feeding his anger and his unhappiness. He has been in the parish for many years, having been assigned there as punishment for misconduct. The entire village ridicules, persecutes, and torments him.

Dr. Milillo

Dr. Milillo (mee-LEEL-loh), an elderly physician and uncle of the mayor. He is a man whose seventy years of age have made his movements slow and his voice shaky. A gentle and well-intentioned man, he remembers very little about medicine and is ill-equipped to tend to the sick. He feels threatened by Dr. Levi’s arrival and is reassured by the latter that his place will not be usurped.

Dr. Gibilisco

Dr. Gibilisco (jee-bee-LEE-skoh), a physician. Like Dr. Milillo, he too is an elderly practitioner. A meticulous dresser and man of imposing presence, he projects an image of confidence that conceals a profound ignorance of the medical profession. An exacting and mistrusting man, he demands payment from even the poorest of patients. His profession, in his view, makes him superior to the rest of the villagers and assigns him control over their life and death.

Donna Caterina Magalone Cuscianna

Donna Caterina Magalone Cuscianna (kah-tehr-EE-nah mah-gah-LOH-nay kew-SHEEAH-nah), the head of the local Fascist Party and sister of the mayor. She is open, cordial, hospitable, and maternal. In addition, she is clever, calculating, and powerful. From her privileged position as sister of the mayor and head of the Fascist Party in the village, she has as much to say about what happens in town as Magalone himself. Her driving force is hatred toward certain women in the village, in particular the pharmacist’s daughter, whom she believes to be her husband’s lover.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

Carlo Levi makes no attempt to disguise the autobiographical nature of his main character. In all the important particulars, Carlo corresponds to the author of Christ Stopped at Eboli, and it is unlikely that Levi needed to invent many of the other characters. His mode of presentation might be described as good reporting, except that reporters seldom spend so much time with their subjects, interact with them so extensively, or reflect on them so profoundly.

The gentry are largely of the sort who would be inconsequential anywhere but in their own town. They are idle, petty, and pretentious. The mayor is quick to assure Carlo that he, too, is a cultivated man, and his sister assumes the responsibility for finding Carlo a wife from among the small number of local worthies, an honor which he carefully evades. She is the leader of the Fascist Party, despite her indifference to politics, because she knows that power and prestige accrue to the position. Old Dr. Milillo at once establishes his class’s perspective on the peasantry: “Good people, but primitive.” Thus deftly Levi conveys the dubious superiority exuded by the minimally functioning upper class of the town.

The peasants interest Carlo far more. Individually, they play minor roles, with only Giulia, the earthy housekeeper, present daily in Carlo’s routine; collectively, however, they constitute the discovery that makes his year in Gagliano memorable. To this educated man from prosperous, cosmopolitan Turin, the rural south is another world. To them, Fascism—the evil Carlo has been sent here for resisting—is merely the latest version of an age-old repression. Resentful but resigned, they look kindly upon Carlo and the other prisoners (whom they call “exiles”) as fellow sufferers. It is in a group effort that they best express their only seemingly extinguished spirit. When they hear of the decree against Carlo’s medical practice, they sublimate their fury into the creation of an apparently impromptu play, in which a competent physician in white (they have borrowed Carlo’s white jacket for the purpose) is opposed by another doctor in black. As the former, defending his patient, is about to triumph in the dispute between them, an emissary arrives from Rome and chases the good doctor away. Left in charge, the man in black proceeds to murder the patient by sticking a large needle into his heart—an effect simulated by the puncturing of a pig’s bladder. The play ends in a dirge sung by the victim’s mother and a chorus. Carlo cannot decide whether the play is truly spontaneous or a “reminiscence of an ancient art,” but several performances of the play in various locations accessible to the local authorities show clearly that while the peasants know that they cannot rebel effectively, they can affirm their humanity in the face of officialdom’s refusal to acknowledge it. Carlo’s horizons widen during a year of encounters with people who are able to teach him more than he has previously suspected about the pervasiveness of brotherhood.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57

Catani, R.D. “Structure and Style as Fundamental Expression: The Works of Carlo Levi and Their Poetic Ideology,” in Italica. LVI (1979), pp. 213-229.

Pacifici, Sergio. “Carlo Levi: The Essayist as a Novelist,” in The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia, 1979.

Pacifici, Sergio. “The New Writers,” in A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature, 1962.

Segrete, Carte. Carlo Levi, 1970.

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