Christ Stopped at Eboli

by Carlo Levi

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

The Effects of Alienation

In Christ Stopped at Eboli, the people of Gagliano are cut off geographically, politically, and religiously from the rest of Italy. Their geographic separation is emphasized by the fact that political prisoners of Italy are sent to the town in exile. In terms of politics, the people are so alienated from Rome that, to them, “Rome means very little; it is the capital of the gentry, the center of a foreign and hostile world.” Mussolini’s takeover of Italy does not appear to affect them greatly: his government is only the next in a series of governments that have neglected or oppressed them throughout history. While the people of Gagliano care little about Rome, they see America as a beacon of hope: “an earthly paradise and the promised land.”

Perhaps the strongest example of alienation in this book is Gagliano’s religious alienation from Rome. According to the saying that gives the memoir its title, the people of Gagliano are cut off from Christianity because Christianity “stopped at Eboli,” which is north of Gagliano. The townspeople feel their separation from Christianity makes them less human and that the rest of Italy sees them as “beasts.” While there are certain elements of Catholicism present in the town—the people acknowledge Mary and attend Mass—the magic and mysticism present in their beliefs and practices stand in stark contrast to the religion of Rome, the capital of the Catholic world.

Government Neglect of Impoverished People

Levi observes in Christ Stopped at Eboli that government neglect of disadvantaged populations is not unique to Mussolini’s Italy. On the contrary, he argues that no matter who has governed Italy (and, by extension, the world) throughout history, economically disadvantaged groups have been neither taken into consideration nor represented. Until this occurs, he asserts, people in places such as Gagliano will always feel separate.

On a smaller scale, government neglect of the disadvantaged is symbolized in this book by the incompetence of the town’s figures of authority. Gagliano’s two doctors, for example, are both highly unqualified for their positions: in addition to lacking medical expertise, Dr. Milillo is an elderly man who is well past his prime, and Dr. Gibilisco appears to care only about receiving payment and having power over the townspeople. 

Shortly after Levi is banned from practicing medicine, Don Luigi, the mayor, demonstrates his indifference toward the people by insisting that Levi act in accordance with the ban when a man’s life is at stake; Levi is eventually allowed to visit the patient but cannot help him. Though Levi informs the people that he did not have adequate knowledge or tools to help the man in the first place, the people of Gagliano see the man’s death as an example of the authorities’ lack of care for their well-being. In this way, Gagliano’s lack of adequate medical services symbolizes the lack of concern Levi believes governments display toward disadvantaged populations.

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