Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

At first, Carlo wishes to withdraw into his own quiet pursuits, to seek isolation in this essentially foreign environment. He forms the habit of lying in a ditch in the cemetery which has been dug in anticipation of the next dead body. In this open grave, he is close to the earth, and he achieves a feeling of freedom and solitude: incidentally, he also escapes the oppressive summer sun. He has little fondness for Gagliano’s upper class, and he does not wish to be appropriated by them. The mayor, also the town’s schoolteacher, is slow-witted and narrow-minded. Don Trajella, the priest, once an instructor in a seminary, has gone to seed during his long and unsuccessful pastorate. It is flattering to their egos to converse with this artist-doctor, and the fact that he is a prisoner of a regime they tacitly support does not disqualify him in their eyes, for they feel little enthusiasm for Fascism.

It is while lying in his open grave that Carlo meets the grave digger, a man almost ninety years old, who exemplifies the timelessness, the primitive wisdom, and the collective memory of Gagliano. “The village is built of the bones of the dead,” the old man tells Carlo while carrying out the continuing work of the living. Carlo’s retreat has brought him into contact not only with the earth but also with the people of the earth. For their part, the villagers find it possible to respond to him more warmly after his sister pays him a short visit. When they...

(The entire section is 598 words.)