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Last Updated on December 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

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,...

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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.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 598

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 see that this stranger, whom they have regarded as a sort of magician, is a person with blood ties and thus is potentially available for the symbolic kinship known as comparaggio, the bond becomes more powerful. Carlo discovers the ways in which the peasants are able to endure their almost unvarying existence of poverty, toil, and disease.

In some ways, these people typify the Italian lower class, particularly in the South, but Gagliano is an extreme case of a community afflicted by climate, topography, and official neglect. To be chosen as a prison site is in itself a token of official scorn. Malaria is endemic, and the required supplies of quinine are not delivered. The land is so barren that the peasants must trudge for miles to and from the fields in which they labor. Gagliano, the south of Italy at its most pitiable, epitomizes for Levi the more unfortunate of the two Italies, which are two civilizations that he sees as post-Christian and pre-Christian. In the North, Christianity is exhausted; in the South, it is not yet apprehended. Around Gagliano, the land is pathetically deforested, the mountain streams have run dry, and the buildings of the town itself are beginning to sink into the ravines below. Still, no industry has been established to compensate for the decline of crops and livestock. With emigration restricted, taxation increased, and the Roman bureaucracy increasingly out of touch with local problems, the lesser of the two Italies continues to deteriorate. A recent decree exemplifies the general situation. On the theory that goats destroy crops, the peasants have been ordered to slaughter their goats, but in Gagliano, with no crops worth mentioning, to kill goats is to eliminate the only dairy products that compensate for the foodstuffs which the villagers lack in the first place. Carlo concludes that only an “organic federation” of largely autonomous communities can solve the plight of a nation politically unified but in most other respects diverse and better able to deal with problems on a regional basis.

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