Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391
French writer Prosper Mérimée's Colomba is a story about families, vendettas, and revenge. It illustrates a familiar Biblical maxim: "the sins of the father shall be visited on the sons." The story's protagonists are brother and sister: Orso della Rabbia and his sister, Colomba. Orso is returning home from war as a former solder in Napoleon's army. He meets an Irish father and daughter, Colonel Thomas and Lydia Nevil. Thomas had served in the English army, on the opposite site from Orso; however, he takes a liking to the young man, owing to his demonstrated bravery at the battle of Waterloo.
Their sister, Colomba, is provincial but captivating and has a fondness for poetry. Colomba bears a hatred against the Barricini family, whose father she suspects of having killed her father. Colomba, at first an unassuming and pretty young woman, soon reveals her interest in encouraging her brother to join in her efforts to exact revenge on the Barricini.
Orso, too, is enraged at Colomba's discovery (through a prisoner) that the man who had been convicted of killing his father—and whose name appeared as the culprit in a journal of the deceased that was submitted as evidence—was likely bribed by one of the Barricini sons. A prefect maintains to be investigating the matter in a civil fashion, but Colomba rejects this method and, in the cover of night, splits the ear of Orso's horse with a knife so that her brother would think it was done by one of the Barricini sons.
Soon after, Orso goes to meet Lydia Nevil, whose visit he expects, and is warned of an ambush by a child he encounters on the way. Nevertheless, Orso proceeds in his course and encounters the Barricini sons, both of whom he kills. He ends up in hiding until he can be acquitted for self-defense. He lives in Italy with Lydia, her father, and Colomba, where Colomba encounters a decrepit elder Barricini as he nears his death.
The elder Barricini met the worst death possible. First, he saw his sons die; then, he lived out his old age in disgrace as punishment for his murder and cover-up of Colomba and Orso's father. Colomba, though her methods were questionable, demonstrates her commitment to avenging her father by means of enlisting the help of her living family, Orso.