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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 825

Marcello Clerici

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Marcello Clerici (mahr-CHEHL-loh klehr-EE-chee), the protagonist, a man dominated by psychological tendencies that are reflected in the title of the novel. Since childhood, Marcello has desired to be recognized as being normal. As a young boy, he had several haunting experiences with guilt (the presumed consequence of social abnormality); these follow him into adulthood. One involved pleasure in killing small animals, then trying to convince himself, through others, that his actions were not abnormal. A second event was his traumatic violent experience with a homosexual stranger. When Marcello receives a special assignment to aid in the assassination of his former professor, a Paris-exiled critic of the Fascist regime, he initially assumes that he can maintain a separation between his “normal” life and the brutal world of Fascist politics. This attempt at psychological compartmentalization fails when Marcello decides to combine his honeymoon with the espionage assignment to Paris. Marcello’s thwarted quest to achieve normalcy carries through after his return to middle-class existence in Italy during the war. Although he seems to have overcome the trauma of Lina’s death, his discovery that Lino did not die from the gun wounds Marcello inflicted on him as a youth rekindles the nightmare of the futility of his actions: He had carried feelings of guilt and suffered psychologically for years for something that did not happen.


Lino (LEEN-oh), a homosexual chauffeur who attempted to lure the young Marcello by promising to give him a real revolver, something Marcello sought as a means toward establishing his credibility among friends and enemies alike. Lino’s treachery leads Marcello to seize the gun and shoot his amorous and confused assailant. Lino’s pitiful state is reflected in his invitation to the youth to kill him if he cannot possess Marcello.


Lina (LEEN-ah), the young and voluptuous French wife of the aging Professor Quadri. Her body is described as strong but lithe, like that of a gymnast or dancer. When the newly wed Clericis arrive unannounced at Quadri’s Paris residence, Lina remains aloof, if not openly hostile. Like her husband, Lina knows that Marcello’s supposedly friendly visit to his former professor is a cover for a Fascist espionage mission. Although the professor appears sincere in his desire to win over Marcello from Fascism, Lina’s interest in their Italian visitors is dominated by a lesbian attraction for Giulia.


Orlando, the least-developed character in the novel. A Fascist secret police agent who has served in many countries, he is assigned with Marcello to carry out the assassination of Professor Quadri. Marcello’s view of Orlando is somewhat condescending: He characterizes Orlando’s face as that of a petty bureaucrat, tenant farmer, or, at most, a small landowner. Orlando’s carnal baseness is demonstrated several times; for example, when Orlando is assured that the “official” contacts and formal instructions for the espionage mission have been taken care of, he indulges his lust immediately with a prostitute.

Professor Quadri

Professor Quadri (KWAH-dree), a man who is considered to be a traitor because of his abandonment of the Fascist cause. The formerly eccentric and bookish professor is portrayed as having adjusted well to his orderly and visibly comfortable life in exile. Although Quadri is engaged in an international network for anti-Fascist propaganda, his character emerges mainly in personal interaction with his young but sexually imbalanced wife, Lina, and with Marcello, who is the only person with whom he carries on a sustained dialogue. Quadri seems not to condemn Marcello for the political choice he has made. He focuses his efforts on trying to dissuade him from his Fascist...

(The entire section contains 1126 words.)

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Critical Essays