Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Marcello Clerici

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.


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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The major emphasis of the novel is on Marcello, the man who is so aware of his criminal and violent nature that he wishes to conceal it by conforming totally to his social and political surroundings. His beliefs, his wife, and his style of life are all taken on in order to make him fade into his background. To do so, he rejects his mad father, his eccentric mother, his social class, and his freedom of will. Having, as he believes, already killed a man, he feels no compunction about destroying his former teacher.

The other characters, with the exception of Quadri, represent various sexual tendencies. In the cases of Lino and Lina—whose similar names represent to Marcello the fated nature of his life—these tendencies are perverted. In Giulia’s case, the tendency appears to be natural. Even Giulia, however, has been sexually abused and blackmailed for years by an old family friend, and she has a greedy sexual appetite. Marcello’s parents are the unhappy victims of a terrible mismatch. His father is much older than his mother, and is harsh and joyless. Marcello’s mother pathetically seeks for pleasure and is frustrated at every turn by her husband.

Of all the major characters, Quadri appears to be the only one with any balance—and the only one who resists Fascist tyranny. He, too, is mismatched, with a lesbian wife. The mismatches and sexual dislocation with which the novel is filled seem to be a counterpart to, and partly an explanation for, the politics of Fascism.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Lewis, R.W.B. “Alberto Moravia: Eros and Existence,” in The Picaresque Saint: Representative Figures in Contemporary Fiction, 1959.

Pacifici, Sergio. The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia, 1979.

Rebay, Luciano. Alberto Moravia, 1970.

Ross, Joan, and Donald Freed. The Existentialism of Alberto Moravia, 1972.