Consolation Analysis
by Giovanni Verga

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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Giovanni Verga’s name is associated with verismo, or Verism, in which the prime purpose of the writer is to present the truth, without avoidance of unpleasant or depressing aspects of life, and at the same time with no attempt at moralizing or other subjective interference. In “Consolation,” Verga paints a bleak picture of the lives of the poor.

One device that helps him do this is “free indirect discourse,” wherein a character’s attitude, thoughts, or words are expressed indirectly, as if part of the author’s commentary. For example, when the lottery ticket is first bought, Arlia’s motivation is suggested by the following statement: “The blessed souls of her children would take care of it from above.” Again, when Arlia’s husband takes to drinking, “she” (actually the narrator) thinks: “Now that all the troubles had fallen on her shoulders, happiness would come. That’s the way it often is with the poor!” Although it is the narrator’s voice here, referring to Arlia in the third person, it is only Arlia’s perceptions—her deluded hopes—that the narrator relates. The ironic contrast between Arlia’s view and Verga’s probable skepticism (happiness never comes to the poor in this story) thereby emphasizes the theme: the futility of hope in a hopeless world.

In addition to free indirect discourse, Verga makes prodigious use of eye and sight imagery to point up the contrast between the characters’ perception of their situation and the dark reality: The reader is constantly presented with images of the characters’ eyes—consumptive “mother-of-pearl eyes,” “eyes circled black,” eyes fixed on other characters or “fixed on a point that only she could see.” Similarly, the big barbershop that Arlia’s husband envisions owning at the story’s beginning, “with perfumes in the window,” stands in contrast to the poor, empty facility where he “waited for customers all day long, his nose against the clouded window.”

Perhaps the most telling device used in this story, however, is the contrast established between the fortuneteller and Father Calogero, the priest: Each is representative of a force that influences or controls the human condition—chance and God—yet neither can offer a solution to the poverty and disease the characters suffer. The fortuneteller offers hope without truth—mere self-delusion; the priest rightly denounces the deception but can offer nothing but the cold fact of death in its place. In such a world of false hope versus unmitigated suffering, the characters end by choosing the meager conforti of the title.