Berardo Viola (beh-RAHR-doh vee-OH-lah), the biggest and strongest of the Fontamarans and, accordingly, the most respected. A peasant with no land, Berardo has nothing to lose and is thus free to retaliate against the government’s cruel and unfair treatment of thecafoni (peasants). Driven by an inherent sense of Christian brotherhood, he becomes the first peasant to sacrifice his life for his fellow people.
Giovà (jee-oh-VAH), short for Giovanni, one of the narrators. Giovà personifies the typical Fontamaran peasant. He works his arid land for endless hours because he has to provide for his wife and son. His land and his family are of primary importance to him; people outside his family matter little. Giovà has a quick temper, but he is resigned to the political oppression and social injustice that, for years, have caused the cafoni to live in abject poverty. As a consequence, he is unwilling at first to join in the retaliation initiated by Berardo.
Matalè (mah-tah-LAY), short for Maddalena, Giovà’s wife and the second narrator. Matalè is characteristic of the Fontamaran peasant women. She is quick to anger and to criticize. She openly denounces Marietta Sorcanera’s moral lassitude, but she is secretly envious of her new apron and curled hair.
Giovà’s son, the third narrator. He accompanies Berardo to Rome. Unlike Berardo, but typical of others his age, the young man has no vision of a “higher calling” to altruism and self-sacrifice. He is quick to sign the government papers attesting Berardo’s “suicidal tendencies.”
The contractor, a newcomer to the Abruzzi region who became rich by speculating on the price of wheat. Although an outsider, he is soon appointed podestà (mayor) of the town. He uses his position to further exploit the peasants.
Don Circonstanza, a lawyer and self-proclaimed “Friend of the People.” As his name implies, his loyalty to the Fontamarans varies according to circumstances; in fact, the lawyer has swindled the peasants on numerous occasions.
Don Abbacchio (ahb-BAHK-kee-oh), the corrupt priest who personifies the church’s compliance with the Fascist state following the signing of the Concordat in 1929. Like Don Circonstanza, Don Abbacchio is unworthy of the title of respect (don) that precedes his name.
The Mystery Man
The Mystery Man, an agent of the revolutionary underground who befriends Berardo. It is the Mystery Man who brings the duplicating machine to Fontamara and later helps the three narrators to escape the attack on the village.
Marietta Sorcanera (sohr-kah-NEH-rah), the owner of the local café. Marietta is the widow of a war hero and consequently has a pension that allows her to purchase a few luxuries. Since her husband’s death, she has had three of four children out of wedlock.
General Baldissera (bahl-dees-SEH-rah), the town cobbler, who repeatedly sings a song about his namesake’s campaign in Africa. He was required by the Federation of Tradesmen and Artisans to secure working papers. This leads him to question whether the peasants are at peace or war, because “interferences with personal liberty are possible only in wartime.” His question makes a big impression on the cafoni.
Elvira, a seamstress who is in love with Berardo. She witnesses the rape of Maria Grazia, which leaves her in a state of shock. Elvira accompanies Maria Grazia on her pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Libera. There she prays that the Virgin Mary help Berardo, who is in prison. Immediately, she is seized with a...
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high fever; shortly thereafter, she dies at home.
Maria Rosa, Berardo’s mother, who thinks Elvira’s death may have saved her son, as his salvation was “to be restored to his destiny.”
Michele Zompa, a peasant who irritates a government bureaucrat named Pelino by recounting a dream and his view of the sociopolitical hierarchy in southern Italy.
Sciarappa (skee-ah-RAHP-pah), a peasant who emigrated to America, where, he says, “the streets are paved with gold.” Sciarappa returned to Fontamara, where he repeatedly tells the peasants to “shut up.”
Venerdì Santo (veh-nehr-DEE) and
Ponzio Pilato (POHN-zee-oh pee-LAH-toh), two peasants who obviously took part in an Easter pageant—hence, their nicknames, “Good Friday” and “Pontius Pilate.”