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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A theme that permeates all the works of Italo Svevo is that of mental and physical weakness, which Svevo defines as “senility.” It is present in the novel Senilità (1898; As a Man Grows Older, 1932) as well as in his masterpiece, La coscienza di Zeno (1923; The Confessions of Zeno, 1930).

In a metaphysical sense, senility entails a withdrawal from reality into the world of dreams or wishful thinking. A typical Svevian protagonist has no grasp of reality; consequently, he cannot make any real decisions, although he maintains the illusion of doing so. As a consequence, other people’s actions—and even his own, occasionally—take him by surprise.

All of these elements are present in “Generous Wine.” From the beginning, its protagonist characterizes himself “a licentious old fellow.” This assertion, however, must be considered in the context of Svevian philosophy. The “senile” character represents humanity itself. Thus the sickness from which the protagonist suffers in “Generous Wine” is the quintessence of the bourgeois disease, against which he is incapable of rebelling, although he is skeptical of his doctor’s diagnosis. Living is itself a disease, for as he tells the bride: “One regrets past joy, and this is a pain, but a pain that numbs the fundamental one, the real pain in life.” Only at the beginning of life can one escape this terrible truth. Thus, he tells his wife that their children are happy to be alive “because they don’t know anything yet.” This condition, however, is only provisional, and the illusion lasts a very short time. With age comes a recognition of the banality of life and the realization that...

(The entire section is 418 words.)