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Last Reviewed on October 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1018

The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses by Giorgio Bassani is set in Ferrara in the late 1930s, as Fascism rises in the years leading up to World War II. The novel explores parallel stories of a middle-aged doctor, Athos Fadigati, who is suspected of being a homosexual, and the unnamed narrator, a young Jewish student.

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His courteous, discreet manners were much appreciated, as were his evident disinterestedness and the fair-minded spirit of charity towards his poorer patients. But even more than for these reasons, he was appreciated for what he was: for those gold-rimmed spectacles that gleamed agreeably upon the dark earthen colour of his smooth, hairless cheeks, for the not at all off-putting chubbiness of that corpulent frame which belonged to someone with a congenital heart condition, who had miraculously outlived the crisis of puberty and was always, even in summer, wrapped up in thick English wool. (Chapter 1)

At the outset, Dr. Fadigati is depicted as being accepted within the community primarily for being discreet and polite, as his profession dictates. He is seen as an nonthreatening presence to the traditional way of life, which is exemplified through emphasis on his appearance: his intellectual glasses (which by the end of the novel take on a symbolism of their own, their gold rims setting his views on things apart from others); his closely shaven face, which speaks of his personal hygiene; and his corpulence, which is usually associated with benevolence while also communicating an absence of rougher, more traditionally masculine characteristics. However, the last is seen as acceptable only because the doctor suffers from a bad heart. Once the doctor becomes indiscreet in his relationship with the amoral thug Eraldo Deliliers, however, he is ostracized without pause or mercy.

And Fadigati? It was odd to observe him, and even painful: the more Nino and Deliliers heaped on their incivilities, the more he exerted himself in the vain attempt to be likeable. To win one kind word, a nod of agreement, an amused smile from those two, he would have done practically anything. (Chapter 7)

Though the doctor makes a desperate attempt to be accepted by the students, most of whom used to be his patients as children and who share a ride with him almost every day, it is obvious from this quote that his reputation—even as a discreetly homosexual man—leaves him open and vulnerable to ridicule from everyone, including the very young. The key fact in this quote, which will become one of the leitmotifs of the novel, is that Dr. Fadigati is depicted as almost perversely relishing his subjugation. His need to be accepted and liked—and, in a sense, punished for having this need—is what characterizes him throughout the book. This places the following quote in context as well:

Once more, the dog flattened herself with her belly on the ground a few inches from Fadigati's feet. "Beat me, kill me if you want!" she seemed to be saying. "It's only right, and besides I like it!" (Chapter 15)

The scene with the dog that follows Fadigati is strongly symbolic of his own behavior throughout the novel. He accepts humiliation as his due, and it can be presumed that he subconsciously agrees with the harsh words spoken about him because he struggles to accept who he is. In his case, accepting his nature amounts to accepting as immutable the fate that such a nature has to bring.

In the novel, this is sharply juxtaposed with the unnamed narrator's plight of being a Jewish man in Fascist Italy, and although the two characters are in many ways paralleled, their instinctive reactions to hardships brought about by the pressures of society are quite different—as is shown in their conversation about the love-starved dog.

"Will you look at her!" said Fadigati, pointing. "Perhaps one ought to be like that,...

(The entire section contains 1018 words.)

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