Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Human vulnerability is a prevalent theme in The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses, especially in the characters of the narrator and of Dr. Fadigati. Both these individuals witness their social standing being undermined. Both experience their character, their beliefs, and their sexuality dragged into the open and used as a tool to demonize and dehumanize them. They also demonstrate emotional vulnerability, with the narrator feeling betrayed by the complicity of his friends and acquaintances; this complicity exists more generally in the bourgeois realm.
The doctor, too, finds himself horribly emotionally exposed by his exploitation and ultimate abandonment at the hands of his young companion. His suspicious death at the end of the novel introduces a physical aspect of vulnerability: how lives of outcasts are viewed as cheap and are liable to end at any moment.
A glimpse of hope is evident—in what is primarily a bleak and pessimistic novella—in the relationships between individuals in the text, especially between Fadigati and the narrator. While persecuted for different reasons, there exists a sense of solidarity between these two individuals, of a shared trial which they can more easily face together.
The capacity of words as a source of comfort is repeatedly reiterated, not only in the relationship between the doctor and the narrator, but also in the former’s relationship with several of the students he meets. His genuine interest in the situations of these young people enables him to bridge the gap of years and to act as a valuable advisor and supporter to several of the students. The falseness of individual friendships is also commented on by Bassani, as in the case of Eraldo, whose regard for Fadigati was motivated by a desire for material wealth, and in the case of the various friends and associates who were quick to abandon him when it became clear he did not fit their (or society’s) vision of respectability.
While relationships between individuals are often given a positive treatment by Bassani, the capacity of large numbers of people to behave in ways that would appall them as individuals is also frequently reiterated. In the widespread rejection experienced by Fadigati on the basis of his sexuality by most of society can be seen the influence of the “us against them” narrative central to the fascist doctrine.
Similarly, complicity in widespread antisemitism and the ability of one person to convince another that a certain reality cannot or is not happening is discussed at length by the narrator during the novel’s closing chapters. The sense of togetherness, of a society sharing a single purpose and identity, is satirized by Bassani in this work, by showing of how such a society depends on outcasts in order to function.