Form and Content
History: A Novel is Elsa Morante’s depiction of World War II from the point of view of ordinary Italians. Written in the sweeping tradition of nineteenth century realism, with aspects of Magical Realism, each of the nine chapters represents a year in the lives of one or more of the major characters. Each is preceded by a list of the principal events of world history, including battles, workers’ strikes, and weapons development, lists created perhaps by the near-omniscient “I” who narrates the story. Throughout the novel, Morante shows the devastating effects of political events on the lives of common people, especially on Ida and her family.
The novel begins during Ida Ramundo’s Sicilian childhood, during which she suffers from epileptic seizures accompanied by unconsciousness. In the 1930’s after Italy’s Fascist alliance with Adolf Hitler, Ida marries Alfio Mancuso, becomes a schoolteacher in Rome, and bears a son, Nino. When Ida’s mother dies, Ida learns that her mother was Jewish. Terrified that someone will report her to the anti-Semitic fascist authorities, Ida keeps the secret, even as she begins to haunt Rome’s Jewish ghetto. Her husband dies, and while Ida has tried to hold on to a middle-class lifestyle, his death marks the beginning of her slide into poverty and isolation.
One day, drunk and lonely, Gunther, a nineteen-year-old German soldier, rapes Ida, which triggers in her an epileptic seizure and unconsciousness. Gunther is killed three days later...
(The entire section is 618 words.)