In the village of Trezza, on the island of Sicily, the Malavoglia family was once great. Now the only Malavoglias left are Padron ’Ntoni and his little brood in the house by the medlar tree. Nevertheless, they are happy and prosperous, living well on the income brought in by their boat, the Provvidenza.
When the oldest grandson, ’Ntoni, is conscripted, the first sadness falls on the household. In that same year, other things go badly, and the market for fish is poor. With ’Ntoni gone, the money that comes in has to be divided with extra help that Padron is forced to hire. Eventually, Padron ’Ntoni has to arrange a loan with Uncle Crucifix Dumbbell to buy a shipment of coarse black beans on credit from him. The beans are to be resold at Riposto by Padron’s son, Bastianazzo. Although La Longa, Bastianazzo’s wife, is skeptical of this deal, she keeps quiet, as she is expected to do. Soon afterward, Bastianazzo sails away on the Provvidenza with the cargo of beans aboard. All the villagers whisper that the beans are spoiled, and that Uncle Crucifix cheated the Malavoglia family. It is well known that Uncle Crucifix is an old fox in all money matters.
If the beans are sold, Padron ’Ntoni’s family will be well off. The man whose son is to marry Mena Malavoglia eagerly anticipates his boy’s good fortune. The women of the village, and others, too, agree that Mena is everything a woman should be, but luck goes against the Malavoglia family. In the early evening, a huge storm comes up. Down at the tavern, Don Michele, the brigadier of the coast guard, predicts the doom of the Provvidenza. When word comes that the boat is lost, and Bastianazzo with her, grief engulfs the Malavoglia family. To add to their troubles, Uncle Crucifix begins to demand his money. All the neighbors who bring gifts of condolence to the house by the medlar tree look about the premises as if they see Uncle Crucifix already in possession.
Padron ’Ntoni and his family stubbornly set to work to repay the loan. It is decided to have Mena marry as soon as possible. Alfio Mosca, who drives a donkey cart and often lingers to talk with the young woman, is grieved at the news. One day, the Provvidenza, battered but still usable, is towed into port. The Malavoglias rejoice. At the same time, ’Ntoni arrives home. Luca, the second son, is drafted. Each member of the family slaves to make enough money to repay the debt.
Uncle Crucifix is fiercely repeating his demands. At last, he decides to pretend to sell his debt to his assistant, Goosefoot; then, when officers are sent to Padron ’Ntoni’s house, people cannot say that a usurer or the devil’s money was involved in their troubles. A short time later, a stamped paper is served on the Malavoglia family. Frightened, they go to a city lawyer, who tells them that Uncle Crucifix can do...
(The entire section is 1181 words.)