The House on the Hill

by Cesare Pavese

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Characters Discussed

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Corrado (kohr-RAH-doh), the narrator, a science teacher in a private school. He is a forty-year-old, self-absorbed bachelor. He is addicted to solitude and agrees with a friend who says that he is bad-tempered, proud, and afraid. He is afraid above all of commitment, either to the people who love him or to the political causes for which his friends and acquaintances are dying, such as Fascism, anti-Fascism, and Communism. The action of the novel is generated as Corrado moves between the city of Turin and the surrounding Piedmont hills, trying to escape the opposing armies and the civil war that begins after Benito Mussolini’s fall. Corrado finally escapes to his peasant parents’ home, where he ends his narration. Although he finds some feeling of peace in his understanding that he can honor the dead for their sacrifice for their beliefs, Corrado still lives in fear and shame, isolated and alienated.


Cate (KAH-tay), a nurse and anti-Fascist activist. About eight years before the period covered by the novel, Corrado had a love affair with Cate, then an awkward, thin working girl. Her dreams of the future encompassed little more than learning to type and getting a job in a big store. Corrado broke with her in a rather brutal fashion. Eight years later, she is an attractive, courageous, self-possessed woman. She is able to risk her life in anti-Fascist activities, yet is understanding and tolerant of Corrado’s weakness. She carefully avoids frightening him by forcing him to commit himself to her or to her son, Dino. She is imprisoned by the Germans, and her fate is unknown as the book ends.


Dino (DEE-noh), Cate’s son. He is a playful, imaginative boy who becomes hardened by growing up in the anarchistic turmoil of World War II Italy. Corrado befriends him and finds out that his real name also is Corrado; he realizes that Dino may be his son. Cate, understanding the panic that such a relationship would produce in Corrado, says that he is not the boy’s father. Dino grows apart from Corrado and disappears to join the anti-Fascist resistance. His fate is unknown at the end of the book.

Anna Maria

Anna Maria, an elegant, rich woman from Corrado’s past who appears in the novel only in his memory. She was his lover after he split with Cate. Corrado wanted to marry her, but he came to feel that she was playing with him for her amusement. She took him to the point of suicide, caused him to abandon his planned career as an academic scientist, and embittered him toward women.


Elvira, a forty-year-old unmarried woman who, with her mother, is Corrado’s landlady. She loves Corrado, who has contempt for her buttoned-down personality and bony body. She has little interest in public events, only a vague sense of loyalty toward the government in power, but she has the courage to protect Corrado and Dino from the Germans.


Gallo, an old friend of Cate and Corrado. He shared Corrado’s youthful dreams of starting a rural school and reforming the countryside. He was killed early in the war.


Fonso, an eighteen-year-old factory worker. He is a cynical, irreverent anti-Fascist who disappears into the hills as a resistance fighter. Fonso, able to commit himself in ways beyond Corrado’s ability, becomes Dino’s model and hero. Dino leaves Corrado to join Fonso, whose fate is unknown at the end of the book.

The Characters

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Unlike nineteenth century novelists who used the story to display character change and development, Cesare Pavese’s concept of character...

(This entire section contains 688 words.)

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is that of “static essentials.” Character does not change but is revealed for what it is. Trapped by events and by his despair and indecision, Corrado is estranged from himself and from those around him. The war does not change him, nor is it the source of his problem, he realizes; it has only removed his already-fading scruples about living alone. It frees him to live for the moment without regrets for lost opportunities and without dwelling on future defeats: “The kind of dull bitterness which had hedged in my youth found a refuge and a horizon in the war.”

Corrado’s reacquaintance with Cate provides much of the drama of the novel. He loves her but is afraid to recognize his feelings and fears she will attempt to resume their love affair. Elvira loves him and takes risks for him that he could never take himself. He loves Dino but cannot assume a father’s role. He cannot commit himself to involvement in the war that has consumed so many of his friends; it seems to be only a cruel and implacable force from which he tries to find a safe haven. He understands better than any of his partisan friends what is at stake, but he cannot act on his understanding, partly because of his intellectual need to resolve all contradictions before he acts. He cannot even blame the Germans for what they are doing; evil was loose in Italy before the Germans arrived.

Corrado only wants peace, a place of refuge, sanctuary. He fears the open horizon, wishing that the college at Chieri was walled in like a tomb. He fears even Dino, because in joining him the boy might give him away. He tries to find peace by separating himself from people, by withdrawing to church and prayer, and by immersing himself in nature. Yet there is no peace because the alienation is within him. Corrado runs not only from the Germans but from his own sorrow and remorse as well. He is nonjudgmental toward everyone except himself. He is the detached observer, who feels guilty for his detachment. He is self-centered; he does not pray for the peace of the world, he says, but for his own peace, and acts in a virtuous manner only in the hope that it will bring him safety. In despair, he regards people as a threat, while believing life to be meaningful only if lived with other people.

Cate, in contrast, is self-possessed, mature, independent, and at peace amid the chaos and danger. She does not expect perfection in herself or others. Although she had been betrayed by Corrado years earlier, she feels no anger toward him, only sorrow for his inability to live fully. Cate refuses to confirm to Corrado that Dino is his son because she realizes that Corrado cannot cope with that threat to his isolation. She encourages him to become friends with Dino, but on his own terms, allowing him to commit himself to the extent that he is capable. She tells Corrado that he is afraid not of the war but of other people, including even Dino. When Cate is captured and imprisoned by the Germans for her connection with the partisans, Corrado’s first reaction is fear, terror so great that he dares not even think of Cate, hoping, he says, that that proves his innocence.

Fonso, a teenage boy, is a happy-go-lucky person, optimistic and joyous without engaging in bravado and without deluding himself about the seriousness and danger of his work with the partisans. He has a lightness of spirit and an ability to commit himself in ways that Corrado can admire but cannot emulate.

Corrado says that he does not love Italy, only Italians. In the minor characters, Pavese introduces Italians of every sort: teachers, students, peasants, priests, workers, Fascists, partisans, and the majority, who are simply trying to survive amid a storm of random violence, people who, like Corrado, flee before the implacable forces that threaten them.




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