Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Pavese translated many American literary works into Italian and wrote extensively on the literature of Walt Whitman, Sherwood Anderson, and others. Captivated by the vigor of the American language, especially its slang and its connection with the life of the people, he wanted to use it as a base to reinvigorate Italian literary language and tried to connect the language of his writings with the everyday life of the Italians.

At the time of his death in 1950, Pavese had achieved recognition as one of the foremost Italian, and European, literary figures. His cool and detached style, and his exploration of alienation and despair fit the existential currents sweeping postwar Europe. The House on the Hill was, perhaps, his most fully realized work.

Pavese placed The House on the Hill in the category of “symbolic realism.” His style, elliptic and oblique, fits the character of Corrado, an observer of life who is captivated, and perhaps trapped, by the ambiguity of his makeup and historical situation. Pavese’s allusive language enhances and reinforces the ambience of ambiguity. Corrado is not an omniscient narrator who knows and tells all, but one who hints at certain truths while at the same time offering counter suggestions and ambiguities. Pavese uses dialogue to give flashes of insight into characters and situations, but these exchanges seldom exceed a few sentences; conversations are terse and enigmatic.

Pavese’s quiet, objective tone reinforces the sense of estrangement emanating from Corrado, as he calmly and clearly describes the horrors and chaos about him. Pavese’s style is earthy, but light and delicate rather than blunt and heavy. One senses Corrado’s rootedness in the forests and wild lands of the Piedmontese hills and in the streets and suburbs of Turin, yet he remains the detached observer, turning nature, institutions, people, and even his own son, into symbols. He intellectualizes his experiences and cannot commit himself to one mode of existence or another.