Critical Context

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If the greater sin produces a greater redemption, Sciascia seems to be saying that Sicilian society will go no further than the sin. He is not alone in pointing out this aspect of Sicily, which forms the theme of much of the literature to come from that unhappy island.

In his book Il gattopardo (1958; The Leopard, 1960), Sciascia’s fellow countryman Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa has his main character, Don Fabrizio, decline an offer made to him by an official of the new government to become a senator, by explaining that the Sicilian mentality is conditioned by a death wish, that Sicilians never want to improve because “they think themselves perfect,” that they want to sleep and will always “hate anyone who tries to wake them, even in order to bring them the most wonderful of gifts.”

Sciascia perpetuates this attitude, but in doing so, he has taken the older literary styles and reinterpreted them in a modern idiom. In A Man’s Blessing, he has presented the sociology of a small Sicilian town in the form of a detective novel, making strong use of the local idiom, underlining the closeness of the society, its superstitions, and the prevalence of the community’s fear, solitude, and lack of trust. A Man’s Blessing avoids the direct mention of poverty and deprivation, unlike Le parrocchie di Regalpetra (1956; Salt in the Wound, 1969). His characters are well-placed members of society; nevertheless, they are captives of the island’s misery and backwardness.

Similarly, the Mafia, although not central to the book’s theme, as it is in Il giorno della civetta (1961; Mafia Vendetta, 1963), is present as a state of mind, a synonym for corruption and indifference, and an example of the dead hand of the past controlling the future. Consequently, one mafioso—Rosello—is sufficient to terrorize an entire town.

Benito Mussolini’s prefect, Mori, who waged relentless war against the Mafia during the Fascist period, admitted that with a few battalions of Blackshirts he had driven the Mafia underground, but that this effort was not enough to eradicate its influence: “How can you stamp out what’s in a peoples blood?” In trying to explain what is in his people’s blood, Sciascia has been considered a spokesman for those who, unlike his characters, do not keep silent when they know the truth.

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