Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772
Fortunato Falcone is Mateo’s ten-year-old son. His father regards him as ‘‘the hope of the family.’’ The name Fortunato, meaning ‘‘the fortunate one,’’ reflects his father’s pride. Before the wounded Gianetto appears at the family home, Fortunato had been daydreaming about the meal that he is to eat with his wealthy uncle in Corte in a few days. Fortunato shows little human feeling towards the hunted Gianetto and agrees to hide him only when bribed with a piece of silver. When Tiodoro offers him a watch in exchange for information about Gianneto, Fortunato eyes it ‘‘just as a cat does when a whole chicken is offered to it’’ and gives away the bandit’s hiding place. On the other hand, once he has divulged Gianetto’s hiding place, Fortunato returns the silver.
Giuseppa is the wife of Mateo Falcone and the mother of Fortunato. Merimee discloses few details about her. She has borne four children to Mateo, whom she married after a rival had been shot dead, presumably by Mateo himself. She is thus implicated in the Corsican cycle of violence. She begs for mercy for Fortunato when Mateo takes the boy to the mountains to kill him and prays to the Virgin Mary when her husband refuses.
Mateo Falcone, aged fifty when the narrator knew him, was ‘‘a comparatively rich man for that country—Corsica—where he lived.’’ Falcone owns a large, one-room house of the peasant type halfway between the nearest town (Corte) and the wild maquis, or cane-fields, where outlaws take refuge from the law. He excels in the Corsican art of shooting; his acquaintances consider him an excellent marksman. The narrator implies that Falcone married his wife, Giuseppa, after dispatching his rival with a single rifle shot from long distance. The three daughters that Giuseppa bore ‘‘enraged him.’’ At last she bears a son, which pleases him.
Those in the region of Porto-Vecchio, in which Falcone lives, consider him either a ‘‘a good friend’’ or ‘‘a dangerous enemy.’’ Admired and feared, ‘‘he lived at peace in the district.’’ Readers understand Falcone as a man entirely devoted to the Corsican code of vendetta, or blood-feud. Protecting family and friends is a priority; the family bond transcends any abstract idea of law. Falcone, having married off his girls, knows that he ‘‘could count in case of need on the daggers and rifles of his sons-in-law.’’ The wounded bandit who seeks asylum in Falcone’s house when he is absent tells Falcone’s reluctant son, Fortunato, that his father will say that the son ‘‘did right’’ in hiding him from the pursuing soldiers.
Falcone adheres to the concept of machismo. His wife and children are hardly more than chattel. His wife, for example, must carry burdens from the field, ‘‘for it is considered undignified for a man to carry any other burden but his weapon.’’ After Falcone kills his son, he goes looking for a spade ‘‘without throwing a single glance back at the body.’’
Tiodoro Gamba is an adjutant (an officer) of the local militia and, as such, a representative of the law. He regards himself as a relation of Mateo, as indicated by his use of the term ‘‘cousin’’ in addressing Fortunato. Tiodoro is wary of Mateo and, out of fear of angering him, does not beat Fortunato to get information, as he contemplates doing at one point during the interrogation. Tiodoro demonstrates psychological acuity when he determines to bribe rather than coerce Fortunato; he can understand Fortunato better than Fortunato can understand Tiodoro. He also approaches Mateo with calculated circumspection because he knows Mateo to be volatile and violent. Tiodoro differs from Mateo and all the other characters in that he no longer belongs to the vendetta world of the mountains. Like Gianetto Sanpiero, however, Gamba carries out his duty without letting personal feelings enter into it. He metes out decent treatment to the wounded captive. He also seems remarkably unconcerned over the death of one of his men in the pursuit: ‘‘That is not of great consequence, for the dead man was only a Frenchman.’’
Gianetto Sanpiero is a fugitive from the law. One of his crimes is that he stole a milch-goat from the Falcones. Gianetto has apparently been in town to buy powder for his rifle so that he could protect himself and hunt game where he has been hiding. Merimee gives him dignity; he shows no personal animosity towards the soldiers who pursue and capture him. He shows understandable spite towards Fortunato after the boy reveals his hiding place to the soldiers.