The Moon and the Bonfires

by Cesare Pavese

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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509


Anguilla is the narrator in this work and has the sense that he is metaphorically homeless, drifting from place to place with nothing tangible to define him. Born an illegitimate child, he grew up excluded from family intimacies, working for a local land owner and observing the youth of the man’s three daughters. He spent some time in America but remembers only snatches of this chapter in his life. His relationship with a failed actor named Rosanne is the only tangible lesson he learns from this period of his life. His return to his native village in order to find his identity is a classic heroic trope, yet he cannot be said to find it. What he does find is clarity, provided by Nuto, one of the only stable entities in his life, as to the fate of the women he grew up with, and a strained friendship with the lonely boy Cinto.


Cinto has a sharp mind, yet the violent madness of his father, which has resulted in the boy losing the rest of his family, has left him emotionally fragile. He is drawn to the narrator because he shares an understanding of life as a melancholy and meaningless experience, and also because he is fascinated by the man’s having experienced the “new world” constituted by America.


Nuto is what the narrator wishes he could be. Quiet yet confident, realistic in his view of life, yet not entirely disillusioned by it, he provides the narrator with some of the answers he needs, if not with a resolution to his sense of aimlessness.


The oldest of the three sisters recalled by the narrator, Irene is dignified and mild-mannered, though when it comes to the affections of men, she can be possessive and hostile toward her younger sisters. She dedicated herself, as a young woman, to obtaining feminine accomplishments such as the ability to play piano and does everything, in short, that society asks of her as a woman. She marries a man for whom she feels no love and suffers a drawn-out abusive relationship in silence.


The second-oldest of the three sisters is full of energy and is keen to embrace modernity, as demonstrated by her riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend. She is not afraid of transgressing against the codes of behavior ascribed to her as a woman and has several love affairs before finally becoming pregnant and attempting an abortion, which goes wrong and results in her early death.


Though in her early years Santina was mild and saintly in disposition, she grew wild and impetuous with age. When the war came, she fluctuated in her loyalties, first committing to the fascist cause before joining the partisans and then returning to the fascist cause just as the war was coming to an end. Captured by the Partisans, she is executed, the event with which the book ends. The partisan with whom she was in love spares her body from humiliation by commanding that it be burned on a bonfire.

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