The Moon and the Bonfires

by Cesare Pavese

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Themes

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Poverty Can Trap People in a Cycle of Misery

The narrator and protagonist comes from an impoverished background. An orphaned child adopted by poor farmers in order to collect a monthly sum, Anguilla grows up doing hard labor with scarce food, eventually finding his way to La Mora, a vineyard farm owned by the wealthy Sor Matteo. While the master is generally kind, he and his daughters still look down on people like Anguilla and his friends. Constantly taunted and mocked for being a “bastard,” Anguilla realizes that poverty traps people in a cycle of abject misery as long as they are mentally resigned to their fate. Nuto frequently remarks how the impoverished in the villages are no better after the war, and their lives of ignoble desperation sadden him because they underscore the fundamental inequalities in society. Anguilla believes that a ticket out of poverty—such as the one he thinks he is providing for Cinto—is the only way to regain one’s dignity, but this belief is challenged by Nuto’s view that the poverty itself is the root of society’s problems.

The Path to Maturity

The many flashbacks Anguilla provides of his past highlight the idea of maturity. In his youth, Anguilla desperately wanted to be recognized as worthy, causing him to pine after unattainable women, like Sor Matteo’s daughters. Anguilla recalls the foolish and wasteful habits from his youth, now realizing how naive and narrow-minded he had been. Nuto reminds him of this perspective, since he, too, has matured and changed over the past twenty years. Anguilla comes of age not in the villages of the Belbo, but after he finally returns to them as a middle-aged man. Anguilla made foolish choices in America as well until he finally realized that he did not belong there, either.

Searching for a Sense of Belonging

Anguilla always searches for a sense of belonging and home. Because he never knew his birth parents, Anguilla felt somewhat out of place growing up. His peers teased him for his parentage, and he was forced to leave the care of his adoptive parents after Virgilia died and Paputo had to move to a faraway farm. As a result, Anguilla searches for some guiding figure to show him the proper way in life, yet he is found wanting. While Nuto teaches Anguilla about life, Anguilla does not want to follow the musician’s path that Nuto has chosen. Because of this, Anguilla forges his own path, eventually leading to America. Yet Anguilla explains that he felt just as out of place in America as when he was at home, suggesting that belonging has little to do with one’s surroundings at all. Instead, belonging is an internal peace that one must achieve irrespective of the location in which one lives, something that Anguilla doesn’t learn until he has come home to visit.

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