Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 163

Because the novel was produced by an avowedly political writer under the tyranny of Benito Mussolini, there has been a strong tendency to read it as an anti-Fascist allegory, as a veiled history of Italy, or even as a poetic, Marxist version of the development of civilization. Certainly, the novel contains some elements of each, but its force is profoundly mythic and its unity depends upon the kind of cohesion one finds in the patterns of poetry. (Vittorini’s fiction bears a basic resemblance to the poetry and aims of his brother-in-law Salvatore Quasimodo.)

The central theme concerns the quest for the “living water” that redeems life. Wine, offered as the living water in the tavern, provides only illusion, but so does Concezione’s experience with the wayfarer, which, significantly, occurred at Acquaviva—literally “living water” in Italian. Finally, Silvestro sees both his father and his mother defeated by life’s dreadful reality, yet the commitment to the illusion has a transcendent meaning.

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