Characters Discussed

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Giovanni Drogo

Giovanni Drogo (jee-oh-VAHN-nee DROH -goh), a newly commissioned officer posted to Fort Bastiani. Very young when he is first sent to Fort Bastiani, Drogo is sad at leaving the exciting life of the town for the isolated and gloomy fort. Perhaps because of his melancholy and...

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Giovanni Drogo

Giovanni Drogo (jee-oh-VAHN-nee DROH-goh), a newly commissioned officer posted to Fort Bastiani. Very young when he is first sent to Fort Bastiani, Drogo is sad at leaving the exciting life of the town for the isolated and gloomy fort. Perhaps because of his melancholy and introspective nature, Drogo is self-conscious about every gesture that he makes. As his time at the fort stretches on and on, Drogo loses all contact with the world outside. Like Captain Ortiz, Drogo allows his life to be spent in hope, waiting in vain for the glorious war that seems never to arrive. When it finally does, Drogo is sent away from the fort before the action starts because he is ill. Even though Drogo (now a major) is second in command, he is powerless to prevent his commanding officer, Simeoni, from ignoring his pleas.

Francesco Vescovi

Francesco Vescovi (frahn-CHEHS-koh vehs-KOH-vee), a childhood friend of Drogo. Vescovi has chosen the opposite path to Drogo. Drogo has become an officer; Vescovi has stayed in the “easy elegant life” in town, getting fatter as the years go by, in marked contrast to Drogo and the boniness of his frame by the end of the novel. It is Francesco’s sister Maria to whom Drogo is unofficially engaged. As the years pass, Drogo drifts apart from both Francesco and Maria.

Captain Ortiz

Captain Ortiz (OHR-teez), a soldier (later a lieutenant colonel) whom Drogo meets on his first trip to the fort. A man of about forty when he first appears in the novel, Ortiz has a “thin, aristocratic face.” He stays at Fort Bastiani his entire career, waiting for war and leaving only when he is forced to retire because of his age.

Angustina

Angustina (AHN-gews-TEE-nah), a lieutenant who is Drogo’s friend. Angustina is a pale, sickly man whose pride and arrogance are seen as positive reflections of his strength of character. Although he is described as having a “usual expression of detachment and boredom,” Angustina differs from Drogo in that he stays at Fort Bastiani out of pride, rather than because staying is a habit that has become impossible to break. Angustina dies a heroic death, which inspires Drogo when it is his turn to die.

Simeoni

Simeoni (see-meh-OH-nee), another lieutenant at Fort Bastiani. It is Simeoni who first spots the approaching invaders building their road. He relinquishes his telescope and theories easily, however, when they threaten his career. Although he professes to be Drogo’s friend, Simeoni sends Drogo away just when it looks as if the long-awaited war will become a reality and justify Drogo’s thirty-year wait.

The Characters

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Critics have tried to identify Giovanni Drogo, the principal character of The Tartar Steppe, with the writer himself. Drogo, however, is far from being an autobiographical portrait of Dino Buzzati. What Drogo does reflect, as Buzzati has explained, is the author’s sense of the ineluctable passage of time,as day followed day, while he worked the night shift as editor of the Corriere della sera. Swamped in monotony, Buzzati wondered if all of his youth, all of his life, would waste away, as had those of other, older men, whom he watched working on to oblivion. This experience is transposed, in The Tartar Steppe, into a military setting because it seemed to him that in such a setting the story would “acquire the force of allegory referring to all mankind.” Moreover, military life corresponded to his nature, insofar as it provided security to the individual, even of weak character, as opposed to the feeling of anxious waiting and anticipating the worst.

Although Buzzati himself admitted that he lacked the ability to create characters, Giovanni Drogo and some of the other officers closely associated with him achieve a real presence. Nothing is known about Drogo’s appearance, only that he is not handsome, and that, old and ill, he is even thinner than he was formerly. Giovanni Drogo is not a completely individualized psychological entity—his preoccupations with the passage of time and wasted youth, the endless wait for the enemy and longing for military glory, are shared by, and reflected in, other characters—but he is recognizably human, not merely a type. He is not strictly speaking a hero, nor is he the conventional antihero, but he is the one on whom the author’s spotlight is focused. The reader can understand and share his anxieties, his solitude, his fears and disappointments, without feeling the lack of other qualities which might have given him greater depth of character. While his history merges into that of the general life of the fortress, it is not effaced by it, and he still remains the center of the reader’s interest.

Several of the characters are not described at all and some are sketched in very lightly in one or two details. Angostina, aristocratic, with a casual elegance, is pale, has a small mustache, is delicate of constitution, with a habitual air of detachment as though he were there by accident and took no interest in his surroundings. After two years of service, when he has a choice, he refuses to leave the fortress and Drogo interprets this as a gesture of proper pride. By contrast, Drogo’s permanence at the fortress will not be a positive gesture, but a series of negative gestures, of succeeding refusals, of “not yet,” until it is too late and he is unable to tear himself away. Angostina’s death, also, is opposed to Drogo’s in its overtly heroic quality in the face of the “enemy” above him on the mountain ledge. Angostina provides, above all in the novel, a series of positive, correct gestures in contrast to the torpor, and the refusal or inability to act, of some of the other characters.

As well as the characters who are caught up in the endlessness of life at the fortress and who move along in predestined stages—lieutenant, captain, commander, retirement—in endless cycles, there are those who can and do choose to break away: Lagorio, Morel, and others. They are minor characters, whose departure merely serves to emphasize the weight of the chains which hold those who remain.

More vague still are the characters in the city: Drogo’s mother, his friend Maria, Francesco Vescovi, and other friends who are left unnamed. They pinpoint the passage of time in the city, with the changes this passage brings, against the curious immutability, or at least apparent immutability, of the fortress. In the fortress, individuals grow old and disappear, but the pattern remains. Young Lieutenant Drogo’s meeting with the older Captain Ortiz exactly mirrors the older Drogo’s meeting with the newly appointed Lieutenant Moro: In fact, nothing has changed.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 124

Atchity, Kenneth John. “Time in Two Novels of Dino Buzzati,” in Italica. LV, no. 1 (1978), pp. 3-19.

Barberi Squarotti, Giorgio. “La fortezza e la forma: Il deserto dei Tartari,” in Dino Buzzati, 1982. Edited by Alvise Fontanella.

Geerts, Walter. “Forma, spazio, visione: alcune osservazioni sul Deserto dei Tartari,” in Dino Buzzati, 1982. Edited by Alvise Fontanella.

Livi, Francois. Le Desert des Tartares: Dino Buzzati, 1973.

Mignone, Mario B. Anormalita e angoscia nella narrativa di Dino Buzzati, 1981.

Rawson, J. “Dino Buzzati,” in Writers and Society in Contemporary Italy, 1984. Edited by Michael Caesar and Peter Hainsworth.

Schettino, F. “The Dream-like Technique in Il deserto dei Tartari:The Reader’s Digest and the Critic’s Nightmare,” in The Anxious Subject, 1983. Edited by Moshe Lazar.

Veronese-Arslan, Antonia. Invito alla lettura di Buzzati, 1974.

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