The Time of Indifference

by Alberto Moravia

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Characters Discussed

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Mariagrazia Ardengo

Mariagrazia Ardengo (mah-ree-ah-GRAH-see-ah ahr-DEHN-goh), a silly, neurotic, middle-aged widow. Mariagrazia’s main motivation is to keep her love affair with Leo from expiring. Her jealous scenes, however, drive Leo away, and he begins to focus his interest on Mariagrazia’s daughter, Carla. Ultimately, Mariagrazia is willing to share Leo with Carla as long as he does not abandon her altogether.

Leo Merumeci

Leo Merumeci (LEE-oh mehr-EW-meh-see), Mariagrazia’s forty-two-year-old lover. Leo is a rough and unscrupulous businessman who is trying to appropriate Mariagrazia’s money. His interest in having Carla, even if it means he has to marry her, does not preclude his keeping Mariagrazia as a lover.

Carla Ardengo

Carla Ardengo, Mariagrazia’s twenty-four-year-old daughter. Passive and indifferent, Carla is a true victim of the situation who, at times, longs to escape her dreary existence. She witnesses without any sign of rebellion the various events that are used to manipulate her. Carla marries Leo not out of love but out of a desire for change in her life.

Michele Ardengo

Michele Ardengo, Mariagrazia’s son, a first-year law student. He has visions of liberation from his indifferent existence, but they are doomed by that very indifference. When he realizes that Leo has seduced Carla, Michele believes that he must do something but cannot find any real emotion for the task. As a result, Michele decides to shoot Leo, but his attempt fails miserably because he forgets to load the gun. From the failure of his action, however, Michele acquires an understanding of the value of love and honesty and the importance of family and society. This new awareness does not help him break out of his passive life. He agrees to see Lisa and start an affair with her, but he does so with no real enthusiasm.


Lisa, Leo’s lover before he met Mariagrazia. After losing Leo first to Mariagrazia and then to Carla, Lisa switches her attentions to Michele, whom she seeks to seduce. Lisa also desires change (as does Carla) and passion (as does Michele) in her life. Michele, with his lack of spontaneous emotion, probably will not provide either.

The Characters

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Michele is the first of a number of effete intellectuals appearing in Alberto Moravia’s fiction. He would like to feel passion, to love Lisa and despise Leo, but he cannot. His only response to life is indifference, because he lacks any moral sense. Although he pretends to be angry when he learns that his sister has become Leo’s mistress, he had in fact considered “selling” Carla to him in exchange for an allowance. If Leo had preferred Lisa, Michele was prepared to give her up for the same terms.

Whereas Michele feels nothing, Carla suffers deeply. Seeing her present life as barren, she longs for change and will do anything to effect it. She even agrees to Leo’s proposition and then his proposal, only to realize, too late, that nothing has been altered; she is merely taking her mother’s place.

Lisa, too, hopes for redemption. She thinks that Michele will bring “sunshine, blue sky, freshness, enthusiasm” into her gray world. Given Michele’s character, Lisa is doomed to disappointment: Enthusiasm is hardly one of his attributes. The gap between her imagination and reality is evident when her would-be lover first comes to her apartment. She has been fantasizing about an elaborate seduction, but all that she can say when Michele arrives is, “Well, how goes it?” At the end of the novel her affair with Michele is still inchoate despite Michele’s promise to accept her advances. Even if they do sleep together, her life...

(This entire section contains 394 words.)

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will change no more than Carla’s, since neither Leo nor Michele can offer any realistic hope of salvation.

Michele, Carla, and Lisa would like to change their situation but cannot. Mariagrazia and Leo, on the other hand, want everything to stay the same. The former dreads poverty and the loss of social position so much that she consents to her daughter’s marriage to her own former lover, a man who claims to regard Carla as his “almost daughter.” Leo, too, wants to retain his comforts, including the pleasant Ardengo villa and sex with Carla. If he must sacrifice nominal bachelorhood to keep these, he will, but he tells himself at the end of the novel, “Even when you’re married, you’ll be the same old Leo.” He will still chase any woman he desires and will remain a frequent guest of Mariagrazia.


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Kibler, Louis. “Imagery as Expression: Moravia’s Gli indifferenti,” in Italica. XLIX (1972), pp. 315-334.

Pedroni, Peter N. “Playing at Living: Form and Content in Moravia’s Gli indifferenti,” in Perspectives on Contemporary Literature. VI (1980), pp. 104-109.

Radcliff-Umstead, Douglas. “Moravia’s Indifferent Puppets,” in Symposium. XXIV (1970), pp. 44-54.

Ross, Joan, and Donald Freed. The Existentialism of Alberto Moravia, 1972.




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