Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As Michele ponders his condition, he observes, “Once upon a time, it appeared, men used to know their paths in life from the first to the last step, but now it was not so; now one’s head was in a bag, one was in the dark, one was blind. And yet one still had to go somewhere; but where?” All the characters are groping blindly in a world that has lost what Moravia calls “the traditional scale of values” in the aftermath of World War I. This blindness is perhaps best symbolized by the scene at the beginning of the novel when the electricity fails in Mariagrazia’s house. In the ensuing blackness, Mariagrazia seeks vainly for Leo, who is hiding behind the curtains and flirting with Carla, and Lisa arranges an assignation with Michele.

The entire novel is suffused with gloom and blackness. Much of the action occurs at night, and the rest unfolds under the rainy, gray skies of winter, the season of death. This bleakness also invades the characters’ houses. Mariagrazia’s drawing room is cold and bleak. An arch divides it into two unequal parts, emblematic of the present and the future. Little light shines in the present, where the characters sit, and the other section, the future, offers no change: It “remained plunged in a shadowy blackness in which reflections from mirrors and the long shape of the piano could barely be distinguished.” The dark future merely reflects and repeats the grim present.

Just as the Ardengos’ gloomy...

(The entire section is 522 words.)