Women of Messina focuses on the social and moral aspects of life in Italy immediately after World War II. Elio Vittorini explores how his physically ravaged and spiritually defeated homeland recovers from the horrible experiences of war. An anonymous village becomes the focal point of the narrative, with a sizable subplot involving the train travels of Uncle Agrippa.
The commune-like village of war refugees and their families creates itself quite by accident. When a truck carrying a large group of refugees stalls and cannot be restarted, a member of the group disembarks and decides to settle in a destroyed village which he can see in the distance. Weary of traveling without a set destination, several other refugees join the first man, called Thorn. Among the first to leave the truck is Thorn’s best friend, Whistle. Whistle will eventually be considered the unofficial mayor of the small village because of his ability to see all sides of an argument and to sum up matters well.
While the village is gradually being made inhabitable, the narrative switches focus to Uncle Agrippa’s travels. Agrippa converses with everyone who appears friendly on the trains and tells them the story of his lost daughter, his only child. This daughter, Siracusa, left home during the war, supposedly to seek adventure, or at least a sense of community that her home lacked. Agrippa, a widower, carries pictures of his daughter to aid in finding her, but they are mostly from her childhood and she is now a grown woman. The narrator emphasizes that Agrippa searches in a haphazard and often useless manner for Siracusa; the elderly man is actually enjoying his travels through Italy and the sense of purpose his search gives him.
Also on a search is Carlo the Bald, whom Uncle Agrippa knows from the train routes. Carlo, a former Fascist, works for the new Italian republican government, reporting unlawful activities. His interest focuses on the unnamed village and its inhabitants, who...
(The entire section is 815 words.)