Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Vittorini is an author very much concerned with the human condition, especially in its social aspects. His story of the postwar, reconstructed village reflects the story of all human development. The group of refugees forms a commune, not purposefully but naturally, since it is the only step they can take given their circumstances. Vittorini shows that as building progresses, these refugees begin to reclaim more of their individual rights and freedoms. While all slept in partitioned spaces in a half-erect church in the first days, they come to desire privacy and construct separate, distanced houses when the extra supplies are available to them. These individual houses also reinforce the concept of private ownership of goods that gradually reenters village life. During the first winter, farm animals are held in common, but later, when everyone is more prosperous, animals are privately owned. Another of the author’s concerns is the amount of freedom and individuality necessary in communal living. Did individuals break away from the group because the community failed to sustain them spiritually, or did such individualism occur as a healthy, natural outgrowth that would further strengthen the community? Vittorini leaves such questions unanswered in Women of Messina. When the novel closes in 1949, the village remains, but it has lost much of its rural charm. It now has many of the conveniences of the city, which Vittorini seems to consider unnecessary encumbrances. These luxuries weaken the moral and even the physical strength of the villagers. Even the women of Messina have grown soft and fat. Vittorini reinforces the idea that a somewhat harsh life builds moral character and a sense of community in his epilogue aboard the trains in 1949. Only Uncle Agrippa is a friendly, outgoing person; the younger people around him ignore his talk and even snub him. They are caught up in their own world of material goods, especially the students.

Vittorini’s artful writing in Women of Messina exhibits a satisfying range of style. This novel contains his fine lyric intensity in descriptions of landscapes and the movement of the sun. In the section of the book devoted to the dialogues of the villagers, the style becomes crisp and laconic, accurately depicting the peasants’ speech.