The first half of Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine follows Pietro Spina, an Italian socialist revolutionary who has returned to Italy after having been exiled. In order to evade arrest, he disguises himself Don Paolo Spada, a priest who has been sent to live in a rural village in Southern Italy to regain his health. This disguise is ironic, as Spina has abandoned the religious fervor he had in his adolescence. Silone uses this plot line to explore the effects of fascism on Catholics and uneducated peasants.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this section of the novel for me is the villagers’ fixation on the greatness of the past. In one scene, Cristina Colamartini is explaining why her family did not allow her brother, Alberto to marry Bianchina. She says that “My grandmother and father would consider it not only a disgrace to themselves, but to their forefathers” (Silone 102). The Colamartinis hold little respect within the village, and are more concerned with returning honor to their family than their son’s happiness. It is also revealed that Cristina’s aunt never married because her mother refused to allow her a dowry, and didn’t want to create dishonor by not having one. The Colamartini’s obsession with returning to a former glory after years of poverty and shame mirrors fascist Italy’s fixation on returning to the glory of the Roman Empire.
In his definition of Fascism, Mussolini writes that the Italy is “…rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude.” This sense of a rebirth is also captured in Bread and Wine. Many illusions are made throughout the novel to a devastating earthquake which left the villages of Southern Italy in a state of death and destruction. The area is shown to still be in a state of rebuilding, and an allusion is even made to a new section of a town built after the earthquake, in which the streets “…recorded glorious dates in the history of the government party” (Silone 140). In this case, there is both rebuilding from the earthquake and a rebuilding of Italy into a respected yet feared nation.