“…if men remained loyal to the ideals of their youth?”

In Bread and Wine, author Ignazio Silone recounts the tale of Pietro Spina, an Italian youth whose work as a revolutionary caused him to be exiled from his home by the prevailing Fascist state in the interwar period.  Beginning in media res, the first sixteen chapters of Bread and Wine find Spina having infiltrated his homeland once again several years later, concealing himself with a cosmetic agent that makes him appear much older than his years.  With the reluctant aid of his boyhood friend Nunzio, Spina assumes the false identity “Don Paolo” and returns to his peasant home region, Abruzzi, under the guise of a traveling priest.  While there, however, Spina’s revolutionary spirit cannot help but show through; “Don Paolo” begins to use his incendiary intellect and misappropriated messianic reputation amongst the locals to urge his new community of cafoni to believe in the possibility of what he perceives to be true liberty: freedom from fascist rule.

One of the most prominent themes addressed in these opening chapters is the value of youth.  The varied perceptions of this subject are expressed most pithily in the exchange between Don Paolo and a number of local officials and men of stature in the Abruzzi community in chapter fifteen.  In discussing the desire for a “second revolution,” Don Paolo is assured that such sentiments are expressed only by young people. (Silone, 144, 151)  This Zabaglione attributes to the fact that the youth are “taking theories literally,” saying that “the greatest of evils is when the young start taking seriously what they read in books.” (Silone, 145)  Given his ideals, Don Paolo takes caution in concealing his disagreement, asking only “what would happen if men remained loyal to the ideals of their youth?” (Silone, 146)  Dismissing this scenario as unthinkable, Don Luigi allegorically explains that when in the throes of “poetry,” young people feel the need to eschew the “bread and wine” of their native culture and ideology in order to seek that which exists “at the crossroads of the great highways.” (Silone, 146)  Conversely, it is only when people mature to the phase of “prose” that their thoughts begin to bear any semblance of rationality. (Silone,146)

Do you feel that remaining loyal to the ideals of one’s youth indicates dedication to one’s beliefs or simply close-minded inflexibility?


3 thoughts on ““…if men remained loyal to the ideals of their youth?”

  1. It depends on the nature of those ideas. Pietro remains admirable throughout the story because he, unlike many of his comrades, does not seek to accommodate his sense of honor and morality to a greater ideology. Of course, he acts in the service of communism, an ideal to which he clings until the end. Yet, he refuses to forgive the injustices perpetrated in its name. Unlike his more malleable comrades, Pietro finds himself attracted to communism and the prospect of revolution by instinct, rather than out of any sort of practical (not to say cowardly) calculation. This moral purity sustains him until the very end of the novel, by which time some of his closest friends succumb to compromises in the name of an insidious opportunism; today we might call it pragmatism, but Nietzsche, gifted with a rare lucidity, would refer to such renunciation in the favor of order and security as “passive nihilism”.

  2. I think that remaining loyal to the ideals of one’s youth is simply second nature. What you learn when you’re growing up helps form the person you will be when you’re older. Of course some people, thanks to further education, are able to outgrow what they have learned growing up. However not everyone is able to gain that type of education, and are left with the ideals their parents passed down to them. This is why the Nazi youth groups were crucial; they were training future Nazis. The Nazis knew that if they were able to instill their ideals in the youth, the future of Nazi Germany would be secure.

  3. This is a debate that has spanned millennia. Most educated during the most formative years of life. It is for this reason that many politicians have targeted education as a way to alter the perspectives of a country. This occurred with malicious ideologies, like Nazi Youth Groups, and those that were less malicious, Napoleon’s unification of France. Education is and has been an important method for changing perceptions. Governments and individuals have burned and banned books since their creation in an effort to limit access to certain types of knowledge. This was not unique to the Interwar Period. In this chapter, Silone draws parallels to this moment in history and all other periods of political change.

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