The Demise of Purity

Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone is a historical novel that follows the journey of Pietro Spina, a young communist revolutionary. Pietro Spina returns to Italy from exile and is being hunted by police, so he takes on the identity of Don Paolo Spada, a priest, to avoid capture. It is clear that this novel’s goal is to denounce fascism and praise communism, while portraying a sympathy for peasants and landowners.

Cristina, Don Paolo’s love interest, is the character that intrigued me the most. In this novel it was obvious to me that Cristina was the symbol of purity. She was the glue that held her family together; she put off her dreams of becoming a nun to take care of her family and their home. In chapter 9, Don Paolo goes to Cristina’s house to meet her family and father, Don Pasquale. There, Cristina, Don Pasquale, and Don Paolo talk about Cristina’s youth. Don Pasquale tells Don Paolo that when Cristina was a baby he left her in the pram, and a wolf came. However, the wolf didn’t eat Cristina, which is strange because she would have been easy prey (98). Contrasting with Cristina’s experience in childhood, at the very end of the novel, Cristina dashes to the mountain to look for Don Paolo, who she now knows to be Pietro Spina. Through the snow she desperately calls out for him, looking for Pietro. Dishearteningly, when she calls out for Pietro, only the howl of wolves is returned.  She knows that they are coming to kill her. She makes a cross and sinks to her knees knowing her death is imminent (270). To me, this contrast symbolized that in a world such as Facist Italy, purity cannot survive. Eventually, the “wolf” will “eat you”, no matter how long you have escaped it before.

Is this symbol an over-dramatization of a socialst’s view of a fascist government?

Independent thought versus party politics in Bread and Wine

The novel, Bread and Wine, by Ignazio Silone follows the political battle of fighting off fascism and keeping Communism the political party in Italy. The novel follows the life of Pietro Spina, a communist party leader, who returns to Italy after being “abroad” for many years. He returns to Italy to transform the Italians. The idea of independent thought versus party politics was a reoccurring theme in this section. Much of Italy was adapting and accepting the new political movement of fascism. Pietro was in the communist party and tried to spread the word. Pietro had very independent views from party politics. This is apparent in chapter 17, where Pietro and Battipaglia get into an argument. Battipaglia, the party boss is frustrated with Pietro when he accuses him of always being on the side of the majority and conforming to other people’s view and not having his own independent view. Battipaglia is an example of someone who is constantly following his party’s view and not his own independent view, whereas Pietro sets himself aside from the rest of his community. Pietro in the end is exiled from Italy, to stand against fascism and fight from a far.

Why did other members of the community not make their own view more apparent? Did the political movements at the time input fear into others if they didn’t conform? Why was conformity so important at a time in Italy where it was growing and finally becoming stronger?

Free Will in Fascist Italy

When Silone moves Bread and Wine into the city of Rome, the reader begins to understand the tensions between city and countryside life. On page 179, Silone writes about how Free Will, or the fear of lacking it, drives men to act against oppression. He describes that fear as the true reason for Pietro’s rebellion against the fascist state, promoting the freedom of man as a communist. This is an interesting form of motivation for a character that is suppose to be seen as a semi-autobiographical work. In the context of Italian history, a region which for the past 2,000 years had limited forms of free will, (between the establishment of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church or the city states of the Renaissance) there is very limited free will. Every simple decision on paper in Italy has a thousand different strings attached to choosing the outcome. Nothing is simple in this country, even in the time of the Fascist state, even though it is an improvement over previous regimes.

Pietro’s motivation to promote communism in order to regain free will is another interesting thought. Because Pietro had lived abroad, he understood the need to break with the USSR’s Stalinism and promote true communism. However, in order to have free will within a truly communist society, wouldn’t one have to sacrifice his “rights” for the greater good of the state? These internal conflicts within the characters of Bread and Wine add another dimension to Silone’s story of a simple man, attempting to free his country from the oppression of a dictator.

“Bread and Wine”

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.

Women in Italian Society

When attempting to create a new political party, and from that party, a successful party government, the ideology cannot be too extreme, relative to the beliefs and the ideas of the populace. For example, the degree of Nazi anti-Semitic polices seems extreme to outsiders, but general German distrust and distain for Jews allowed the Nazis to implement these policies. In his novel, Bread and Wine, Ignazio Silone depicts the role of women in Italian society, clarifying how and why extremely masculine movements developed in early 20th century Italy.

In “The Futurist Manifesto,” in 1909, FT Marinetti states that the movement seeks to glorify war, militarism, patriotism, destruction, and contempt for women. This attitude towards women is seen again in Fascist policies that attempted to keep women in traditional roles. Mussolini himself declares in “What is Fascism” that war is the ultimate test of a nation. War excludes women, for the most part, therefore, women are not nearly as important to the nation as men. In Bread and Wine, the main character, Don Paolo, says to a prospective nun, “ ‘You would have the other possibility that life offers most women…You could become a good wife and mother of a family’ ”(Silone 101). Women had two choices in life: the Church or a family. These were the places for women in society. And if a woman were to stray from these honorable paths, like Bianchina, and, for example, become pregnant out of wedlock, she dishonors herself and her family. This social view is reflected in Italian laws that forbid abortions.

In Fascist Italy, the role of women was clear and traditional. Don Paolo even feels that he must “get away from the tedious female atmosphere by which he was surrounded”(Silone 112). This expresses men’s distain toward women, as well as the fear of appearing too feminine, and possibly homosexual, like Gabriele in Ettore Scola’s A Special Day.

How and why did masculine movements developed in early 20th century Italy? Was it the fear of the rising status of women or the fear of the loss of masculinity? Was it both? Was it neither? Why?

“Bread and Wine” by Ignazio Silone

Bread and Wine is a novel written by Italian author Ignazio Silone in 1935. It primarily deals with the betrayal of the Catholic Church in it’s agreement with Fascism, and the underground communist revolutionary movement in Italy at the time. The first half of the book follows the life of a recently returned socialist opponent of the regime, named Pietro Spina, but disguised as Don Paolo Spada. Spada is a priest and is sent to live in a small rural village, in order to regain his health. While in the village, he faces an internal battle between his adolescent religious feelings which return, and his current socialist revolutionary stance.

An interesting theme that runs throughout the text is the depiction of the Church’s persecution of those holy men who do not follow the party line. These men, most specifically portrayed by Don Benedetto, Spina’s childhood teacher and mentor, are shown to be dishonored by the official church but accepted by the peasants. In the scene where Spada is talking to Don Pasquale Colamartini, richest man in the small village, Colamartini states that Benedetto advised his daughter to not join the church, advice that was contradictory to the local pastor’s. While Colamartini does not wish to force his daughter to choose a path, he implies his agreement with Benedetto, who is not in favor with the Church, when he states that “there is no doubt that there have been very few saints [such as Benedetto] who have not been suspected and persecuted by the Church” (p.99).

This statement raises the interesting question on the beliefs of the Church on a rural level. While the Vatican’s deal with Fascism may have been criticized at the highest level, it is questionable whether rural societies, especially in Southern Italy, had developed to the extent that they would consider questions of faith. Rural societies in Europe have traditionally been depicted to have believe the words of the local pastor to be the truth of the gospel, especially since Catholic mass was usually conducted in Latin, which was not a common language. While this image had drastically changed by the early part of the 20th century, it must be remembered that Southern Italy was, and still is, one of the least developed regions in Western Europe. In conclusion, my query is regarding not only the ability of South Italian peasants ability to question and understand the Church’s compromise, but also their desire to question such a development in relation to their own lives. The latter is especially confusing as it must be acknowledged that Silone himself grew up in rural conditions, but he was also a dedicated communist and might have written with certain biases.

“…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?