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 and Italy’s Past

Ignazio Silone’s novel Bread and Wine, is an honest work about the totalitarian regime’s in Italy. It follows the character of Pietro Spina, a communist party leader who has returned from hiding to revolutionize the peasant population. In the pages, Silone writes a fascinating story about several different populations in both North and South Italy and how the are reacting to the Fascist regime and living their lives.

A major theme of the Fascist movement is the rebirth of Italy’s greatness. Mussolini desired to bring Italy back to it’s glory days of the Roman empire. The Fascist Manifesto by Mussolini himself states that expansion and war are the most fundamental and important ways to progress. Silone does a great job of portraying this in Bread and Wine. On page 195 in Zabaglione’s speech, he addressed the people: “descendants of eternal Rome…..who carried civilization to the Mediterranean and to Africa.” Here, it is understood the fascism glorifies the past as a means to the future. The people are perhaps mobilized with the promise of greatness. There also seems to be strong themes of nationalism, especially in regards to their imperialist claims.

Why did the Fascists want to return back to the greatness of ancient Rome, instead of forging their own path to greatness?


“…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?