Places: A Bell for Adano

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1944

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1943

Places DiscussedAdano

Adano Bell for Adano, A (AH-dah-no). Fictional town on the southern coast of Sicily, based on the island’s real town of Licata, which was one of the initial landing points of the Allied Occupation of Italy in July, 1943. The fictional town physically mirrors the actual town as a seat of shipping and the sulfur industry, as a fishing port, and even in some of its place names. The town halls of both Adano and Licata are located in squares called “Piazza Progresso,” and the principal churches of both towns are called Church of Sant’Angelo. The novel takes its name from an incident that actually occurred after Italy’s Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, had the real town’s seven-hundred-year-old bell melted down so its metal could be used to make munitions. John Hersey’s fictional military governor, Major Victor Joppolo, is based on the actual American military governor of Licata during the American occupation.

A typical commercial port for its time and place, Adano has a population of about forty thousand people. It is large enough to contain thirteen churches and social strata ranging from rich industrialists and politicians, both honest and corrupt, to shopkeepers, poor working people, cart-drivers, and fishermen. However, it is small enough for every resident to know everyone’s loyalties, strengths, and weaknesses. The fictional town is at the mouth of the River Rosso, surrounded by hills and rocky promontories in an arid part of Sicily and depends on water carts to carry in drinking water–a fact upon which the plot of the novel revolves.

Palazzo di Citta

Palazzo di Citta. Adano’s city hall, where much of the important action takes place, especially in Major Joppolo’s office. Located on Adano’s main square, the Piazza Progresso, the building and Joppolo’s office are described in detail in the first chapter of the book. The building both projects a look of authority and represents real authority throughout the novel. Major Joppolo’s office is also described in detail, from its oversized furniture to its painting of the incident of the Sicilian Vespers on the wall. The Palazzo is an old stone building, with a second-floor balcony that is the location of many public speeches and a clock tower with a baroque frame designed to hold a bell. However, there is no bell, and the occupied town needs a new bell as much as it needs food and fair government.

As the headquarters of Major Joppolo, the Palazzo is the scene of the townspeople’s petitions and Joppolo’s just decisions. When Joppolo announces that he will countermand an unjust order of a general, a cartman exclaims that “there has never been a thing like this–that the poor should come to the Palazzo di Citta, and that their request should be granted.” On the other hand, Tomasino, the head of the fishermen, avoids the Palazzo precisely because it represents authority to him, and he hates all authority.

Albergo dei Pescatori

Albergo dei Pescatori. Restaurant with the best food in Adano. Major Joppolo and Captain Purvis of the military police regularly eat eggplant and pasta lunches together at this restaurant. In the days before the war stopped the fishing, the Albergo specialized in fish for fishermen, and when the fishing boats are able to go out again, there are huge crowds celebrating at the restaurant. A lunch at the Albergo is the setting of the tale of the death of Giorgio, an Italian soldier and prisoner of war who had been the lover of Tina, daughter of the fisherman Tomasino and sympathetic female friend of Major Joppolo.

Villa Rossa

Villa Rossa. Quattrocchi’s grand town house, one of the finest in Adano and a symbol of Italian culture that is filled with beautiful antiques. A number of American engineers and military police are billeted in the villa. After several soldiers get drunk and smash valuable objects, Joppolo demands that they care for the house as if each object belonged to their own mothers, thus insisting on respect for the Italian people and their culture. Later the house is the site of the farewell party in honor of Major Joppolo.

BibliographyBradbury, Malcolm. The Modern American Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. A helpful summary of twentieth century American fiction, which places A Bell for Adano in the mainstream of conventional realism and naturalism.Gemme, Francis. John Hersey’s “A Bell for Adano,” “Hiroshima,” and Other Works: A Critical Commentary. New York: Monarch Press, 1966. A brief survey for beginning students. Good cursory treatment of Hersey’s works and an overview of the initial reception of his novels.Huse, Nancy Lyman. John Hersey and James Agee: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978. Extremely helpful compilation of materials for research. Includes reviews from the time of initial publication.Sanders, David. John Hersey. New Haven, Conn.: College and University Press, 1967. Excellent overview of Hersey and his work; traces significant themes and beliefs. Good treatment of Hersey’s life, with critical attention to his literary output.Sanders, David. John Hersey Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A competent survey of Her-sey’s life and works, updating the previous information on the critical estimate of Hersey and of A Bell for Adano. Also includes bibliography.
Categories: Places