Places: Fontamara

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: German edition, 1930; Italian edition, 1933; revised, 1958 (English translation, 1934, 1960)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Abruzzi

*Abruzzi Fontamara (ah-BREWT-see). South-central region of Italy near the eastern coast of the country, along the Adriatic Sea. An area of plains, hills, and mountains, it is the setting for all the volumes in Silone’s Abruzzi Trilogy. It is a poor area of marginal farming and small villages and embraces a traditional way of life. Since Silone’s intention was to write about Italy’s poor during the period before World War II, the Abruzzi proved an appropriate place in which to set his stories of cafoni, or peasant life, since largely it had remained socially, economically, religiously, and politically traditional, a land of estates on which the people eked out a meager living from the unforgiving soil. Most of the peasant tenants lived in one-room hovels with their livestock, who provided a source of warmth during the winters. The Abruzzi was also rather isolated, and since one of the main themes of Fontamara is about the disruption of the local traditions caused by a remote Fascist government in Rome, it proved a congenial setting for Silone’s social realism.

Fontamara

Fontamara. Typical Abruzzi village, containing some fifty dilapidated dwellings grouped around a central piazza with a church, nestled in the hills between the mountains and the Fucino plain. Its people are traditional peasants: poor, superstitious, and isolated. As in the other Abruzzi novels, the locals are depicted as grotesques, although not without compassion for the bleakness of their lives. When the novel opens the community is living much as it has for generations, enduring an endless round of seasonal deprivations brought about by a succession of rulers: Bourbons, Spaniards, Piedmontese, and the Vatican. Because Silone intended his novel to depict the gradual political awakening of the cafoni, it is necessary that he portray his subjects as already impoverished, but accepting their lot. However, by the narrative’s end they are driven by the further extremes of poverty and violence into a recognition of the need to act against their oppressors.

*Lake Fucino

*Lake Fucino (few-CHEE-noh). Having been drained in order to reclaim more arable land for cultivation, the now-dry lake bed provides practically the only work available to the peasants and offers a contrast between the spare agricultural opportunities of Fontamara and the more prosperous life down on the plain. It is this contrast which Silone uses to highlight the distance between the villagers and the wider, outside world from which comes change and finally a liberation of sorts.

*United States

*United States. Because so many southern Italian peasants emigrate to the United States, Silone uses the idea of “America” to indicate a state of economic opportunity, as well as social and political freedom. A favorite phrase used in the novel when one of the locals comes into some money is to describe that person as having “discovered America” in the person’s own part of the world.

*Rome

*Rome. As the capital of Italy and the location of the legal and military power of Mussolini’s Fascist regime, Rome represents the intrusive influence of modern life as experienced by the Fontamaresi, as the Black Shirts bring a new and more violent oppression to the lives of the peasants. Rome also is the place where one of the central characters, Bernardo, has his social consciousness awakened by the communists, who are in opposition to the Fascist state. There he is eventually martyred at the hands of the Fascists, an act that ultimately provides the spark that ignites the resistance of the people of Fontamara.

BibliographyBrown, Robert McAfee. “Ignazio Silone and the Pseudonyms of God.” In The Shapeless God: Essays on Modern Fiction, edited by Harry J. Mooney, Jr., and Thomas F. Staley. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968. A study of Silone’s novels as a quest for a “shapeless God” seen in such forces as socialism, revolution, and brotherly love. Discusses the salient events in the author’s life which influenced Silone’s writing.Caserta, Ernesto G. “The Meaning of Christianity in the Novels of Silone.” Italian Quarterly 16, nos. 62-63 (1972): 19-39. The character of Berardo Viola is studied as an expression of Silone’s ethical and religious search for a solution to the social problems of southern Italian peasants.Hanne, Michael. “Silone’s Fontamara: Polyvalence and Power.” MLN 107 (January, 1992): 132-159. A well-documented study of Fontamara based on Hanne’s premise that the novel is not a historically accurate account of Fascist oppression and peasant resistance in southern Italy, but, rather, a text of universal significance.Lewis, R. W. B. “Ignazio Silone: The Politics of Charity.” In The Picaresque Saint. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1959. A detailed account of the author’s life precedes this study of Fontamara, which is viewed as the first stage in Silone’s “conversion from politics to love.” Includes a discussion of the language, the humor, and the narrative devices used in the novel.Scott, Nathan A. “Ignazio Silone: Novelist of the Revolutionary Sensibility.” In Rehearsals of Decomposure. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1952. Sees Fontamara as the initial statement of major themes developed in Silone’s later novels; these themes include the corruption in the government and the dichotomy between the middle class and the proletariat.
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