Author: Elio Vittorini
First published: Le donne di Messina, 1949; revised, 1964 (English translation, 1973)
Locale: A village in Italy and various railroad cars
Plot: Social realism
Time: 1945–1946; epilogue, 1949
The narrator, who is never named. His father worked for the railroad company, but this information is the only distinctive point about the narrator. He is an ordinary Italian who mourns for the past and discusses the changes wrought by the Fascist regime and World War II.
Uncle Agrippa, Siracusa's wandering father, an older man who is retired from the railroad company. For years, he has traveled throughout Italy, searching for his daughter. After many years of journeying, however, the object of his travels is no longer finding Siracusa but what he calls “the reunion”: a perfect dimension in which human beings will understand one another without conflict. In addition, Agrippa's travels underline the subplot of the novel, which can be divided into three themes: the need for knowledge, the role of the individual in society, and the utopian “reunion.”
Ventura, also known as Ugly Mug, a former Fascist officer who lives anonymously in the village. He cannot forget the past, however, even while he is trying to adapt to the present. After Siracusa undergoes her “Teresa” transformation, Ventura is identified merely as “Teresa's husband.”
Siracusa (see-rah-KEW-zah), Ventura's lover and Uncle Agrippa's daughter. She ran away during the war to search for a better world. Siracusa knows about Ventura's past and has forgiven him. With him, she undergoes a symbolic metamorphosis, acquiring a new identity as Teresa.
Carlo the Bald, a former Fascist who is now working for the Italian government and who represents the new law. Carlo the Bald forces the addressing of the postwar moral dilemma regarding the punishment of former Fascists. His softer side is revealed when he listens sympathetically to Uncle Agrippa's tale of his search for his missing daughter while the two men are on a train together.