After the war of Spain and the crisis of the society of that years, Vittorini understood the essence of Fascism, as the attack of the novel shows:
I was, that winter, prey of abstract furies. I won't say what, I won't say what, not of this I started to tell. But it is necessary to say that they where abstract, not heroic, not alive; furies, somehow, for the lost human kind... I saw posters of ringing newspapers and I bent the head; I saw friends, for a hour, two hours and I was with them without saying a word, I bent the head; and I had a girl or wife who waited for me but even with her I said a word, also with her I bent the head. Meanwhile it rained and the days and the months passed, and I had the broken shoes, the water that entered in the shoes, and there wasnt anything else but this: rain, massacres on the posters of the newspapers and water in my broken shoes, mute friends, the life in me as a deaf dream and not hope, quiet. This was the terrible thing: the quiet in the not hope. To believe the lost human kind and not to need to do something in contrary, desire to lose me, for example, with it. I had shaken by abstract furies, not in the blood, and I was calm, I didn't want anything.
The theme of the trip
We are still in the climate of the indifference and of the ineptitude, but whos speaking is Silvestro, a Sicilian typographer who lives in Milan and that suffers for a desire of action consuming himself inside him in an abstract fury. He reacts to this dark feeling of impotence, deciding to take the first train that departs for Sicily, as to obey to a confused appeal of his land of origin that lets him contemplate with pleasure a promise of return to the happiness of the infancy. His trip is begun as trip of escape in the past of his land, with the hope to find an authentic answer to the void of his present life. The occasion of the departure is offered him by a letter of his father, who informs him about having estranged from his mother. That letter wakes up again in him a world of memoirs and imaginations of the infancy in the country and in the countries.
The return to the places of the infancy
From a present, full of desperation and of discomfort, and in which the echo of the massacres has shaken him, Silvestre arrives in the peace of his land among lost mountains and desolate prickly pear. But also in these mythical places of the infancy the sadness of the present reappears confused with the past. The same men who he meets during the trip are tied to the poverty of the present
the small Sicilians of third class, hungry and sweet in having cold, without coat, the hands in the pockets of the pants, the collar of the jacket raised... dark in face, but sweet, with beard from four days, workers, laborers of the gardens of orange tree, railroaders with the grey hats of the square work...;
the small Sicilian with his wife child that doesn't want to eat oranges and who remains desperate with his poverty, the two police officers, With the Moustaches and Without Moustaches, that, sure of the power of which they are faithful servants, they would like to lock the political criminals up " because the humanity was born to commit a crime", but who, hardly got down the train, they leave the stinks", according to the severe and solemn expression of a great Sicilian as a Great Lombardo, character who leaves a notable impression in Silvestre, because he invokes new other duties for the men, all tied to the pain of the offended world.
The Great Lombardo
The Great Lombardo came from Messina" where he was visited by an expert for his special illness of the kidneys and he came back home to Leonforte. He was a landowner with three beautiful female daughters", and he had a horse on which he went for his lands, and then he believed, so much that horse was tall, to be a king; and he would have given what he possessed, and also the horse, the lands, to feel in peace with the men as one that doesn't have anything to reproach himself. He would have liked, in short, to be a good citizen who has conscience of the pain of the world, of the human injustice. The speech begun with the Great Lombardo will continue later in the country of Silvestro with the knife sharpener Calogero who would like to fight with scissors, awls, swords for his revolt.
The meeting with his mother
Meanwhile Silvestro, absorbed by now in the Sicilian landscape and among suffering people for illness and for hunger, he has arrived to his country and to his mothers house.
The first meeting is marked by the roasted herring, usual food of his mother that remembers the infancy of Silvestro. The herring is cleaned, put in a dish and sprinkled of oil, and Silvestro and his mother are sat at table, in the kitchen, with the sun to the window behind his mother's shoulders wound in the red cover. Of here the memories, prickly pear that raised children and pigs, crickets, snails and wild chicory, that formed the essential elements of a family of a poor railroader, who was rich ten days at month, immediately after having taken the pay, and then hungry for other twenty days, the family and he.
The conversation with his mother creates in Silvestro a critical relationship between past and present; for example, the boiled that his wife in Milan cooks to his child leaves puzzled the poor old Sicilian, who has founded his normal feeding in roasted herrings and in snails, so much that her father was a proper great man in grace of the herrings" that give a beautiful colour to the face". And here his mother recalls the mythical figure of his grandfather.
In his mothers story the story of his grandfather is inevitably confused with that of her husband, and from that confusion of images the absolute image of the man takes shape, sensitive and good as her husband, but also strong and stretched out towards other duties as his grandfather, so much that at the end to Silvestros mind the two images are identified with that of Great Lombardo, that he had hardly glimpsed in the train through an allusive political-social conversation. Here the narrative technique of Vittorini is revealed, in this ability that he has to come down the infancy in today's reality, raising it of meanings and transferring it, also in its real line, in a new dimension, the fourth dimension, that is real twice because the historical reality is loaded of the new narrative tension that enriches its human meaning of allusive and symbolic values. It would be said that the image of the Great Lombardo realized by Silvestro during the trip as intuition of the man-model of Vittorini, throws himself in the memory of the infancy in which grandfather and father melt in an only image.
It is to remember the moment in which Silvestro helps his mother to wash the dishes, while she is singing old motives without words, half howling, half whistling, and a warble to lines.
A surreal narrative atmosphere
In these moments the narrative tone of Vittorini is rather surrealistic that realistic; it is that of a decadent, rather than of an imitator of Verga. And such he remains in the footsteps in which the cue seem to become more realistic and sharp, when the son questions his mother on her relationships with his father, who has left her for his old vice to strive for the women and to call queens those who instead were only "dirty cows ", who gave theirself to him in the great valley or in worse places. And her son implacably investigates on the loving past of his mother, up to tear her the confession that also she has betrayed her husband going in the great valley with a poor dead worker in a strike later, killed by the policemen. Also the exclamation "old cow " that her son attributes to his mother in an internal monologue, loses any realistic vigor, transferred, as it is, in a surreal narrative atmosphere. Perhaps the third part of the novel is more realistic, in which Conception (it is not inopportune here to remember the name of his mother who now assumes a most concrete and less symbolic presence) wants to be accompanied by her son to go to the varied houses of the country where she goes to make some injections to earn something to live. Here it is the dramatic reality the poverty of all a country that appears in foreground as authentic denunciation of inhuman level of life and pain. It is a document the conditions of the state of poverty and poverty in which the farmer and worker classes lived, during the fascist regime, in a climate far from the optimistic rhetoric of the city.
But, obviously, the denunciation is transfigured to an artistic level because it is projected through the story and the revelation that the mother says to her child case by case.