THE MOON AND THE BONFIRES
A critical paper by
March 7, 2006
Perhaps we all know that “you can’t go home again” but this truism is
expounded in most unsettling terms in Cesare Pavese’s novel,
and the Bonfires
We follow the path of a narrator whose name we never
learn, returning to a past that is either completely gone or superficially
present but, upon exploration, completely changed beneath the surface.
the end, we wonder: what next?
Let’s set the stage.
Our narrator, known only by his nickname of
“Eel,” returns to his home town in northern Italy in about 1948 after a 20-
We learn that he was a foundling, born in about 1908, adopted
by a poor farmer for a small stipend and the promise of future labor.
lived a hard life of severe poverty, until as a boy of about 11 he moved to be
a laborer at a more prosperous farm nearby, the Mora.
There he worked
hard, learned the skills of a farmer, and observed the family of the owner of
As he grew up he was drafted into the army, moved to Genoa and
fled to America in about 1928.
There he spent 20 years drifting about,
ultimately making a significant amount of money as a bootlegger and, after
the repeal of Prohibition, by selling bathtub gin.
These are facts we must
glean from the hints and flashbacks that are woven into the story.
not have deduced all the details correctly, but it’s close enough.
We meet our narrator as he returns to his native land, looking for his
past and for a connection to something.
As he observes in the opening pages
of the book, “one needs a town, if only for the pleasure of leaving it.
means not being alone …” (Page 6.)
He further notes that “all towns are the
same,” telling us that communities the world over are the same, but each
person needs his own place in his own community.
But it is equally clear
that the narrator never felt part of his village when he lived there. He was
illegitimate, he did not know anything about his parents, he did not feel as
though he was a native of the village in which he grew up.
As a child, he
looked up to and was guided by his friend Nuto, a youth somewhat older
than himself, son of a carpenter, with musical talents and a fund of tales and