bonfires0306 - 1 THE MOON AND THE BONFIRES Cesare Pavese *...

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THE MOON AND THE BONFIRES Cesare Pavese ***** A critical paper by Catherine LaCroix ***** 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, The Moon 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. In 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- year absence. 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. He 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 the Mora. 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. I might 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. A town 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 1
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wisdom. Nuto was everything that Eel felt he was not: a settled individual with a home base, a secure past and a secure future. Nuto is to some extent an emblem of the strength that comes with having a firm place in the world. Perhaps because he was not as well-rooted as the others around him,
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bonfires0306 - 1 THE MOON AND THE BONFIRES Cesare Pavese *...

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