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Morante's Utopian View

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History: A Novel was written by Italian author Elsa Morante and is regarded to be one of her most famous works. In the novel the author describes a Jewish woman, a teacher Ida Ramundo, and her two sons, Nino and Giuseppe, who lived during the Second World War. The story is often considered as utopian, where separate characters are drawn from reality, living their own lives. The writer skillfully renders the isolated scenes, which often seem unreal and strange. Moreover, Elsa Morante skillfully illustrates details of the scene, which in turn bring characters to the fore of the scene. Since all events seem to be unreal, and most characters are described as from a different world, the book can be best described as a utopian novel.

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Before introducing specific details of the story about Ida and her sons, the author refers to the world history and explains rules and principles that guide the society. Specifically, Morante argues that there is “nothing very new, in the great world. Like all the centuries and the millennia that have preceded it on earth, the new century also observes the well-known, immobile principles of historical dynamics: power to some servitude to the orders” (3). However, the original translation of the story excludes these historical principles, jumping into the fantastic world created by the writer. Apparently, Elsa Morante wanted to encourage people and distract them from the horrors of war.

The novel portrays an enchanted world. For instance, in the very beginning of the novel, Nino buys a present for his younger brother.“A vendor of colored balloons happened to be going by; and amused at his novice brother’s rejoicing, the generous Nino spent almost his entire wealth to buy him one, a read one” (Morante 138). This scene makes audience believe in magic, which turns into a relief when approaching the end of the book. This is the moment when Giuseppe and the dog Bella are leaving the apartment to explore Rome. Morante manages to create a fairy-tale world, which does not remind the sufferings of the war times. Furthermore, the novel includes many romantic scenes.

The details and heroes presented in the story are depicted in Morante’s magic style, which comes naturally and softly as the story goes on. The writing acquires a utopian style, catching reader’s attention and making him/her focused on the story. Immersing the details about Ida and her sons allows the audience to blend with the atmosphere of that time. The novel describes poor Italy in 1940 where families are trying to survive in the world of danger, hunger, and without shelter. Therefore, there is no surprise that Morante’s writing is reminiscent of utopian, even cosmic style that causes the readers to immerse in the lifestyle of the characters.

Furthermore, there are characters which could serve as a stereotype of the contemporary society. Their portrayals are artistic and often they embrace the entire society what have lived during the times of the Second World War. Although the story is about abandoned and forgotten peasants narrated in a simple and direct way, the reader cannot refer to it as a peasant-like. Rather, the novel mesmerizes by its romantic and unreal style. “How that little runaway Jewish student [Davide] then managed, when hired, to produce suitable documents, I couldn’t say. However, I have been assured that…in the factory his real identity was unknown…For myself, the scant and fragmentary information I have been able to gather…gave it a comic interpretation” (Morante 463). What is more, the style of narration is not dry and straight-forward depiction of war as it is often typical to historical novels.

The physical setting of the novel is also typical for utopian literature. Specifically, the characters in the narration remind readers of the Neo-Realist cinema as they depict horrible landscapes, skeletons, black-market operations, crowded refugees, and hopeless faces of the victims who do not know where to go. The entire novel could easily be imagined as a black-and-white movie. At the same time, the novel deserves a splash of color, which would symbolically reveal the writer’s personal creative style. The plot also consists of the sequence of disasters, starting from Ida’s rape by a German soldier in 1941, and ending with the horrible death of the child born as a result of this violent action. Although the writer depicts many violent and cruel events, she strives to introduce compassion and romanticism into the novel, expressing her own understanding of the horrible lives of the victims of the War. Morante’s realism is distorted, giving light to a series of surreal representations, which makes the reader see the light in the end of the tunnel.

While deliberating on the essence and purposes of history, the author uses subjective collections of stories, opinions, and perceptions. In the context of the novel, history is a sort of variation revealing the problem of fascism and discrimination. Furthermore, Morante’s novel does not support the idea of rendering the details of the horrors of the war. The author manages to reduce the effect of historical fatalism, contributing some romantic portrayal of landscapes to the story and introducing wonderful images into the narration. Emphasizing the importance of symbolism, Morante has an emotional connection with her heroine Ida, who had a horrible experience and still managed to look after the unwanted child Giuseppe, who suffered from the epilepsy.

As the novel sheds light on the period of fascism and predominantly takes place in wartime, each chapter starts with a brief summary of the historic events in order for the readers to have a better understanding of the period in which the characters live. All the events that are depicted in the novel are not confined to Italy only, but to the entire Europe. However, Morante’s novel focuses more on Italian perceptions and behavior as well as the scenes describe events that happened specifically in Italy, not the outside world. Therefore, the novel portrays framed historic period which is described thought the experiences of a family, who encountered the horrors of war. Some of the portrayals presented by the author do not conform to the historic events. Elsa Morante manages to render the features of childishness beyond the wartime. Fantastic imagination and symbolic representation sustain the story and fade it away from the horrible reality presented in the history.

Paradoxically, Morante makes an emphasis on four major events in the story that accentuate the main character’s sufferings – Nino’s death, Ida’s rape, the Second World War and its consequences, as well as a sudden death of Ida’s second son. These events refer to the culmination of heroine’s suffering. Under these circumstances, Ida’s awareness of these horrible traumas comes to her gradually, filling her with paranoia and obsession. This is the turning point when the reality changes into the surrealistic descriptions, transforming Ida’s consciousness and worldview. The fact that Ida tries to share her stress with others is explained by her affiliation to Jews, even though she does not identify herself with this culture. In fact, she feels ashamed admitting her origins and fails to accept her belonging. Once again, the heroine strives to escape from reality. In the novel, the author writes that “Ida mustered her courage; and taking this woman aside for a moment, she asked her address in a faint voice, claiming she wanted it for a relative who would soon need her” (Morante 596). Although Ida expresses her desire to share her anxiety, she is still concerned with her reputation and is ashamed to be Jewish.

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In conclusion, Morante’s History: A Novel is represented in a fantastic, utopian fashion because of the presence of romanticism and symbolism in narration. The utopian representation is also seen in childish stories about Ida’s sons and their adventures with dogs. In such a way, the writer attempts to escape from the reality of wartime and introduce positive moments to the story. In general, the novel is a magic realism narration, in which Morante presents the history of the Italian people.

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