The political prisoner

Today’s topic is The political prisoner by Cesare Pavese.

Cesare Pavese tells us a story of his own imprisonment for being against the fascist regime of Mussolini in the early 20th century. His image, Stefano, is a young man who is convicted to exile by the authorities in an almost abandoned village somewhere in south Italy. The author is very lacking in information on his background, the reasons why he is imprisoned or anything whatsoever about his character. We are only presented with the situation, and how one can cope with it.

Stefano lives a solitary life, always having his suitcase ready for departure, hoping that one day his exile will be lifted and he will be happy to leave this foresaken place. He has no idea how long he will be staying, it could be a year, a decade, or just one more day. He refuses to attach himself to any of the places or of the people in the village, although we find out this is not completely avoidable.

At start, Stefano is seen as an outlier, someone who does not belong here, and he has a sleeping checkin that is dutifully done every evening by a special guard, and he has to report to it his every single move. Later, people begin to adopt him to their small community, starting with Giannino Catalano, one of the most influential people in the village, who likes Stefano for his solitude, his lack of talking and communicativeness, and appreciates his engineering skills, although he never graduated an engineering school. They begin by spending time together, swimming and hunting birds in the hills near the village. Giannino closely becomes Stefano’s best friend, and the develop a special bond, that he can’t share with anyone else.

Elena, the housekeeper of his room, is an abandoned wife, full of sorrow and regret, that tries to find comfort in the arms of another man full of sorrow and regret, Stefano. However, Stefano does not really want her, as he is trying to stay away from other people and be ready to leave at first sight. He grows fond of a servant at a neighbor’s house, Concia, a simple girl who always walks barefooted, but his fantasy is only limited to imagination, as the few words that he exchanges with her are not enough to create a relationship.

Stefano is stranded on a desert island, and tries to find connection points for his life, points that can help him cope with the situation: one is the fantasy for Concia, another is his friendship with Giannino and Elena. Later, Giannino is also imprisoned, which makes him compare his situation with Giannino’s: he is not bound by the four walls, but his freedom is just as small as Giannino’s. Another prisoner is brought up in the hill, but kept within a courtyard. This prisoner is the mirror image of Stefano, only his apparent freedom is more bound. Stefano doesn’t lack space, but lacks freedom of opinion, of life, of friends, of meeting new people and doing anything he might want to do, which is almost as bad as withing the four walls.

Stefano is released after one year spent with the villagers, returning home with a new perception over the world, and with more appreciation on freedom, no matter the form of which this is manifested.

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