In her book, History-A novel, Elsa Morante summarizes various historical happenings during the war in the South of Rome. While living among the farmers in a village, she witnesses the impact of war and its effect on people living there. The book is based on two points of view; that of the rich, powerful and wealthy men, and the poor and marginalized who are struggling with their lives, especially in meeting their daily needs such as food. Her focus is on a small family living in Rome during World War II. Thus, the book is set during World War II, the period between 1941 and 1947.
The focus of the book is based on a woman, Ida Mancuso, a widow and also a school teacher (Morante 16). Since she was living alone in her apartment, Gunther, a German soldier, comes to her house and rapes her. Unfortunately, after this act, he does not live long as his convey is bombed after some days. However, she leaves Mancuso, with a permanent mark - a pregnancy. Therefore, the book is about Ida Mancusao and her two sons: Useppe, Nino, her friend Davide and a dog named Bella. Through these characters, the writer depicts the state of desperation that the ordinary people were going through during World War II. As it is the case with Ida, people went through a lot of struggle and fear for both their personal life and their children. For instance, her son was surviving in a war torn areas that one could not know what will happen next (Morante 84). In fact, bombings, deportation, police patrols were the order of the day. This had a far reaching psychological effect to the people living in those areas. By then, Rome was under besiege; the Americans were to the south and Germans made the northern part as its battle field (Applebaum 53). This era was also marked by loss of lives, homes and isolation of people from their relatives. Notably, people, especially the young, were also suffering from hunger due to lack of consistence food supply.
Jews were either killed or deported by the Germans during that era. Therefore, considering that Ida was half a Jew, she was in constant fear for her life as she did not know when the Germans would strike. In Italy, particularly in Rome, the German Nazi was in the bid to occupy the area by removing Jews and occupying their cities by force (Buchanan 21). This waged a serious war between the Germans, their allies and other interested parties. At this point in time, Rome was devastated by frequent bombings and series of war. In fact, the house that Ida used to live with her husband, San Lorenzo before he was killed, was bombed by the Germans rendering her homeless.
Morante talks more about the impacts of war on poverty and powerless of people. These groups of people did not have control over their enemies as most of them were caught in the crossfire, losing their lives and properties. By telling Ida’s story, Morante seeks to reveal some of the inhumane suffering that people undergo in the event of war. Her focus is in the small villages that are mainly forgotten when the history is being written about the Second World War and subsequent events. In fact, when information about the troops or military is being presented, such villages are not included since they are considered insignificant. This is because such reports do not include details of all the soldiers lost and victims of such war and terror. When such villages or cities are under siege, only the inhabitants can tell the kind of suffering that they go through (Bueno, Smith, Siverson, and Morrow 61). The victims of such wars are innocent, yet they are the ones who suffer the most. For instance, Ida and her children suffer all kinds of unimaginable inhumane actions. They suffer from hunger, terror, health problems, and depression among others. Morante depicts a feeling of compassion by the way she depicts the main character, Ida and her living condition. One feels compelled to sympathize with her condition and the catastrophic circumstances under which she is living. The writer also expresses a deep concern over people, especially the poor in 1940’s. She analyses various historical occurrences and the effect they had on people who lived by then (Lowe and Marzari 202).
The writer also depicts historical occurrences and how their presence shaped the lives of people. Despite the fact that World War II was a result of various reasons among the parties who were in conflict, she feels that such reasons could not amount to the nature of sufferings that ordinary people went through. Basing her observation on a small family, the writer shows what it meant to live in places such as Rome during the war. Ida lived with the guilty of being born. She was not alone in this as people wondered why they were born in such a brutal world. Her condition is worsened after she was raped by a German soldier, whom she did not see again. In addition, her son becomes epileptic as a result of that malnutrition and worsened living conditions. The nature of suffering that people went through kept them wondering why they were brought in this world (Marston 106). Despite her awareness of the circumstances in which they lived, her sons seemed unaware of the weight of the happenings that were taking place. The two sons played together with joy seemingly enjoying what the nature could offer for them.
Ida lived with a great secret that she had no relationship with Jews, whom the Germans hunted every day. She was in constant fear that she will be found one day and she thought that would be her end. Such kind of fear worsened her condition. The writer notes that as the WWII progressed into 1943, the conditions were getting worse. Her Jewish ancestry secret was eating her from within. In the same year, their house was bombed and this forced them to move to a temporary shelter where they could feel the magnitude of war more strongly. Abject poverty for the ordinary people was the order of the day (Buchanan 78). Their situation is made worse not because of economic or natural occurrences, but because of war. For instance, Ida had a beautiful apartment, which is later bombed, forcing them to stay in a refugee camp in their own country (Morante 76). After losing her employment as a teacher, she is left without any source of income. This compels her to move into the streets in search of food.
More so, the writer focuses on inhumane treatment of people in Italy during the war. In Ida’s neighbourhood, all Jews are swept and transported to Auschwitz by the German Nazis (Bernab? 54). She loses her heritage as a Jew as the realities of what is happening to Jews in Italy dawns on her. The ghetto becomes empty of people and loneliness sets in (Budiansky 91). The writer records tragic happening in the life of Ida and those around her. For instance, Useppe, her son, develops epilepsy and hardly sees his brother Nino, who is the only person he knows in their neighborhood His condition is worsened by malnutrition, a problem that ends his life. Her other son, Nino grows up to become a rebel fighter and sooner or later killed in an accident. The death of Useppe causes Ida depression to a point of becoming insane. With no one to live by or take care of her, she is taken to asylum where she unfortunately dies nine years later.
Morante symbolically describes her characters and happenings. She writes, “Grandfather … in his waking intervals did nothing but hawk and spit. His long body, thin and bent, was a cavernous well of catarrh that could never be drained. The old man kept always beside him a big chipped basin and hawking, he emitted sounds of extreme anguish, like donkey’s braying, which seems to charge the silence with the total sorrow of the cosmos” (Morante 36.) This way, she writes about the sufferings that people went through and how individuals were excluded from their state just because of their race. Through the writing, the reader can reflect the horrific images of war and voices of people being affected.
In conclusion, Elsa Morante systematically summarizes some of the global happenings during World War II. Her book covers a span of years through which her characters lived and what was happening around and towards them. In this case, it is evident that Morante documents world history by observing a small family that lived in Rome. The lives of this family reflect what other ordinary people were going through during the war. She addresses some of the tragic happenings that people had to endure throughout the war. Therefore, it can be concluded that the writer is trying to portray how war can make the lives of people miserable. Ida moves from being a decent happily married school teacher to a beggar and finally, a mad woman who is taken to asylum to die there. The writer reminds the reader of the tragic effects that war bears.