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Writer's Reviews - Arturo's Island: Elsa Morante

Updated: 6 hours ago

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them.

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Cover of Arturo's Island (1957)  Elsa Morante


Arturo's Island (1957)

Elsa Morante

The work in brief

Set on the Sicilian island of Procida in the period from the 1930s to the 1940s, the novel, narrated in the first person by the protagonist, follows the growth and education of Arturo Gerace from the time he is a six-year-old boy to adulthood. Orphaned by a mother who died in giving birth to him, Arturo grows up mostly in solitude among the island's beautiful beaches and cliffs.

His father Wilhelm Gerace, an Italian-German, is a completely absent figure in his life and one whose absence Arturo deeply misses and therefore idealizes. Arturo spends his childhood isolated but living in absolute freedom: he hardly wears any clothes, has little food, and thrives on reading about knights and his daydreams. He has only two friends: his dog Immacolatella and a little boy, Silvestro, but otherwise lives completely alone in the family's dilapidated mansion.

One day his father returns home with a young woman he has married, Nunziata, a contemporary of Arturo's age who somehow marks a line between little Arturo's childhood and adulthood. Arturo falls in love with the woman and for the first time discovers the world of women, love and passion but Nunziata rejects him and the young man vents this unrequited love into the arms of a widow who seduces him.

As he grows up, Arturo begins to see that enchanted world that surrounds him as a harsh reality; he is now disillusioned even with his father, whom he has always revered and who turns out to be a sometimes ambiguous figure. Therefore, he decides to leave the island, that paradise where he had spent his childhood, to reach the mainland and start a new life.

The story unfolds throughout the novel through an interweaving of personal and family events during the period of fascism and World War II, events that will influence Arturo's growth and his worldview.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. Classic example of a coming-of-age novel

  2. Deep analysis in character building

  3. Evocative writing skills


The first element that characterizes Arturo's Island and on which it is important to dwell is that we are dealing with a classic, and for that matter decisive, example of a coming-of-age novel. This kind of narrative, in fact, is centered particularly on the evolution and change of one or more characters in the story, as is precisely the case with the protagonist Arturo Gerace whose events we follow from childhood to maturity. The coming-of-age novel represents one of the most interesting, analyzed and studied genres in the literary landscape because, when a character changes in the course of the story, the reader witnesses each time something new that characterizes him or her and profoundly changes him or her; he or she follows him or her throughout this journey and remains involved because he or she realizes that he or she is faced each time with something different from the initial picture.

This has allowed Arturo to become a very characterized character precisely because he is built on this personal and existential evolution: the child protagonist, in fact, experiences a world that then, as a result of events such as the relationships he establishes, will no longer appear the same in his eyes; a disillusionment grows in him with respect to that enchanted island, to his family, and he then finds himself an adult. Elsa Morante has succeeded in telling this complexity with deep and touching prose that evokes true emotions, giving voice to her protagonist and thus making him one of the most representative characters of our literature.

Arturo's gaze changes as the reader's changes: from a child's dreams to complete disillusionment, or in the constant search for his own identity and place in the world. Another aspect that emerges from the novel is the importance of the historical context in which the story unfolds: the period of the fascist dictatorship and the dramas of the war that somehow enter directly into the story because they influence both what happens but also how the protagonists themselves experience or suffer on an intimate and personal level the effects of that period.

For this, the historical setting must be well curated, and in this Elsa Morante is a masterful example as well. Finally, there would probably not have been a character like the young Arturo if not placed in that particular environment that is an island and which, while on the one hand represents an uncontaminated place in which to be completely free, in which a child's imagination finds space to express itself, somehow, however, amplifies the constant sense of loneliness and isolation that the boy experiences. This shows how places radically influence the narrative and are not simply a frame in which to place events.



The first woman writer to win the Strega Prize precisely with the novel Arturo's Island (published for Einaudi), Elsa Morante was one of the most important authors of the Italian twentieth century: poet, essayist but above all novelist, she made an enormous contribution and left a profound mark and an important legacy from a literary point of view, also for many later authors who were inspired by her.

Arturo's Island heralds in a way what will also be a certain kind of fiction related in particular to the historical period of fascism, the war period and the period immediately following, which made the fortune of many of the works of great Italian authors.

That particular historical context, in fact, enters fully into the narrative because, as we have seen, it produces effects on the lives of the protagonists, influences their actions and the way they are perceived. This is why a work such as Arturo's Island appears beyond decisive because, through narrative fiction, it becomes a vehicle for historical and social knowledge of an entire nation.

Morante's gaze managed to penetrate and unhinge even many stereotypical beliefs about the place where it is set, Sicily, offering a decidedly more authentic view of that island and its people. Arturo's Island remains to this day one of the most important works in the history of literature, winning over even very young readers.



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