Short summary - Two Women or La ciociara - Alberto Moravia

Italy literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Two Women or La ciociara
Alberto Moravia

Italy, 1943−1944

Cesira is thirty-five years old and a native of Ciociaria, a mountainous area south of Rome. As a young girl, she married a shopkeeper, moved to Rome, gave birth to a daughter and was very happy at first - until the true face of her husband was revealed to her. But then he fell seriously ill and died (Chesira looked after him, as befits a loving wife), and she again felt almost happy. She had “a shop, an apartment and a daughter” - is this not enough for happiness? Cesira can barely read (although he counts money well) and is not interested in politics. There is a war going on, but she does not really know who is fighting with whom and why. War is even profitable so far: trade is going on faster than in peacetime, because she and her daughter work on the black market and successfully speculate in food. She is firmly convinced that, no matter how the circumstances develop, nothing threatens Rome, since Pala lives there.

However, Mussolini soon returns, the Germans come, the streets are full of thugs in black shirts, and most importantly, the bombing and famine begin, and Cesira decides to wait out this "bad time" in the village, with his parents. She herself is a strong woman and is not afraid of anything, but her daughter, eighteen-year-old Rosetta, is timid, sincerely religious and very sensitive. Cesira proudly believes that Rosetta is the embodiment of perfection, "almost a saint", however, she will soon come to the conclusion that perfection, based on ignorance and lack of life experience, crumbles like a house of cards when it comes into contact with the dark sides of life. In general, despite the fact that Chezira is a simple, almost illiterate woman, she is endowed with a realistic natural mind and powers of observation, she is insightful, sees people through and is prone to a kind of philosophical generalizations. Unlike most peasants, for whom nature is only a habitat and an instrument of production, she sees and feels the peculiar beauty of the Italian mountains, sometimes covered with emerald grass, sometimes scorched white by the hot sun.

Chezira intends to spend no more than two weeks in the village, but the journey drags on for a long nine months, full of adversity, deprivation, bitter experience. They are unable to reach Chezira's parents because they, like the rest of the villagers, have fled the coming war. The town of Fondi, which Cesira remembered as noisy and busy, is also deserted, the doors and windows boarded up as if a plague had passed through the streets, unharvested crops were thrown into the surrounding fields. In the end, two women find refuge in one strange family, of course, not for free (Cesira has a huge amount of money hidden by peasant standards - one hundred thousand lire). Here Cesira is convinced for the first time that war, violence and lawlessness expose the most unattractive qualities of a person, those that are customary to be ashamed of in peacetime. Concetta, her silly husband and two deserter sons shamelessly steal and sell property abandoned by their neighbors, because. these things, in their opinion, "do not belong to anyone." Concetta is ready to sell the innocent girl Rosetta to the local fascists in exchange for the safety of her sons. At night, Chezira and her daughter run away to the mountains, where many refugees from Fondi are already hiding, rent a dilapidated shed from a peasant, clinging to a rock, and stock up on food for the winter.

Accustomed to prosperity, Cesira is struck by the incredible poverty in which the peasants of Sant Eufemia live (they even use chairs only on holidays, the rest of the time they sit on the ground, and the chairs hang suspended from the ceiling), and the respect they have for money and people, having money. The refugees from Fondi are merchants, artisans are richer, they have not yet run out of money and food, so they spend all their time eating, drinking and endlessly talking about what will happen when the British come. These ordinary people do not feel hatred either for their own or for the German fascists, and they themselves do not understand why they "cheer" for the allies. The only thing they want is to return to normal life as soon as possible. The most amazing thing is that everyone is sure that with the arrival of allies, life will become much better than before.

Only one person, Michele, understands what is really going on in the country. Michele is the son of a merchant from Fondi. He is an educated man and unlike anyone Cesira has ever met. What strikes her most is that Michele, raised under a fascist regime, hates fascism and claims that Mussolini and his henchmen are just a bunch of bandits. Michele is only twenty-five, there were no significant events in his life, and therefore Cesira, in the simplicity of his soul, believes that his convictions arose, perhaps, simply from the spirit of contradiction. She sees that Michele is an idealist who does not know life, and his love for the peasants and workers is rather theoretical. In truth, practical, cunning, down-to-earth peasants do not particularly favor him, and his own father calls him a fool to his face, although at the same time he is secretly proud of him. But Chezira understands what a pure, honest, deeply decent person he is, she loves him like a son and takes his death hard (he dies when the end of the war is already near, shielding the peasants from the shots of the brutalized Germans).

The life of Cesira and Rosetta in Sant'Eufemia is uneventful, but the war is gradually approaching, the first meeting with the Germans takes place, which immediately convinces the locals that nothing good should be expected from them (a refugee who was robbed by the Italian fascists asks for help to the Germans, and in the end they take the stolen goods for themselves, and he himself is sent to the front to dig trenches). Cesira sees with her own eyes that the Germans, the Italian deserters, her neighbors, all behave like dishonorable people, and it occurs to her again and again that in order to recognize a person, one must see him during the war, when everyone shows his inclinations and his nothingness. doesn't hold back.

Winter passes, Sant Euphemia experiences German raids and British bombing, hunger and danger. In April, the refugees are happy to learn that the British have broken through the German defenses and are advancing. Cesira and Rosetta, along with the others, descend into Fondi and find a pile of ruins on the site of the town, and from the balcony of the surviving house, American soldiers throw cigarettes and candies into the crowd of refugees. It turns out that Rome is still occupied by the Germans and they have nowhere to go. Here, in Fondi, to the sound of American cannons, Cesira falls asleep and sees in a dream a hall full of fascists, the faces of Mussolini, Hitler, sees how this hall takes off into the air, and feels stormy joy, understands that, without knowing it, she must , always hated fascists and Nazis. It seems to her that now everything will be fine, but the war is not over yet, a new ordeal lies ahead: in a remote village, Moroccan soldiers rape her daughter, rape her in a church, right at the altar, and soon Chezira realizes that these few minutes have changed Rosetta beyond recognition . "Almost a saint" becomes a whore. Cesira returns to Rome, as she dreamed, but in her soul reigns not joy, but despair. On the way, the robbers kill Rosetta's friend, and Chezira, full of self-disgust, takes his money, but this death tears the mask of callousness from Rosetta's face, she cries "for all the people crippled by the war," and hope revives in Chezira's soul.