The Role of the Peasant in Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine Novel

Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone is a famous book set in Italy in the tumultuous decades of the 1920s and 1930s when the country saw a significant political and social change[1]. Young Italian communist Pietro Spina is the protagonist of this tale. He is caught and tortured by the Italian fascist state and is ultimately driven to Switzerland for safety. Silone uses the peasant protagonist as a point of entry to delve into themes of hope, resistance, and community in the face of injustice. The peasant symbolizes the underdogs and outcasts striving for their rights and dignity in an exploitative and oppressive society.[2]

Ignazio Silone

Figure 1. A photograph of Ignazio Silone, the author of the novel. Image Source

cover Novel Bread and Wine

Figure 2. Cover of the Novel Bread and Wine. Image Source

Peasants, Resistance and Community

The novel’s fundamental themes of optimism, resistance, and community all revolve around the peasant. The peasant is shown to be a dedicated worker with a strong will strongly related to the land and the elements. They are motivated by a strong desire to do what is right and are thnot afraid to put themselves in danger[3].

Peasant at Work in the Fields

Figure 3. Illustration of a Peasant at Work in the Fields. Image Source

The resistance movement against fascism is central to the peasant’s part in the narrative. In the story, the peasant community consistently defends Pietro and other political exiles, offering them safety and joining their struggle against the fascists. When Pietro and his fellow refugees reach a remote mountain hamlet in Chapter 2 of the book, the peasant is shown to play a central role in the resistance effort. The villagers give them a warm welcome and provide them with food, clothes, and help in their struggle against the fascists.[4]

“We will help you; we will do everything we can,” one of the peasants says to Pietro. “We will give you food, we will give you clothes, we will give you weapons if we have any. We will do everything we can to help you.” (Silone, Bread, and Wine)[5]

The peasant symbolizes the courage and fortitude of the common person in the face of extraordinary misfortune, not only because of their part in the resistance. The peasant’s will to do what is right and resist injustice remains unshaken despite the many difficulties they have had to overcome. In the narrative, the peasant represents the values of community and solidarity. The peasant symbolizes the strength of solidarity in a time and place when social stratification and ideological differences frequently split people rather than unite them[6].

Fascism in One Picture

Figure 4. Fascism in One Picture. Image Source

Note: “Fascist dictators Benito Mussolini of Italy, left, and Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, led movements in the 1930s and ‘40s. (Image credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images)” Source: Above Link)

The Role of Wine

The narrative uses wine as a metaphor for solidarity, camaraderie, and defiance. In the book, the peasant community uses wine as nutrition and social glue, uniting around a common appreciation bond for the grape. In a pivotal moment, the peasants rally over a bottle of wine to renew their solidarity and resolve for the resistance cause.[7]

“We drank a bottle of wine together, we peasants, and we felt our spirits rise,” one of the peasants says. “We felt that we were not alone, that we were part of a great movement, that we were not defeated.” (Silone, Bread, and Wine)[8]

Nonetheless, wine may also represent the perils of overindulgence and the corrupting effects of authority. A strong moment involves a rich landowner offering Pietro a bottle of wine to bribe him and earn his favor. Pietro, however, declines the wine since he understands it to be a metaphor for the landowner’s shady and manipulating nature[1]. Wine is used throughout the work as a metaphor for the ambiguity and duality of the human character. It may bring people together and provide solace, but it can also lead to depravity if the wrong people get their hands on it.[10] It is a metaphor for the novel’s wider themes of optimism, resistance, and community in the face of persecution; therefore, it is appropriate[11].

Conclusion

In Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine, the role of the peasant as a symbol of hope, resistance, and community in the face of fascism in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s is explored through their hard work, resilience, and solidarity, as well as their enduring strength in the face of challenges and hardships. Through their deep connection to the land and the natural world, and their sense of justice and fairness, the peasant serves as a beacon of hope in a world that seeks to exploit and oppress them, and they provide vital support and shelter to political refugees like Pietro Spina. The theme of community and fellowship is also central to the role of the peasant, and wine plays a significant role as a symbol of nourishment, sustenance, and resistance.

Also read: The History of Wine and Bread in the Lord’s Supper Celebration

On This Day

May 10, 1939:

Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone were first released in Italy. This day is significant in literary history because the book brought attention to the plight of Italian peasants during intense political upheaval. Inspiring and mobilizing people to speak up against injustice and fight for their rights, publishing Bread and Wine was also a pivotal point in the growth of the anti-fascist movement in Italy. Today celebrate the ability of literature to inspire people to make the world a better place even after centuries has passed[12].

Want to read more? Try these books!

The Abruzzo Trilogy- Fontamara, Bread and Wine, The Seed Beneath the Snow Bread and Wine

Wine Pairing Recommendation

References

[1] “‘Bread and Wine’ by Ignazio Silone | Prof. Qualls’ Course Blogs,” Dickinson.edu, October 15, 2013, https://blogs.dickinson.edu/quallsk/2013/10/15/bread-and-wine-by-ignazio-silone/.

[2] Vaneesa Cook, “Eighty Years since Bread and Wine: Ignazio Silone’s Christian Socialism – Dissent Magazine,” Dissent Magazine, May 13, 2016, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/eighty-years-since-bread-wine-ignazio-silone-moral-christian-socialism.

[3] Bob Corbett, “Ignazio Silone: BREAD and WINE,” Webster.edu, 2022, http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/personal/reading/silone-bread.html.

[4] Ignazio Silone and Eric Mosbacher, Bread and Wine (New York: Signet Classics, 2005).

[5] Ignazio Silone and Eric Mosbacher, Bread and Wine (New York: Signet Classics, 2005).

[6] Weatherhead A Kingsley, “IGNAZIO SILONE: COMMUNITY and the FAILURE of LANGUAGE,” Modern Fiction Studies 7, no. 2 (1961): 157–68, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26277227.

[7] Gregory L Lucente, “Signs and History in ‘Bread and Wine:’ Silone’s Dilemma of Social Change,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 16, no. 3 (1983): 230–45, https://doi.org/10.2307/1344975.

[8] Ignazio Silone and Eric Mosbacher, Bread and Wine (New York: Signet Classics, 2005).

[9] Tom Moylan, “ANTICIPATORY FICTION: ‘BREAD and WINE’ and LIBERATION THEOLOGY,” Modern Fiction Studies 35, no. 1 (1989): 103–17, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26282985.

[10] Franz Schneider, “Scriptural Symbolism in Silone’s Bread and Wine,” Italica 44, no. 4 (December 1967): 387, https://doi.org/10.2307/477837.

[11] “Signs and History in ‘Bread and Wine:’ Silone’s Dilemma of Social Change on JSTOR,” Jstor.org, 2022, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1344975.

[12] Vaneesa Cook, “Eighty Years since Bread and Wine: Ignazio Silone’s Christian Socialism – Dissent Magazine,” Dissent Magazine, May 13, 2016, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/eighty-years-since-bread-wine-ignazio-silone-moral-christian-socialism.

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: February 2, 2023Last Updated: February 28, 2024

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