Essay: Elsa Morante's History a Novel Less Obvious Horrors of War

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Elsa Morante is a writer that shows how a female voice articulates the less obvious horrors of war through the various processes of feminine agency, subversive female sounds and spaces that disrupt male hegemonic order and expose trauma to the reader. Morante paints an all to elusive picture of the specific female war experience of displacement and/or home-occupation, including violation, betrayal, and rape.

Elsa Morante's La Storia: romanzo respins the Grand Narratives by questioning its structure in its accusation against fascism and its impassioned request for a "risveglio comune." It is a disturbing, yet powerful novel that retells the lives of various characters living in one of Rome's poorest neighborhoods set in World War II. The characters, who live in abject poverty also face tragic ends as they attempt to survive. The story centers around four characters: Ida Mancuso, nee Ramundo, and her two sons, Nino and Useppe.

The novel focuses on the character's daily routines as the world envelopes in global and economic turmoil. The novel's time range is from 1941 and 1947 and consists of nine chapters. Each chapter is prefaced by differing, semi-official accounts of world political events focus on or before World War II. This helps the reader identify the desire the writer has to critique and distort traditional historical accounts and narratives. Elsa Morante is a writer that shows how a female voice articulates the less obvious horrors of war through the various processes of feminine agency, subversive female sounds and spaces that disrupt male hegemonic order and expose trauma to the reader. Morante paints an all too elusive picture of the specific female war experience of displacement and/or home-occupation, including violation, betrayal, and rape.

The main story, narrated by a woman who holds higher value over feelings and psychologies of the unknown over historical facts or archival history, suggests the possible thoughts and mindsets of the traditional historians and writers who ignore the regular people of history, but rather focus on the major events. History is afterall, the frame within which Morante recreates lives of the unknowns in an era filled with memorable events. This helps paint a richer picture of the moment in focus as well as illuminate the possible ways people lived their lives at that time. Ida, who lived a miserable life, could care less about what was going on in Germany. All she cared about was her safety and the safety of her children.

Morante shows the manner in which this frame holds sway by victimizing and excluding the poorest and most marginalized of the population. She meticulously describes the lives of impoverished, powerless people: women, children, and outcasts. These people, opposite of the male protagonists that make up the written history of WWII, helps Morante express ethical dilemmas about historical narration and the responsibility of the artist to demonstrate the deeper meaning often hidden amidst so-called facts. In this complex text, fictional narrative and History fufill the role of fundamental opposites.

Conception, birth, and ultimately death are three concepts that serve to present the individual as a historical subject. Morante does this be reinforcing the tragic existence of society through womanhood and motherhood. She denounces the idea of sacrifice and suffering as a means of salvation and shows through the deaths in the story the relation of tragedy to obscurity. La Storia's first chapter focuses and narrates the conception of Useppe. The last chapter describes Ida's hallucination of Useppe's return to life after his death.

To form a tale around the life cycle of a character is a narrative strategy that implicitly imbues the text with human subjectivity focusing on the temporary existence and meaning of a person's life. Of the various little horrors that befall the characters of the novel, the saddest would have to be the rape of Ida. Ida, the half-Jewish Italian becomes impregnated against her will by a young German soldier, Gunther, on leave in Rome for only a few hours. The story of Ida Ramundo and her sons starts with the following lines: "One day in January of the year 1941, a German soldier walking in the San Lorenzo district in Rome. He knew all of four words in Italian and the world knew little or nothing. Name was Gunther. The surname is unknown" (13)

Morante describes the soldier as being young, inexperienced, and lost when he arrives in the city he believes to be allied with the Germans. The 18-year-old boy, on a January afternoon, by chance, encounters a mature, widowed woman, Ida Ramundo. In this encounter and in an act of frustration, fear and desire, rapes her, and disappears from the story. Gunther goes against the German stereotype of "tall, blond, with the usual conduct disciplinary difanatismo" (15) and demonstrates the lack of detail History has when referring to people. In reality Gunther is a mere teenage boy: "He was a simple rookie last lever War. And until the time of the call to his dutiesmilitary, had always lived with his brothers and his widowed mother in her native home in Bavaria, near Monaco" (15) who wished to escape from his harsh reality.

La Storia serves as Morante's negative judgement of History's repeated ignorance and lack of compassion toward the millions of ignored who endured its existence. Morante exposes unethical behaviors that in History, typically tend to be forgotten. These are the less obvious horrors of wars and economic hardship that hardly ever get mentioned in detail in traditional Historic narratives. Aside from the morbidity and tragedy that befalls the characters of the story, Morante's novel is also a sincere depiction of its narrator's love and concern for the victimized protagonists. Their tragic tellings serve as an author's plea for the integrity and representational value of the underprivleged.

While constructing new ways to represent and narrate the story, Morante still adheres to the italian style. Morante's La Storia is quintessentially Italian through emphasis on locality and experience of impoverished Romans against the strenous background of WWII. As Morante put's it, the story's main characters are the unwitting pawns of History and its representation. They end their lives with no significant gain or benefit, as well as little agency. The only release they experience from their agony of enduring disadvantaged positions is through death.

Ida is Jewish and in during that time was not allowed stay because of her religious beliefs. Ida, in the last months of her pregnancy, bares witness to the Nazi's implementation of the "soluzione finale" that ordered the removal and deportation of all Jews from occupied countries to concentration camps (78, 90). One of the unnoticed horrors is when Ida dreams of searching for a hospital in which to give birth, and everyone rejecting her because of her Jewish background. La Storia goes into further detail of Ida's suffering through Ida's isolation and alienation through pregnancy. She tries at first to ignore her pregnancy, then to hide her pregnancy from all she encounters, ending with the birth of a boy who was a product of rape by a man who died in the war.

Morante revisits the symbolic mother paradigm by showing the reader various representations. These representations range from a somber renditon of la pieta in a neorealist portrayal, to motherly roles that gnarl and alter the tradtional mother figure into a pathetic picture in contrast to the widely beloved pious virgin. She does this by first showcasing a mother's loss through Useppe's conception and ends soon after his death.The truth Morante wants to emphasize is the situation of everyone in the novel being worse after the war is over, contradicting the commonly held belief that when war ends, good times resume.

Death follows the characters as the description of Useppe's death holds all the tragedy within the book. During Useppe's last week of life, little Useppe exhibits behavior indicative of his acceptance of his fate. "He had the feeling, in fact, to have left something out, or wait for something, did not know that" (628). Useppe and his dog bella go to a location in the story an begins to have visions of dead familymembers and friends as he watches the birds: "Useppe recognized in their persons many species of Ninucce and grandchildren Scimo" (632) Useppe's sudden encounter with a band of young boys, he incorrectly identifies as "I pirati" attempts to defend himself by throwing rocks and succembing to a series of epileptic fits that leave him unconscious and bloody. The way Ida finds Useppe and the sight of his death: "Useppe's body lay relaxed, with arms wide open, as always, in his fallen" (646).show the utter struggle and lament of the woman.

After more than six hundred pages recounting her attempts to survive and raise her son in an ardous and isolative time that is cruel to her kind, Ida is here cast in the role of the sorrowful mother, as she silently and helplessly endures her own child's suffering as a consequence of war. History depicts the battles and the civilian casualties as the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Elsa Morante's History a Novel Less Obvious Horrors of War.  (2013, May 2).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from

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"Elsa Morante's History a Novel Less Obvious Horrors of War."  2 May 2013.  Web.  26 June 2019. <>.

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"Elsa Morante's History a Novel Less Obvious Horrors of War."  May 2, 2013.  Accessed June 26, 2019.