Novels, autobiographies, collections of letters and accounts of the fascist years of World War II have been and are still flourishing on the Italian literary market, signaling that the dispute over fascism is far from being a completely ‘established’ reality and that there is still a reckoning of sorts occurring with the country’s checkered past. Furthermore, the increasing political debate about revisionism and the Italian Resistance reinforces the case that fascism still has unanswered questions. So far, the many literary works that have depicted the horrors of the Holocaust, the fascist repression, and the Italian Resistance contain essential resources for the cultural representation of those tragic events. However, in the majority of the cases, these works, and their critiques have focused on truces and representative events, neglecting, at least in part, the intimate suffering experienced by those individuals belonging to the lowest levels of society. Elsa Morante’s response to this is her seminal work, La Storia, which deals with the story of Ida, an unassuming primary school teacher, who happens to live during the most difficult period of Italian history. Being half-Jewish, the protagonist experiences first-hand the suffering caused by racial discrimination, social homologation, poverty, illness, and death.
Morante transforms Ida into a sacrificial victim, one of those marginalized individuals who has been neglected by official history. The protagonist continuously suffers, both physically and mentally. She is deprived of all that is good in her existence by the obscure forces of history. In Morante’s work, love becomes rape, life becomes death, health becomes illness, and sanity becomes madness. Only at the end of the novel does the author lead the reader to reflect upon whether history is really an abstract force or if it originates from the corruption of human morality.
Whether the nature of suffering is physical or mental, individuals receive signals that alert them to their condition; however, this is not sufficient to guarantee their awareness. Analyzing individuals’ recurring behaviors and, in this specific case, the behavior of the characters in La Storia, one must engage in the analysis of the exact process through which an individual, who is confused and perplexed about his/her condition, recreates their condition continuously in order to comprehend precisely what he/she experiences. It is through this that they attempt to retrace and review their steps to find where their distress originated, and how it has been developed, processed, and, in some cases, eliminated. These considerations help to identify the precise moment at which individuals realize their condition, producing an immediate response to it. Becoming aware of suffering can help an individual, to deal with stressful situations as he or she becomes aware of what causes this distress; thus, the individual becomes able to target his or her reactions accordingly. Nevertheless, most of the time, the suffering that an individual identifies presents inevitable and unavoidable implications.
Personal awareness of suffering does not involve explicit comprehension of the nature of one’s distress; it involves other factors such as the projection of personal suffering onto a collective level, which is the ultimate reality that the characters in Morante’s La Storia face.
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