Lives of the Saints is a story that examines the complexities and tribulations of everyday life in a small town. Throughout the novel, we discover that even the most trustworthy and caring individuals live secret lives behind closed doors, and that the surface appearance of minor communities can be very deceptive. Some people spend their entire adult-lives trying to knock down these doors and discover the truth, but perhaps they are overlooking the key to the lock our children. Vittorio Innocente is a young boy who has not always lived up to his name.
My attendance at school had not been very regular-it had somehow fallen out that I d spent much of class time wandering up to the top of Colle di Papa or down to the river with my friend Fabrizio, sharing with him the cigarettes he filched from his father. La Maestra had paid a visit to my mother one afternoon, to advise her of my truancy and vices. (9). We find that Vitto is trying to turn around his poor school habits, and has been trying to read through a novel called Principi Matematici, but to no avail. As he sat stranded on page three of his mathematical conquest, he was overcome by a wealth of distractions.
The golden sun was shining down on him that day, or so it seemed, for as he was drifting off to sleep the muffled shout of a man shattered what would appear to be his last enjoyable day; at least for a long time. Childhood can be a fragile thing. It is commonly believed that children see the world through different eyes. Everything seems fresh and interesting to them, where we become saturated with the details of our everyday lives. The eyes of Vittorio Innocente act as a safeguard, seemingly protecting him from truth and danger that he cannot see.
Since the incident with the snake, Vittorio had noticed that his mother had been keeping to herself, working in the garden. However, he could not understand what was wrong with her, and could not figure out why the household seemed so empty. A veil seemed to have fallen between us, and for a while I had nursed this estrangement like a precious wound I could somehow turn to advantage; but the passing days brought only a growing awkwardness, as if my mother and I had suddenly become strangers, with no words now to bridge the silence between us (74).
Vittorio s safety-goggles also help him when the gang of boys invite him up to the mountain. He cannot see the danger that has befallen him. Luckily, his friend Fabrizio saves him just in time, and proves that he is a true friend. Unfortunately, to every advantage there are a few disadvantages. When Fabrizio saves Vitto on the mountain, he doesn t understand what has happened. I felt myself flush with anger and hate, hate for Fabrizio, my only friend, who seemed suddenly stupid and useless beyond all bearing (127).
Eventually, as Vittorio makes his progression towards maturity, he realizes that he had underestimated his friend, and they become closer because of it. As the old saying goes, ignorance is bliss. But perhaps in the case of this young boy, it isn t. Maybe if he had been able to understand the severity of the problem his family was in, he would have acted differently. Lives of the Saints also deals with the contrast of good and evil, something that Vittorio comes across on numerous occasions throughout the story.
There are far more characters in this story then I could mention on these pages, so I will write about the people who had the greatest effect on Vittorio). His encounter with Luciano of Rocca Secca is one of the key elements in the book. For his seventh birthday, Vittorio and his mother travel to Rocca Secca to buy him some birthday presents. On their way towards the market, Cristina meets a tall, muscular man that Vittorio has never seen. The man (Luciano) carries him piggyback down to a secluded area of town, and takes a large one-lira coin out of his pocket.
Luciano tells him the story of how he picked it up during the war, and how it saved his life. Vittorio is surprised when Luciano gives him the coin as a birthday present, and tells Vitto that it will bring him good luck. For years, La Maestra had been a name that struck fear into the hearts of children in Valle del Sole. She had a particular dislike for Vittorio because of his behaviour in class, along with his constant absences. But when his mother s affair becomes common knowledge around the town, La Maestra feels pity for the young boy.
Knowing that the older boys are after him, she asks him to stay after school and sweep the floors or do other chores in the classroom. Eventually, their silent friendship grows to that of a mother-son relationship. Seeing that Vittorio has changed his classroom habits, La Maestra begins reading him stories from a book called Lives of the Saints. It is filled with the stories of many saints and the good deeds they had done. Vittorio likes the book so much that he brings it home with him sometimes, fascinated with the tales. On the day before he leaves before America, she gives him the book to keep.
I hope you ll live by it, she says. I hope you ll follow their example (172). Without a doubt, the most loyal and caring person in this story (excluding his mother) is Fabrizio. Throughout the novel, we see that Fabrizio s life is not an easy one. He comes from one of the poorest families in the community, and his father, being an alcoholic, beats him regularly. Despite his dismal home life, he still manages to act cheerful and friendly around Vittorio. The defining moment in their friendship is when Fabrizio saves Vitto from the gang of boys on the mountain.
Fabrizio willingly sacrificed himself for the sake of Vittorio s safety, throwing his body into an angry mob of bigger and stronger boys. Perhaps it is his experiences with his father that made him so tough and courageous. In any case, Vittorio never really appreciates his loyal friend until his last day in Valle del Sole, when Fabrizio gives him his most precious possession, his jackknife. They become spit brothers and vow that they will meet again someday in America. The element of evil has not been left behind in the text. We find it on nearly every page, lurking in the shadows of every crevice Vittorio uncovers.
It first comes in the form of a blue-eyed stranger, who shatters Cristi s innocence, and conceivably the innocence of Valle del Sole. We later find evil in the local women who spread gossip around town and look at Vittorio s family with disgust. The final (and most important) element of evil is found on the ship, while heading towards America. Its name is Dr. Cosabene, who is a victim of alcohol. After being introduced to the doctor at the last meal, Vittorio and his mother took an immediate disliking to him; he seemed to ask too many questions.
I didn t mean to upset la signora- but I wonder why a woman in her state would travel? Why not wait another month or two, and have the baby at home? (211). After the large meal, the doctor remained in the dining hall with his own bottle of wine and found a spot on a couch to lie down. He seemed to be accustomed to having storms on the ship, and refused to return to his room. A few hours later, when Vittorio comes rushing back for the doctor to tell him of his mother s pains, he is uninterested. My mother wants you to come, says the young boy.
Leave me alone, replies the doctor in a drunken stupor. You re that woman s son, aren t you, the pregnant one who thinks she s a princess (221). When the doctor is finally convinced to check up on Cristina, he only makes matters worse. Upon his arrival in Vitto s room, Cristina notices his condition and says: You smell-like a liquor factory (225). He takes no notice of these remarks, showing no concern for the life of the baby or Cristi. Although he manages to deliver the baby, we find that Vittorio s mother has died during the night due to excessive bleeding.
Dr. Cosabene s ignorance has brought death and pain to a family that has been reduced to two, a young boy and his little sister. Vitto will no longer have a normal life. He has no mother or father. He has no money, and he has nowhere to live. Consequently, he has a newborn child to look after. Where has his childhood gone? It looks as though the doctor has taken it from him, and he will never get it back. One thing remains certain Vittorio Innocente will never look through the eyes of a child again.