Resignation in Giovanni Verga’s I Malavoglia
Faculty Mentor: Cinzia Noble, French and Italian
The purpose of my research is to present a clear understanding of the view of life presented in
Giovanni Verga’s novel, I Malavoglia. I chose to study this author because I had been exposed to
his short stories in my Italian courses and had been intrigued by Verga’s strong desire to present
the world as realistically as he saw it. My mentor recommended the novel to me because it is the
first in a series Verga proposed to write that would explore the lives of those that struggle against
their own fate and fail tragically. The main question that arose in my mind as I read the novel
was how to define the role of God or divinity in the story. Religion played a large part in the
culture of the people in the novel, yet fate also plays a prominent role. I wanted to know if fate
really is the supreme power in the novel or if God, in some form or other, could be said to govern
the world of the novel.
Before I could form a sound hypothesis, I researched everything involving the topics of fate and
religion available to me on I Malavoglia. The process took much longer than expected. Initially I
thought it would be helpful to have a good understanding of the religious climate at the time in
which Verga wrote and the period of the novel, spending many hours focusing on this. Though
information is never wasted, I did not address this topic in my thesis paper. Instead, after some
discussions with my mentors, I decided to focus more on the novel and the themes Verga
presents in it. This slight change of direction was very helpful to me, and I was able to
concentrate my energies on the themes more closely related to the topics I was interested in
As I read from many different critics and carefully studied the novel, the question I hoped to
answer became clearer and also more complicated, as seems to be so often the case. Upon closer
evaluation of God and the established Catholic religion in the novel, it became evident that
Verga’s presentation of both is very pessimistic. God does not respond to the characters’ pleas in
times of trial, remaining silent throughout the novel. Also, established religion is presented in a
very disparaging light. Instead of providing some kind of spiritual guide, most of the characters,
including the only priest of the village, use it for their own selfish purposes. Verga uses sarcasm
and irony to share these critical views with his reader.
Though it seemed clear to me that God, or divinity, does not play a role in the outcome of the
characters’ lives, two other opposing forces do. Having already established early on that fate
plays an important role in the novel, a new concept emerged that needed to be reconciled to my
hypothesis. Verga presents a concept he calls the “religion of the family” in one of his short
stories, Fantasticheria, a kind of preface to the novel. 1 This type of religion in effect replaces
organized religion and establishes morals based on a person’s fidelity to family and tradition.
The inherently opposite natures of these two concepts proved to be very perplexing-fate implies
a life without choice that follows some predestined path, whereas religion is based on morals and
choices that receive either rewards or punishments. I needed to find a point at which they both
meet that would explain their coexistence in the novel, and the way they both influence the
characters lives. For instance, the eldest son of the Malavoglia family becomes disillusioned with
the life of hard work his family has endured for generations and leaves them to seek his fortune
in some city far away. He becomes a type of exile in the end and won’t return to his village. I
wondered, was it because he abandoned his family or rebelled against his fate that he doesn’t
belong with his family anymore? I later came to the conclusion that he is an exile for both types
of transgression. But the question led me to realize that though the presence of both fate and the
religion of the family have been addressed often by other critics, none of them seemed to answer
the question as to how or why they can exist together as such inextricable parts of the story. The
answer to this became the key to my research.
I had considered the concept of resignation early on in my inquiry, but without a full
understanding of its importance. Not until I went back to some of my early writings addressing
resignation did I realize that this attribute belonged to both fate and the religion of the family.
Both powers require total resignation. The religion of the family requires complete resignation
to family tradition and the good of the family, making a solid family unit and the handing down
of tradition the highest moral good. Fate requires resignation in the same way, forcing the
characters to accept their life situations without even the desire to change. Fate and Verga’s
religion intertwine to govern the characters of the novel with their demand for resignation.
I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to learn and grow through this research process.
Though at times it has been grueling, I have learned a lot about myself. Besides the academic
knowledge I have gained, I have also learned a lot from the interactions with the professors that
have mentored me. They set a wonderful example of successful yet well-rounded women that I
hope one day to emulate. I know I will use this experience in whatever path I may take in the
Verga, Giovanni. Tutte le Novelle. Vol. 1. Milano: Oscar Mondadori, 1982. 127.