Role and representation of death in ``Il Gattopardo'' by G. Tomasi di Lampedusa

Date of Completion

January 1997


Literature, Romance




Set in Sicily in 1860-61, Il Gattopardo is the story of the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy, recounted through the memoirs of Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina. Against the backdrop of key political events, Lampedusa describes the physical and psychological decline of the Prince, until his death. As metaphor, the death of Don Fabrizio represents the demise of a social class and the end of an era.^ In the mind of the Prince, death and history are personified. History (the bourgeoisie) is perceived by Don Fabrizio as an adversary; Death (the star/woman Venus) becomes a refuge, a solution to the conflict between History and the Prince.^ This thesis explores the multiple meanings and functions of Death within the novel: as an allegory of the decline of a social class; in its literal meaning, as the aging and death of the Prince; and in the relation between the feeling of death and its Christian inspiration.^ The first chapter analyzes the evolution of the dialectical relation between History and Death, until its synthesis, with the inversion of the relations History/Enemy, Death/Ally, which converge in the one meaning History/Death.^ The second chapter focuses on the symbolic images of Death created by the protagonist. The Prince fears the physical effects of Death: decadence and decay. As a consequence, he adapts its representations to his needs. Death is Venus, a beautiful star/woman.^ The third chapter explores the relation between the idea of Death and the sense of religion. Don Fabrizio recognizes the existence of God. Nonetheless, he tries to evade the confrontation with His Authority. The idea of Death contains an unknown which scares the Prince--the chance of the final Judgment.^ This study demonstrates that Death is not just a feeling permeating the pages of Il Gattopardo. It is its formative principle. Death is protagonist because it is an antagonist to the Prince. The opposition arising from the conflict between the Prince and Death is the energy which gives form and movement to the novel. ^