Re-Inventing Sicily in Italian American Writing and Film

By Gardaphe, Fred | MELUS, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Re-Inventing Sicily in Italian American Writing and Film

Gardaphe, Fred, MELUS

   The history of Sicily is one of defeats: defeats of reason,
   defeats of reasonable men.... From that however comes skepticism,
   that is not, in effect, the acceptance of defeat, but a margin of
   security, of elasticity, through which the defeat, already
   expected, already rationalized, does not become definitive and
   mortal. Skepticism is healthy though.
   It is the best antidote to fanaticism. (6)

   Leonardo Sciascia
   Sicily as a Metaphor

Sicily, the setting for many famous myths such as those we know from Homer's The Odyssey, has proven to be equally fertile soil for the mythology of Italian Americans. With a literary tradition that goes back more than a thousand years, it would only be a matter of time before emigrants from Sicily, the Italian region that sent more emigrants than any other to the United States, would affect American literature. The offspring of Sicilian immigrants have created an eruption of writing that testifies to the power that the island has on the artists it creates. Through contemporary Sicilian American historians, memoirists, fiction writers, poets, and culinary aesthetes, Sicily is insured of passing along more to American culture than the mafia and St. Joseph tables. This look at the use of Sicily in the works of a few Italian American writers and filmmakers focuses on how Sicily serves as the source of non- or even anti-American elements that help shape characters' identities. Sicily also serves as a source from which writers can create artistic antidotes to what they perceive as socio-cultural ills spawned in and by the United States. American writers go to Sicily, actually or through their imagination, in search of what they cannot find in the United States. The result is a rewriting of Sicily and the United States into something uniquely Sicilian American.

The dean of Sicilian American writers, Jerre Mangione, was an American-born son of Sicilian immigrants. Mangione grew up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood of Rochester, New York. His memoir, Mount Allegro, which has remained in print most of the years since its first appearance in 1943, is the first of four non-fictional books written by Mangione that deal with Sicilian and Sicilian American culture. In each book Sicily represents an "old world" that affects his development, from Sicilian, to American, and eventually to Sicilian American. The books are Mount Allegro (1943), Reunion in Sicily (1950), A Passion for Sicilians (1968), and An Ethnic At Large (1978). Mangione's life and writing, in many respects, are attempts to escape Sicilian notions of "destino." He tells us that his relatives' lives are governed by traditions and myths. Mangione writes that "destino," a barrier that keeps his relatives from becoming Americans, contained "strong elements of fatalism" that were "ingrained in the Sicilian soul by centuries of poverty and oppression.... In their minds, 'Destino,' the willingness to resign oneself to misfortune, was the key to survival; to refuse to believe that an almighty force predetermined the fate of all people was to court disaster" (Ethnic 32). Mangione can overcome this barrier only by leaving his relatives. Throughout Mount Allegro we get the sense that the narrator is documenting the decline of a people, the end of an era, an era that becomes history the moment the narrator separates himself from his immigrant relatives. In fact, Mangione can only write this book after he has left his home. As Mangione tells us in Contemporary Novelists, "the experiences that became the substance of Mount Allegro accentuated for me the sharp contrast between the philosophical values of the old world and those of the new. It also succeeded in casting me in the role of outsider who, belonging to neither world, tries to create his own world by writing" (571).

Mangione's role of the outsider causes a submerging of the self in his non-fictional writings. This insertion of the narrator as an invisible protagonist/observer, according to Ben Morreale, is a typical characteristic of control practiced by many Sicilian writers:

   Coming from an island that had been the crossroads of armies bent
   on world domination for centuries, having insecurities that some
   have translated into a psychological paura storica, or history of
   fear, the Sicilian has learned not to reveal himself. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Re-Inventing Sicily in Italian American Writing and Film


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.