Christ Stopped At Eboli Summary

Carlo Levi

Christ Stopped at Eboli

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Christ Stopped At Eboli Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi.

Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi is a memoir that was published in 1945. It tells of the author’s exile to Grassano and Aliano, which are small secluded towns in the south of Italy in what is now Basilicata but was then called Lucania. The exile took place from 1935 to 1936. In the book, he refers to Aliano as Gagliano, a fictitious name. The title of the book is derived from a saying of the people of Gagliano who feel that they have been ignored by Christianity and morality, so they say, “Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli.” It suggests that they have not been able to fully experience the human condition.

Levi is a prisoner of the Fascist regime that is in power in Italy. Not very much happens during the year he spends in exile. It does not turn out to be, as many might have predicted, a particularly horrible situation, even though he is a political prisoner. The treatment he receives is humane and he is mostly left to himself and is not much of a concern to his captors. He is required to remain inside of a small physical area but is not subject to very much above that. The narrative is not even largely about Fascism on the surface. It tells of a dignified man who becomes a part of a culture and adopts a different way of thinking. He adapts these things to represent a time and place that people of the twentieth century have not experienced or have long forgotten. Levi paints a picture of a people that shows them to be thoroughly unmodern in their ways. Moreover, they are repressed completely by the forces that surround them to the point of being fully controlled and resigned to their destiny in life.

It seems that the people of Gagliano do not have a burning hatred for fascism or even a tone of resentment towards it. Rather, they seem to be indifferent to, and accepting of, the conditions under which they live. Fascism to them is just another in a string of ideologies that Rome has embraced and that, in the long run, will likely not have much of an effect on their lives. In fact, the author points out that the people of the region have had similar reactions to all of the political systems that have been forced upon them at various times. The State as an institution is foreign to the citizens of Gagliano, explains Levi, who himself is an anarchist. The people feel forgotten but are accepting of that fate. They have never been a part of history, so they look at themselves as being excluded from the history of mankind.

Only one event is pointed to as potentially drawing the Gaglianoans into history. It is referred to as “brigandage,” which in the middle of the nineteenth century found Italian brigands, or gangs of ambushers, fighting against the growing Italian state. The Gaglianoans were on the side of the brigands who lost. The people of Gagliano were somewhat invested in this battle because it would have allowed them to hold on to the control over their own future and was historically more significant to them than the first World War turned out to be. The book is a collection of stories of events that, as a whole, show a culture that was heavily oppressed and without the power to do anything about it. The author had gained recognition as a painter as well as an antifascist. He had been arrested the year prior to his period of exile but was released after a short time. After his exile, he settled in France but returned to Italy during World War II and in 1942 was once again arrested on political grounds.

In its 1975 obituary for Carlo Levi, The New York Times said of the author, “He was best known for his book Christ Stopped at Eboli, an account of his experiences in a small town in Lucania, or Basilicata, a backward region in Italy’s deep South, where he had been ordered to live under police surveillance in 1935 and 1936, because of anti‐Fascist activities in his native Turin. The book, giving most Italians and the world a startling glimpse of archaic lifestyles and underdevelopment in southern Italy, was an instant success. It has been translated into many languages. Paolo Milano, in a review for The New York Times Book Review in 1947, the year of the book’s publication in the United States, called the work ‘a diary, an album of sketches, a novelette, a sociological study and a political essay,’ and added: ‘It has more than a trait of each genre; yet it remains as hard to classify as every beautiful book, or as the man who wrote this one.’”