John Hersey

A Bell For Adano

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A Bell For Adano Summary

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John Hershey’s novel A Bell for Adano takes place during the 1943-allied occupation of Adano, a fictional city autonomous region near Italy. The protagonist, Major Victor Joppolo, is the temporary administrator of the city during the occupation and is referred to by the people of Adano as Mister Major. Joppolo is a visionary, seeking to bring compassion and justice to the town in the wake of the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. Upon his arrival, Joppolo begins assessing what the town needs the most. He gathers this knowledge by asking the townspeople, who are eager to offer their opinions. The first spokesman says they need food, as many of Adano’s citizens have not eaten in days. The second argues that the immediate need is for a new bell, the original bell having been taken by a group of Fascists. Joppolo, touched by the story of the bell, realizes how important the bell is to the community.

In addition to finding the bell, Joppolo sets out to re-establish order in the community. The first step is to ensure the town is provided with food, water, and other necessities. He discovers that fishing, the main source of sustenance for the town, has been severely depleted due to fisherman being forced to pay a “protection” fee to the Fascist regime for the right to fish. Joppolo relays to the townspeople that, under the Americans, they will no longer be required to remit such a tax. The leader of the fisherman, Tomasino is skeptical of Joppolo and does not believe him at first. He is convinced Joppolo is lying and that the promise is nothing more than a cruel trick. Tomasino’s disbelief is due to his distrust of people in authority; he believes they are innately corrupt and power hungry. However, after much convincing and a trip to Joppolo’s superior, Tomasino is finally convinced that Joppolo’s intentions are noble and all he desires is that the people of Adano have sufficient supplies of food. With the help of Lt. Livingston, Tomasino and his fleet of fisherman soon take to the water to resume their trade.

To show their gratitude for Joppolo’s efforts, they send Tomasino’s daughter Tina to invite him to dinner. Meanwhile, Joppolo discovers that the town’s bell has been melted down. He offers them the Liberty Bell in its place, however, the townspeople reject the notion of having their bell replaced with one that has been damaged. During this time, Joppolo’s commanding officer orders that the main road leading into Adano be cleared of all mule carts and other civilian vehicles to make room for forthcoming military convoys. Protesting the action, the townspeople gather outside Joppolo’s office, pleading that the mayor intercede before they face certain death by not being allowed to transport food and water into the town. Moved by their predicament, Joppolo rescinds his commanding officer’s order over the strenuous objections of some of his colleagues. Attempts to report Joppolo’s actions are countermanded by men who, like Joppolo, are sympathetic to the plight of the town.

Later that same evening, Joppolo joins Tomasino and his daughter for dinner. Tina tells him that she has dyed her hair a striking blond so that she will stand out. Joppolo in turn, tells her about life in the Bronx, including the fact that he has a wife. Meanwhile, Capt. Purvis, whose initial objection to Joppolo’s actions was subverted, is reprimanded by his superiors for not submitting status reports in a timely manner. He realizes that the report of Joppolo’s insubordination is still sitting on his desk and orders that it be delivered to the proper authorities at once. The delivery is sabotaged once again by another soldier, Borth, who purposely addresses the letter to the wrong individual.

After Joppolo’s request for a new town bell makes its way up the chain of command and is summarily denied, Major Joppolo seeks help from Lt. Livingstone, whose friend recalls seeing the bell on a destroyer commanded by an old shipmate. The friend, Commander Robertson, agrees to help retrieve it. Robertson makes good on his word. However, the success of this venture is short lived. The delayed letter indicating Joppolo’s disregard of a direct order makes its way up the chain of command. In the midst of the celebrations for the arrival of the new bell, Borth receives a cable notifying him that Joppolo has been relieved of duty for insubordination and must report immediately to his superiors. Borth decides to hold the cable until after the celebrations being held that night in Joppolo’s honor. At the ceremony, the townspeople unveil a portrait of Joppolo that has been gifted to him in gratitude for his actions. It is then that Borth barges in, breaking Joppolo’s reverie and informs the major that he has been relieved of duty.

The next morning, as the new bell tolls for the first time, Joppolo leaves town to face the music for his actions, unable to bid his friends farewell.