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The Image of Hybrid and Monster in the Stories of Primo Levi and Anna Ortese Essay


An Italian novelist, essayist, and chemist Primo Levi creates the unique world of the fantastic beings. Being the italian short writer and novelist, Anna Ortese combines the elements of fantasy and realism in her stories. In context of the 21st century, the ideas and images of Levi and Ortese are quite striking.

Portraying the pictures of unusual animals such as hybrids and monsters, Primo Levi and Anna Ortese create the unique worlds where the imagination is called in order to show the human nature transformed by the social environment and suffering.

Although Levi was Jew, he wasn’t close to the religion until the government passed some strict laws related to this community. Obviously, all the stories were written under the influence of social atmosphere in the post Second World War Europe. The dramatic events related to Jewish Italians are reflected in the stories of Levi in such fantastic and mythical way. The Fascist Regime destabilized the socio-cultural life of the Europe.

The expressions of this regime were vivid in the collective memory in a postwar Italy. Perhaps, Levi’s perception was traumatized by observing the horror during the war. Dehumanization and marginalization brought the influence of a dark mode on the stories. Through the fantastic images, Levi is able to demonstrate the poignant sense of betrayals.

In a story Angelic Butterfly, Levi shows the image of neoteny of the axolotl as the result of Nazi Professor Leeb’s experiment of the transformation humans into the winged creatures similar to angels. Levi uses the animalization as a particular form of demonization. This image is not traditional in the European literature. However, an idea of such hybrid could be quite expected from the Nazi. Perhaps, Levi creates this monster under the influence of his experience during the World War II.

Thinking about the way of finding human roots, Levi supposes that the origin of human’s behavior is not only in a family’s genealogy. Those roots can be found in words that people read, music that they hear, paintings and films that they see, and journey that people have ever taken. There are actually no rules of the human relations. Everybody uses one’s own experience according to the personal roots.

The fantastic tale Quaestino de Centauris, first appeared in 1961, is one of the most significant and favorably Levi’s stories. The mythical image of the centaur is used as a symbol of mankind. The creature is struggled between the human and bestial nature. This is an allusion of the Jewish people belonging at the same time to their ethnic and the host cultures, as well as a symbol of Levi himself.

The image of centaur starts the tale and centers upon an idea of the hybrid as someone bigger than the sum of its parts. The fantastic image cannot help escape from the cruel reality, however, through the image of centaur the author can reflect his experience of the 1930s and 1940s within the Italian society with the numerous betrayals and disappointment. This is a hidden theme of the story.

According to Levi, the way of evolution is never linear and can lead to the devolution. The similar idea appears also in the The Search for Roots: “natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in a species exclusively for the good of another species” (Levi, 28). The evolution of centaur is a special tool of showing the process opposite to the usual way of development.

Using the archaic utopia, Levi shows the traditional pastoral with the themes and structure of the European folk traditions. The idyllic harmony of the Edenic is an important part of the composition. Obviously, the European society is not similar to this idyll; however, the image of the beast-man refused and abandoned is perfect allusion of the neglected victims of the war.

Besides, the image of centaur can be considered as a protector of borders and guardian of the society as it was accepted in the culture of ancient Greek. The centaur expresses a human degeneration and the doubts about the future development of the civilization.

The monster figure in literature usually reflects the conception of menace of the reality’s integrity. Traditionally, they are the representatives of chaos, discort and violence. The same idea we can see in the stories of Levi. His monsters and hybrids should set thinking about the evolution and degradation.

However, the monsters of Levi’s stories are not just a symbol of the beast; moreover, they are an allusion to the mankind which produces more cruelty than a beast. Levi wants to call the sympathy of readers toward the monsters. His centaur is a victim which has will to survive in this hostile society.

The collective cultural and historical memory of the Jewish community allows Levi to use the ancient fantastic images. The monsters as the Jewish people in Italian society try to survive. Therefore, the image of the monster helps Levi to express his experience of the Jewish existence in the 20th century (Nicholas, 136).

As well as Primo Levi, Anna Ortese uses the elements of realism and fantasy making the works dreamlike. Her style is particularly similar to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka. The major themes of Ortese’s works are anxiety, loss and bad sides of the humans. Use of the collective cultural memory is one of the main characteristics of her stories which help to investigate the human nature.

From the beginning of The Iguana written in a style of fairy tale, the reader becomes unsettled. The prologue of the story can be considered from the economic aspect behind the aesthetic conditions. The young Italian count Aleardo comes to the island of Ocana and meets strange servant who probably seems to be an iguana.

Watering down the line between the reality and fantasy, the author makes hint about the social problems and environmental conscience. The iguana is not a monster as reader may suggest, it is a symbol of human relationships within different classes and communities in the natural world.

Being the main hero of the story, the iguana is an image of the oppression which can be taken away only with a help of the young Italian count who is ready to die in order to save the iguana’s life (Ortese 163). The iguana being cherished once later becomes abandoned and identified with its evil essence. However, intrinsically this creature is not an evil. The count’s sacrifice as a symbol of the best characteristics is a hope on the future progress of the civilization.

The reality and dreams cooperate into the creation of the fantastic woman hybrid. Perhaps, it can be difficult for a reader to understand the whole meaning of the story. Was it an iguana who transformed into the human being, or it was a human who became a reptilian?

Nevertheless, this story can be called the social and, moreover, ecological fairy tale which brings disappointment. The count dies and doesn’t realize his dream to involve and integrate the beast into a society where love to the creatures and nature has been forgotten. Ortese says that “anyone whom God has given a fate of continuous encounters with Evil has been dealt a terrible blow” (92).

Describing the picture of monsters and hybrids, Primo Levi and Anna Ortese use the imagination which suggests readers to set thinking about the real monsters of the society. The beasts of the stories are only the allusions of the mankind which turns the evolution into degeneration.

It is obvious that the way of perception of the both authors changed due to the horrible events of the World War II and postwar reality. The War destabilized the socio-cultural life of the Europe. The history of Jewish nation influenced the perception of Levi which has been reflected in his stories about the beasts.

Monsters of the stories suffer as well as the people undergo the troubles. Primo Levi and Anna Ortese insist upon the existence of the monsters. However, they are too few and not dangerous as the monsters among the human beings. The abandoned beats and hybrids are only the symbol of the lost people in the postwar reality. Using the collective memory and ancient myths, the authors seek for an understanding of the numerous problems by the society.

Works Cited

Levi, Primo. The Search for Roots: A Personal Anthology. UK: Penguin Group, 2001. Print.

Nicholas, Patruno. Undestending Primo Levi. US: The University of South Carolina, 1995. Print.

Ortese, Anna Maria. The Iguana. US: McPherson, 1987. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2018, June 12). The Image of Hybrid and Monster in the Stories of Primo Levi and Anna Ortese. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-image-of-hybrid-and-monster-in-the-stories-of-primo-levi-and-anna-ortese/

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"The Image of Hybrid and Monster in the Stories of Primo Levi and Anna Ortese." IvyPanda, 12 June 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/the-image-of-hybrid-and-monster-in-the-stories-of-primo-levi-and-anna-ortese/.

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IvyPanda. "The Image of Hybrid and Monster in the Stories of Primo Levi and Anna Ortese." June 12, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-image-of-hybrid-and-monster-in-the-stories-of-primo-levi-and-anna-ortese/.

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IvyPanda. 2018. "The Image of Hybrid and Monster in the Stories of Primo Levi and Anna Ortese." June 12, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-image-of-hybrid-and-monster-in-the-stories-of-primo-levi-and-anna-ortese/.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'The Image of Hybrid and Monster in the Stories of Primo Levi and Anna Ortese'. 12 June.

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