Elio Vittorini: Slaughter perpetrated in the world; one man cries and another laughs
From In Sicily (1937)
Translated by Wildred David
But perhaps every man is not a man; and the entire human race is not human. That is a doubt that arises on a rainy day, when a man’s shoes are tattered and water seeps into them; when his heart is no longer captive to anyone in particular, when he no longer has a life of his own, when he has accomplished nothing or has nothing to accomplish, nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and there, beyond him, slaughter is being perpetrated in the world. One man laughs and another man cries; both are human, the one who laughs had also been ill, is ill; yet he laughs because the other cries. He is a man who persecutes and massacres; and he who, in his hopelessness, sees the other laugh over his newspaper headlines and his placards, does not seek his company but that of the other who cries. Not every man, then, is a man. One persecutes and another is persecuted; not all the human race is human, but only the race of the persecuted. Kill a man, and he will be something more than man. Similarly, a man who is sick or starving is more than a man; and more human is the human race of the starving.
She sang old tunes without the words, softly, sometimes humming, sometimes whistling, with an occasional trill. She was a strange sight, this woman of some fifty years, with her face that didn’t look old; though rather withered by the years, yet not old, even youthful; with her chestnut, almost blond, hair; with her red blanket around her shoulders, and Father’s big shoes on her feet. I looked at her hands, large, worn and rugged, completely different from her face, for they could be the hands of a man who felled trees or tilled the soil, while her face was somehow that of an odalisque, “These women of ours,” I thought, not meaning Sicilians, but women in general, whose hands were without softness in the night, and, perhaps, at times, unhappy on that account, jealous and savage; to have the heart and face of an odalisque, yet not her hands with which to bind their men to them. I thought of my father and myself, and of all men, with our need of soft hands to caress us, and I seemed partly to understand our restiveness with women; how we were ready to desert them, our women with their hands rough and bony, almost masculine, so hard in the night; and how the odalisque woman by her mere touch would enslave us like a queen. It was this, I thought, that rendered alluring people reared in luxury, the entire bureaucratic-military structure of society, the hierarchies and dynasties, the princes and kings of the story books; the notion of the woman with soft, tended hands. To know that they existed was enough to enable us to perceive what they were like, these women, and to see them remote and inaccessible with their horses, their banners and eunuchs.