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Abstract

In the giallo (Italian detective novel), this study finds an elevated capacity for social critique, joining a conversation about literature’s role in upholding or critiquing and ultimately working to change social constructs and institutions. It also explores the role of the detective character in determining the viewpoint, attitude, and scope of the Italian detective novel in this activity of critique. Collectively, the novels in this study reveal two main patterns among the most intensely characterized Italian detective protagonists: the first is a strong sense of localism, understood as the tendency to give one’s allegiance to local entities rather than the state, and to adhere to not national but local traditions and customs. The second is a complex attitude toward official institutions involving mistrust of the same combined with cautious optimism in moral judgments, resulting in the necessary separation of the concepts of absolute and official justice. This study focuses on the detective’s relationship to institutions of law and order and to concepts of abstract justice, on his relationship to place and setting and thereby to identities and center-periphery paradigms, and on the detective character’s use of humor as social critique. The detective emerges as the focal point from which the giallo engages in a modern iteration of the poeta vate, the civic poet concerned with writing the way to a better state. When one treats the giallo detective character as a guide for reading the work as a whole, it emphasizes the giallo’s potential for social critique and even social healing; the genre employs Nussbaumian narrative tools to form an ethical, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent readership as well as promoting problematic reflections on local and national Italian culture, identity, and official institutions.

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