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Rome and its Borgate: Ragazzi di Vita by Pasolini

Pasolini describes Rome during the postwar years through borgate and the people who inhabit them.

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When you think of Rome, several classic images come to mind. These are often the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, or maybe Piazza Venezia; places well-known all over the world, where every year endless amounts of tourists come to visit.
However, Rome is not only a city to be admired while walking through the city centre. An important part of it is composed by what we call borgate or, better, the working-class suburbs. It can be said that they are the beating heart of Rome.


One writer who truly loved these suburbs was Pier Paolo Pasolini. He arrived in Rome in 1950 and, in 1951, he had already published the first chapter of Ragazzi di Vita (literally: “boys of life”) in a literature magazine called Paragone.


Pasolini visiting a borgata with Ninetto Davoli in 1968. Above: Detail from the book cover of the first edition of Ragazzi di borgata, Garzanti, 1955.

Pasolini visiting a borgata with Ninetto Davoli in 1968.
Above: Detail from the book cover of the first edition of Ragazzi di vita, Garzanti, 1955.


Ragazzi di Vita is a novel set in the so-called borgate and it deals with the story of Riccetto, a young boy, who is twelve years old when the plot begins. Like his friends, he lives by his wits. They steal and break sewer covers in order to sell them for money. They also have an aggressive behavior, typical of the bullying culture, and they usually live in dirty and dangerous places with their families. In addition, in these families, there are drunk fathers who often beat their wives.


Through this scenario, Pasolini describes Rome during the postwar years. It is a tragic situation and the writer focuses his attention on the people belonging to the working-class. However, what I would like to point out is that in this widespread decay, there is still a glimmer of authenticity in Riccetto’s behavior. As a matter of fact, although he is a delinquent and not a yet man, he is the main character of a touching episode in which he manages to rescue a swallow which is drowning in the river. Consequently, these “boys of life” hide, through their violent and impetuous behaviours, a grain of generosity and of the ability to share that can be both developed during youth.
But adulthood arrives and it brings a change, what will be called the middle-class consumerism. The young bravery is overcome by individualism, and young people are not the same as before. They are now selfish individuals.
It can be assumed that one of the purposes of this novel is precisely to describe adolescence, even if it is a difficult one to cope with. This leads to a contrast between what the young boy was and what he will be, as a young man of the bourgeois society. 


pasolini-book-cover-uberauraAuthor: Pier Paolo Pasolini
ISBN: 978-1857549720
Pages: 261
Publishing House: Garzanti
Year: 1975 (Originally published in 1955)

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