Study Guide

The Leopard Themes

By Giuseppe di Lampedusa

  • Society and Class

    Pro-tip: If someone asks you what The Leopard is about, just tell them that it's about an old aristocratic Sicilian family losing all of its class status in a modern, democratic Italy. Period.

    The book's main character, Prince Fabrizio, has to live with knowing that he'll leave almost nothing behind in terms of legacy because his family's power is coming to an end. Worse yet, he can't bring himself to fight for his social position because he doesn't believe there's a whole lot worth defending. Still, he knows that there will be a tradeoff in the new world, where instead of indulgent aristocrats running the show, opportunists and schemers will find a way to get power. It's kind of bittersweet in the end because neither system can guarantee that good people will become leaders.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Why doesn't Fabrizio put up a fight to defend his social class?
    2. How does Fabrizio advise people to vote in the plebiscite for Sicily to join Italy? Why?
    3. Who is left of the Salina family by the end of the novel? What is their life like? Please support your answer with evidence from the text.

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, Lampedusa shows us that there's no system that will ever guarantee that good people are in charge.

    In The Leopard, we learn that the aristocracy wasn't so bad compared to the (rigged) elected thugs who came after it.

  • Marriage

    When Tancredi gets engaged to Angelica (a commoner), it brings up a whole bunch of issues for Fabrizio and his family. That's not to say that anyone in The Leopard is especially against the marriage. The whole thing just symbolizes the process that'll eventually cause Fabrizio's noble family to get absorbed by the general Italian public.

    In this sense, marriage becomes a place for the transition of power to happen. In the past, aristocrats have always kept their power in-house by marrying cousins and other aristocrats. But you can't stop history, and pretty soon, the aristocracy will be gone. Fabrizio's support of Tancredi's marriage shows his willingness to accept the end of his family's exclusive noble bloodline. That, plus it's not the worst idea in the world to marry someone other than your cousin.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Does Fabrizio ever have second thoughts about Tancredi's marriage? Why or why not?
    2. How does Fabrizio act as a husband toward his wife Stella? Do we ever get any explanation for his behavior?
    3. Why does Father Pirrone have to convince his nephew to marry his niece? What might happen if he doesn't? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
    4. Does Tancredi's marriage to Angelica turn out well? How can we tell?

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, we learn that true love will always triumph over more petty concerns like social class.

    In The Leopard, we learn that marriage is just as much about status and property as it is about love.

  • Mortality

    In many ways, The Leopard is a story about grim death—not just the death of an individual, but the death of an entire social class. As he watches the Sicilian aristocracy fade away, Prince Fabrizio wonders about his own mortality and about what (if anything) he'll leave behind when he dies.

    It's not an easy question to answer, especially considering that none of his daughters have any children and his son Paolo dies falling off a horse when he's young. On top of that, all his family's property gets divvied up as his daughters continue to pay their expenses without bringing in any new money. So after hundreds of years of power and luxury, the Salina family returns to the dust from which it came. It's kind of poetic. It almost makes you want to write a book about it. Oh right, someone already did.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. What figure does Fabrizio see at the moment of his death? What do you think this figure symbolizes?
    2. What do we learn about time and mortality in the final scene of this entire novel? Please support your answer with specific evidence from the text.
    3. What does Fabrizio mean when he says that deep down, Sicilians crave death? How is this connected to the "laziness" that Fabrizio accuses them of?

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, we find that death doesn't just happen to individuals. It happens to entire ways of life, which end up getting buried in the rubble of history.

    In The Leopard, Lampedusa suggests that death is the ultimate end to all of the worrying and suffering of life. When our time finally comes, it can be just as much a relief as a tragedy.

  • Dissatisfaction

    It makes total sense that The Leopard's Prince Fabrizio would feel dissatisfied. His social class is collapsing and he's worried he won't have any legacy to leave behind when he dies. Plus he's lived a life of total idleness and boredom. He's in a pretty tough spot because on the one hand, he sees his way of life coming to and end, and on the other, he doesn't really have any enthusiasm for defending it. That's the kind of malaise that money can't buy… or maybe that's exactly the kind of malaise that tons of money can buy. It has to be cultivated over hundreds of years of sitting around without any responsibilities other than attending parties and shaking a few hands.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. When does Fabrizio tend to feel the most dissatisfied? How would you describe his dissatisfaction? Where does it come from?
    2. Is Fabrizio bored, or is there a deeper philosophical level to his dissatisfaction? Is there anyone he can go to for help?
    3. When does Fabrizio think his dissatisfaction will finally come to an end? Why?
    4. Is there anything in particular that's making Fabrizio dissatisfied, or is he just fed up with the whole world?

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, we learn that one major effect of never worrying about money is total boredom.

    In The Leopard, Lampedusa shows us that dissatisfaction is something you can overcome if you just suck it up.

  • Pride

    When you're an aristocrat who comes from hundreds of years of noble families, you're bound to have a little pride. What's so interesting about The Leopard is how several wealthy, noble characters negotiate the fact that the world is changing; the things that once made people proud (like family bloodlines) aren't as important as they used to be. And pride isn't very adaptable. Instead, it tends to be rigid when demanding respect. So what do you do when the world refuses to give you the respect you think you deserve? Well, that's one of the things this book wants us to have a look at.

    Questions About Pride

    1. In what situations do we see Prince Fabrizio's pride come out? In what situations is he humble? Why?
    2. How does Fabrizio's pride compare to Don Calogero's? How are they similar? How are they different?
    3. How does family pride affect the lives of Fabrizio's daughters? Is it a negative or positive influence? Why?
    4. Does Fabrizio deserve to feel as proud as he does? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, we learn that sooner or later, pride always leads to a downfall.

    The Leopard shows us that pride can be a positive force if we take pride in the right things.

  • Sex

    In the world of the prim and proper 19th-century aristocracy, you wouldn't expect sex to be a huge part of daily life. But the fact is that sex is pretty much everywhere in The Leopard, from the descriptions of flowers to all the secret rooms hidden inside Fabrizio's houses (and inside his mind). Fabrizio is a guy who loves to cheat on his wife; that's no mystery. What kind of aristocrat would he be if he didn't indulge every little impulse he had? Funnily enough, it's his nephew Tancredi, the bad boy, who shows the most respect for the institution of marriage by not having sex with Angelica until they're married.

    Questions About Sex

    1. Does this book take a conservative or liberal approach to sex? Please support your answer with specific evidence from the text.
    2. Why does Fabrizio cheat on his wife? How does he justify it to himself?
    3. How do Tancredi and Angelica express their sexual desire for one another? Do you think it's healthy? Please support your answer with specific evidence from the text.

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, sex is just a way for characters to distract themselves from their problems.

    In The Leopard, we find that sex is the only beautiful thing left when everything else in life has lost its meaning.

  • Inertia

    Inertia is one of the themes that make The Leopard such an interesting novel. Yes, the main point of the story is the end of the Salina family and the Sicilian aristocracy in general. But the fact that Prince Fabrizio does nothing to stop this decline forces him (and us) to ask some deep questions. Has Fabrizio's internal engine run out of steam? Has he totally lost faith in the traditional values of his class? Has he just surrendered to history? The simple answer to all these questions is yes, but it's the questions themselves that keep a lot of readers coming back to this book.

    Questions About Inertia

    1. What do you think is the main cause of Fabrizio's inertia in this book? Why?
    2. Is there any cure for the kind of inertia Fabrizio experiences in this book? If so, what is it?
    3. Do you believe that Fabrizio and the rest of the aristocracy deserve to be swept out of power by people who've worked hard for their money and their political influence? Why or why not?
    4. Will there be any less inertia and laziness in politics now that democracy has replaced aristocracy? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, we learn that inertia is the only thing a person can feel if they think hard enough about the reasons for doing anything.

    In The Leopard, Lampedusa shows us that inertia is the number one sign that a certain type of social class is about to die.

  • Religion

    In 19th-century Italy, Roman Catholicism decided just about every part of everyday life, from the eating of meat to the saying of grace at dinnertime. Father Pirrone is the main spokesperson for the church in The Leopard, and through him, you can tell how invested he is in the future of Prince Fabrizio.

    He's really worried, for example, about what will happen if Italy becomes a united democratic country, because churches don't have as much power in democratic countries as they do in more traditional-style ones. So yeah, even Father Pirrone is totally self-interested when it comes to power and property, but at least he also cares about what'll happen to the poor, which is more than you can say about a character like Don Calogero.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Do you find Father Pirrone a likeable character? Why or why not?
    2. Does religion play a genuinely important role in this novel, or do characters tend to just pay lip service to its traditions?
    3. How do Father Pirrone and Fabrizio relate to one another? Is it a respectful relationship? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In The Leopard, religion is the only value system that's strong enough to survive the transition from the old world to the new.

    In The Leopard, the characters that obey religious rules are much more fulfilled than ones who don't.