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Non dovevo ucciderlo nemmeno?: Interspecific Killing and Kinship in Giovanni Verga’s Jeli il Pastore


My paper presents a close reading of Giovanni Verga’s novella “Jeli il pastore” and investigates how this canonical 19th century verismo text undermines human/animal difference through its zoomorphic protagonist and its violent conclusion. Throughout the text, the narrator overtly characterizes Jeli in zoomorphic terms, and while Jeli’s bestial kinship initially permits him success in his line of work, it eventually makes him an outcast in the rural Sicilian community in which he lives. Southern, poor, orphaned, cornuto, animal: Jeli epitomizes the marginalized subject. In the novella’s dramatic conclusion, Jeli slits the throat of his rival Don Alfonso in a manner directly analogous to the killing of a non-human animal: “gli tagliò la gola di un sol colpo, proprio come un capretto.” This human murder parallels animal killings that Jeli witnessed in the past, encouraging us to question not only the humanity of the zoomorphic protagonist but also the humanity of killing non-human animals in the first place. Drawing from archival research conducted at the Fondazione Verga in Catania, I bring to light passages from early unpublished “Jeli il pastore” drafts which directly confront the question of non-human animal communication and which, I argue, provide a key to unlocking Jeli’s seemingly unexpected final act. By examining the inherent liminality of human/animal difference, this paper sheds light on the relevance to animal studies and posthumanist theory of Verga’s famed verismo.

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