Bicycle Thieves centers on Antonio’s odyssey to find his stolen bike. As his decision to go to the police station and his aggressive confrontation with the thief make clear, Antonio not only wants his stolen bike back, but he also wants to receive justice and see the young thief imprisoned for his crimes. In a surprising yet logical twist at the ending, Antonio steals an unattended bicycle himself, desperately realizing that there is no other way he will be able to provide for his family. Antonio’s attempted theft ironically subverts audience expectations; because of his high moral compass and craving for justice and equity, we are led to think Antonio would never even consider descending to such levels of criminality, but the ending proceeds to prove the opposite. This situational irony illuminates how poverty, inefficient government functionaries, and desperation dehumanizes decent men into petty criminals.
Antonio pasting a Rita Hayworth poster (situational irony)
Antonio glues up Rita Hayworth posters on his first day of work. Rita Hayworth’s beauty, extravagant lifestyle, and elite status in Hollywood obviously contrasts with Antonio, who represents the downbeat, bleak livelihood of the proletariat in postwar Europe. Thus, it is ironic that Antonio, of all people, hangs up Rita Hayworth posters and in turn unintentionally feeds into her enduring stardom and visibility in the public light. The situational irony evoked in this action illustrates not only evokes the disparity between Hollywood icons and the poor, but also between the artifice of Hollywood and the social commentary and quotidian concerns expressed in neorealism.
Antonio’s visit to the seer (situational irony)
At the beginning of the film, Antonio condemns Maria for visiting the seer and feeling obliged to pay her 50 lira for predicting Antonio’s employment. Antonio upholds a contemptuous attitude toward the seer, whose supposed prophetic abilities are frivolous, and ultimately fraudulent, in his eyes. However, in Part 4, Antonio visits the seer himself, an action imbued with situational irony. After an unsuccessful journey to find his bicycle, Antonio deserts his previous viewpoint and visits the seer out of sheer desperation for some advice and guidance. Antonio even ridicules his wife for nearly wasting money on the seer in Part 1, but he ironically spends nearly all of his remaining his money to receive advice for the seer. Such situational irony illustrates the character arc of Antonio—as his odyssey becomes more and more hopeless, he abandons his values, which culminates in him echoing the actions of the thief.
Bruno’s employment (situational irony)
Ironically, Bruno is the only employed member of his family, working at a gas station to support Antonio, Maria, and his infant sibling. Through normative notions of family structures, audiences expect the adults of Bruno’s family—Antonio and Maria—to be the employed providers of the family. However, Bruno’s employment and adult responsibilities undermine these expectations. Bruno’s poverty-stricken family experiences dire living and economic conditions, which prevent Bruno from living an idyllic childhood and instead propel him to become self-reliant before his time. Despite his young age, Bruno is quite capable of taking care himself, with his characterization showcasing a responsibility and concern for others that equals that of his adult counterparts.
Catching the thief (situational irony)
Despite feeling disappointed by the seer’s trite, simplistic advice, Antonio catches the thief who stole his bicycle immediately after leaving her apartment. Both Antonio and the audience are certain that Antonio correctly identifies the thief, as we received a protracted glimpse of his face in Part 1. However, Antonio does not have an physical evidence—namely, witnesses—proving that the young man indeed stole his property. It is Antonio’s word against a whole neighborhood, who would testify for the young thief and brutally state they should sue Antonio for libel. Realizing his powerlessness, Antonio leaves the neighborhood and does not press charges, thereby infusing this scene with situational irony. Because Antonio spends the entire film chasing the thief, we are met to believe that the capturing him is the best possible outcome for Antonio—one which will result in the thief’s imprisonment and Antonio’s retrieval of the bicycle. However, the film undermines our expectations; the catching of the thief only results in Antonio feeling more hopeless, desperate, and willing to become a bicycle thief himself.
Bicycle Thieves Questions and Answers
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Bicycle Thieves (also called The Bicycle Thief) study guide contains a biography of director Vittorio De Sica, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.