Because Antonio needs money to retrieve his bicycle from the pawn shop and in turn perform his new job, Maria unhesitatingly strips their bed to sell their sheets, stating, "We can sleep without sheets” as a pragmatic justification for her actions. This quote illustrates Maria's desperation for Antonio to become a working man and liberate his poverty-stricken family from their anguish and low standard of living. The family is so poor and limited with their resources that they must choose between one basic necessity and the other. In this case, it is between the basics of comfort and employment. Maria shows no remorse or self-doubt in choosing to sacrifice their sheets to reattain the bike, as proven by her rational, straightforward reasoning in this quote. For her, the bike’s symbolic significance—hope, pride, and social mobility—easily exceeds the physical comfort provided by the sheets. While this decision may be easy for Maria, it is unfortunate that her low socioeconomic status forces her to choose between what, in the modern world, seem like basic possessions. Thus, this declaration illuminates how families are burdened with the task of making precarious decisions out of the sheer wish to survive in the lackluster economy of postwar Italy.
“You just can’t win. It rains every Sunday. Sundays I’m off at 1:00, and where can you go? Movies bore me. I just don’t like ‘em."
Baiocco has one of his friends drive Antonio and Bruno to Porta Portese. It begins to rain heavily during the drive, which prompts the driver to deliver this reflective, astute diatribe. He dismisses the idea of going to the movies in his leisure time, and his criticism of movies as “boring” evokes the film’s overarching criticism of bourgeois institutions. De Sica particularly targets the film industry, comprised of elite members of society who often ignore the hardships of poor. It is no wonder why the driver expresses a distaste toward movies; the film industry does not make a real effort to appeal to poorer audiences and instead trumpets idealized, superficial portrayals of everyday life.
“To eat like them, you’d have to earn a million lira a month.”
After noticing Bruno's anxious glances at the snotty, well-dressed boy and his bourgeois family at the trattoria, Antonio attempts to reassure Bruno and points out the extreme wealth required of the luxurious eating habits of the family. Instead of calming Bruno down, the comment reminds both Bruno and Antonio of their abject poverty, as well as the disparity between them and the upper-class family. By comparing themselves to the family, the duo realizes that they don’t belong in the restaurant, with their low income, outdated clothes, and lack of proper etiquette. Antonio and Bruno enter the restaurant in all-too-rare upbeat moods, but after noticing the obvious class differences between them and the other guests, they morbidly reckon the loss of the bike and the income from the bill-poster job. In this quote, Antonio ultimately realizes the bike’s significance in ensuring his family’s well-being, which paves the way for the final harrowing act of Bicycle Thieves.
“Put that down. What are you afraid of?”
When Antonio enters the employment office to receive his official job assignment, he fiercely clutches onto his bicycle, and one of the men sneers this quote at him. This statement ironically foreshadows the theft of Antonio’s bike. As evidenced by the phrase, “What are you afraid of?” the man dismisses Antonio’s protectiveness of his bike as senseless. The man ridicules Antonio’s expressed care for his bike, but it will become clear within the next couple of scenes that if Antonio maintained this care, he would not have lost his bike at all and would subsequently have been able to provide for Bruno, Maria, and his infant child.
“Then why even file a complaint?”
A disappointed Antonio asks a police officer this pointed question when the cop encourages Antonio to search for the bike himself, asserting that there is not much the police can do to help him. This quote reflects Antonio’s disappointment and hopelessness—if the police can’t help him find his bike, who can? Antonio insists for the police to make a real effort to find the bike, as opposed to having him fill out meaningless, bureaucratic paperwork, and his criticism evokes the futile inadequacy of the police altogether. This is the first of many instances wherein the police fail to serve Antonio and undermine his situations. Throughout the film, De Sica and Zavattini condemn insufficient institutions like the police, who neglect the poor rather than trying to help them.
“Damn the day I was born!”
As usual with the downbeat and somber mood of Bicycle Thieves, Antonio upholds a generally cynical outlook on life, which stems from poverty, indifferent social structures, and inadequate functionaries demoralizing him throughout his entire adult life. Antonio pawned his bike so his family could eat, but he realizes that he needs a bicycle upon finally receiving a job offer for pasting up posters. Enraged at this news and his bad luck, Antonio makes this declaration, which embodies his pessimism. From this quote forward, it is easy to sympathize with Antonio’s self-defeating views; every time he experiences a near breakthrough in finding his bike, an indifferent, malicious group of people—crowds, the police, the attendees of the church—cruelly prevents him from being able to reattain his bike and thereby live a decent life.
"This is no way to behave in a church!"
One of the organizers of the church service shouts this at Antonio and Bruno, who loudly disrupt the sermon while searching the massive church for the old man. From Antonio’s point of view, the church is more of a time-consuming nuisance than a sanctuary—he and Bruno quickly lose track of the old man and become trapped there. However, as reflected by his dismissal of Antonio’s inappropriate behavior, the organizer does not exhibit any care for Antonio, a man clearly in crisis. He does not ask Antonio for the reason behind his frantic sprinting around the church; rather, he only expresses concern over the disturbance and urges him to leave. The organizer’s words reflect the apathy common among authority figures in the film, such as police officers and Communist party members, who are indifferent to the predicaments of the poor.
“Why kill myself worrying when I’ll end up just as dead anyway?”
Antonio uses this as a justification for his impetuous decision to treat Bruno to pizza. He reasons that his perpetual fretting over the bicycle, his income, and his job will not alleviate his problems, as all actions have the same eventual outcome anyway: death. At this moment, as evidenced by this quote, he simply wants to act on his paternal impulses. He wishes to cheer his son up without worrying about money problems. As we see in the restaurant scene, Antonio’s relative cheerfulness is ephemeral, and he soon returns back to his overwhelmingly defeating mood.
“Cowards, ganging up on one man!”
Antonio yells this at the malicious neighborhood crowd after they shout insults at him and nearly attack him for supposedly provoking the thief’s seizure. Antonio’s statement evokes one of the most prevalent themes of the film—the powerlessness of the individual against a thoughtless crowd. His self-worth and individuality dissipate when he is outnumbered by crowds of people, the police, Communist party members, market vendors, and other powerful groups. Thus, after constantly being beat down and dehumanized when confronting groups, Antonio’s observation here is astute and justified; these men obtusely unite together to maintain their power and dominance over one individual.
"How can a woman with two children and a head on her shoulders listen to all this stupid nonsense? You must have money to throw away."
Antonio makes this dismissive comment to Maria when she expresses a desire to pay the seer 50 lira for predicting Antonio’s job offer. Here, Antonio exemplifies his contemptuous attitude toward the seer, whose supposed prophetic abilities are frivolous, senseless, and non-existent in his eyes. Later in the film, this statement acquires a strong situational irony. After an unsuccessful journey to find his bicycle, Antonio himself visits the seer out of sheer desperation, seeking some form of guidance. Antonio shames his wife for having “money to throw away” on the seer, but he ironically spends nearly all of his remaining his money to receive advice for the seer. This quote illustrates the character arc of Antonio—as his odyssey becomes more and more hopeless, he deserts all of his morals and values, which culminates in him becoming a bicycle thief himself.
Bicycle Thieves Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Bicycle Thieves is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
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.