Because of the way in which Captain Corelli's Mandolin makes use of a variety of perspectives and narrative styles, it's able to explore how power functions from a number of angles: Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, tells the reader directly about his plans to conquer Europe; Hector, the leader of the Greek rebel group ELAS explains how communist theory provides the justification for cheating and then killing Greek peasants; and Dr. Iannis notes on numerous occasions how powerful "megalomaniacs" from Philip of Macedon to Mussolini himself abuse their power. Both despite and because of these narrators’ wildly differing viewpoints, the novel explores how, within the contexts of Mussolini's fascism, Greece's rebel communism, and World War Two as a whole, leaders manipulate their political power and use it to warp perceptions of reality, both their own and that of others. In this way, the novel exposes these leaders as fundamentally hypocritical, as they're far more interested in power simply for the sake of having it than anything else.
In Mussolini's narration prior to the Italian invasion of Albania, he speaks to an unnamed and unrecorded underling and demonstrates exactly how much power he has, how intent he is on gaining more, and how ridiculous this fixation makes him look. He shows impressive vanity by asking his underling to hold a mirror for him so he can find his best angle from which to be photographed, and then goes on to show how his power as Il Duce, the dictator of Italy, affords him the ability to fundamentally shape reality. He makes numerous references to fabricating attacks by the Greeks and throws out a number of other "facts," such as the notion that planting trees on mountains will naturally create more snow and, in turn, will create men coldhearted like the Germans. He further erroneously states that "fascist economics are immune from the cyclic disturbances of capitalism"--something that he insists is correct, regardless of his listener’s apparently telling him that the opposite appears to be true. When combined with his petty attitude and, specifically, his exaggerated and emotional explosion when a cat enters his chambers, these lies create a portrait of him that insists that his power to dictate what's considered reality isn't actually enough to keep him from seeming ridiculous--even, and especially, in the eyes the soldiers who are supposed to be fighting for him. This in turn discredits him and his goals in the eyes of the rest of the characters who are aware he's hiding the truth or fabricating information, though many high-ranking Italian generals must continue to outwardly support those delusions.
Though Mussolini is the novel's primary example of a power-hungry ruler, it also offers Mandras's introduction to Hector and the Greek communist rebel group ELAS as another example of the ways in which hunger for power is shown to be ultimately destructive and ineffective, even to those within the leader’s organization and those it purports to help. Mandras is initially entranced by Hector's promise to teach him to read, but Mandras eventually becomes intoxicated by a political system that promises him power and that is shown to be just as corrupt and convoluted as Mussolini's fascism. Though the rebels claim to be fighting for Greece, in reality, they steal from civilians and other Greek military groups, brutally murder innocent people when they attempt to stand up for themselves, and refuse to help other Greek forces defend the country against either the Italians for the Germans. Further, just as the Italians recognize that Mussolini is full of lies and half-truths, none of the Greeks believe the ELAS is truly out to help them either. In short, by diving into the ways in which Mussolini and ELAS attempt to manipulate those in their inner circles as well as everyone else, the novel ultimately proposes that the kind of power that Mussolini and ELAS enjoy is fundamentally corrupt. Rather than making either Mussolini or ELAS into the heroes that they believe themselves to be, that power actually turns them into absurd caricatures of absolute power run wild--and fools nobody but those also hungry for power.
Power, Reality, and Absurdity ThemeTracker
Power, Reality, and Absurdity Quotes in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Do you think I don't understand economics? How many times do I have to explain, you dolt, that Fascist economics are immune from the cyclic disturbances of capitalism? How dare you contradict me and say it appears the opposite is true?
We were new and beautiful, we loved each other more than brothers, that's for sure. What spoiled it always was that none of us knew why we were in Albania, none of us had an easy conscience about this rebuilding of the Roman Empire.
(We lost the war and were saved only when the Germans invaded from Bulgaria and opened a second front that the Greeks had no resources to defend. We fought and froze and died for the sake of an empire that has no purpose...)
"It had 'To The Glory Of The British People' inscribed on the obelisk. I have heard that some of your soldiers have chipped away the letters. Do you think you can so easily erase our history? Are you so stupid that you think that we will forget what it said?"
"You have to be firm with these people, or they start doing what they like...You won't believe this, but half of these peasants are Royalists. Just imagine! Identifying yourself with the oppressors!"
It had never occurred to Mandras to be anything other than a Royalist, but he nodded in agreement.
We have lost one-third of our merchant marine because He forgot to order them home before declaring war, we have been persuaded that halving the size of a division means that we have double the number of divisions, we have been made to invade Greece from the north in the rainy season, without winter clothing...All of our Albanian soldiers immediately deserted, and we only know what is happening to us by listening to the BBC.
But on that evening, one of the Venizelists who was about to risk his life by defecting to EDES came up to him later in the darkness, sympathetically offering him a cigarette, and explaining, "Look, you don't have to understand all that jargon from our sesquipedalian friend, because all it boils down to is that you've got to do just as he says, or he'll cut your throat."
"I don't have your advantages, Günter."
"Yes. I don't have the advantage of thinking that other races are inferior to mine. I don't feel entitled, that's all."
"If he had an impulse that quickened the seeds of his inactivity, it was foolish hope and the desperate need to spare the blood of the hapless men he loved. He took a sightless road and shortly condemned them to a grisly doom, failing to see in the Nazi promises so thick a mask of falsehood that by trusting them he condemned his beautiful youngsters to abandon their bones..."
The general had an obsession with Stukas. The thought of those crook-winged howling birds of destruction made his stomach turn with dread. Perhaps he did not know that from a military point of view they were one of the most ineffective weapons of war ever devised...