Arturo’s Mindset Change in Ask the Dust by John Fante


The novel Ask the Dust by John Fante tells a semi-biographical tale of a young man in 1939 Los Angeles, in the midst of the Great Depression, seeking to become an aspiring author. Upon arrival, the youthful Arturo Bandini is hopeful and full of ambition but has a level of naivete about him. He is tremendously self-obsessed, insecure, and unhealthily focused on making it as a writer. In this story of a young man seeking to belong, Arturo grows and changes from someone who believes in living by the rules, is erratic, and is highly insecure to a person that is defiant, self-appreciating, and confident in what he wants.

The novel Ask the Dust by John Fante

At the beginning of the novel, Arturo is an impoverished young writer living in Los Angeles. He is both naïve and inexperienced, both in life and sexually. That results in his perspective on life is highly unorthodox and erratic. Arturo struggles with low self-esteem but at the same time, he becomes overconfident in certain aspects that he becomes irrational. For example, Arturo has written a short story, which he believes is one of his greatest works and is a strong piece of writing. However, in reality, nobody but a young girl neighbor appreciates it. He also has no sexual experience with women, and when attempting to sleep with a prostitute in a confident manner to gain his ‘manhood’ – he becomes paralyzed due to his Catholic upbringing, simply running away. Arturo does not act like an adult and does not seem to plan ahead. He lives poorly, but as soon as he receives a check from his mother, he wastes it all without consideration. Bandini can be described as manic, and he was highly emotionally charged but acted like a child who had not gotten what he wanted. As Arturo was struggling to survive with his own negative character flaws, he was living in the lowest pits of human existence, believing in his depreciation that it was where he belonged.

The novel’s central focus is the relationship between Arturo and a waitress at the local diner Camilla Lopez. Upon meeting each other, they seemingly get along and end up on a beach with Camilla offering Arturo to have sex. However, he once again becomes paralyzed and declines, shifting the relationship. Arturo claims that he refused because he loves Camilla and seeks to pursue her in a childish manner by sending love telegrams and attempting to gain her attention. He also behaves abhorrently, being racist and insulting to Camilla’s Mexican heritage, demonstrating the behavior of a grade schoolboy who picks on a girl he likes. However, it is obvious that Arturo is infatuated with Camilla, and she negatively influences him. Furthermore, Camilla is involved with her co-worker Sammy, who abuses her. This makes Bandini enraged, as his jealousy and heartbreak tear him apart, as he is forced to reflect on his oscillating situation of being madly in love and deeply hating Camilla. Therefore, the relationship between Arturo and Camilla is very dark and wrought with conflict. He himself is constantly feeling empty and pathetic, understanding his deep self-esteem issues.

As Arturo struggles through this life of poverty, pain, and let-down hopes, it begins to change him. The character almost visibly begins to go through stages of development into a much more grown adult mentally. Arturo also gets a break, finally getting a publication of a short story he wrote, attempting to capture the sad and devastating nature of Los Angeles and also providing him with some money. However, this time instead of wasting the money, he paid back his debts and paid rent in advance. Even after purchasing a set of new fancy clothes, he quickly realized that they did not represent who he was, and he quickly changed into his old clothing. It became apparent that Arturo began to form a self-identity, stemming from the confidence of finally being published and having some extent of financial independence.

Camilla remains Arturo’s weak spot, nevertheless. He attempts to win her heart regardless of means, but at the same time, he seems to be oblivious to her manipulations and declining mental capacity. Arturo goes along, even agreeing to read and edit Sammy’s writing at the behest of Camilla, who learns that he is dying. At first, Arturo believes it is his chance to bring down Sammy, embarrass and hurt him. He highly criticizes Sammy’s writing, being judgmental and unfair in his jealousy. However, as he is about to mail it, Arturo stops and begins to think about his actions. It is a truly profound moment of introspection, where Arturo realizes that he is already living in a city of so many horrible people, with so much negativity happening all around, and people are angry. Meanwhile, he is an author that always viewed himself as a bringer of good. Arturo goes back and offers Sammy much fairer and truly genuine feedback. By doing this, Arturo finally feels good about himself, raising his self-appreciation as he praises himself for being a “great, soft-spoken, gentle man, a lover of all things” (Fante 143). Despite Sammy seemingly being his nemesis in his pursuit of Camilla, Arturo took the high road, and Sammy was thankful to him for that, actually giving him advice on how to win her over.

At this point in his development, Arturo has discovered the meaning of empathy. He evidently greatly empathized with Camilla and her condition, being very aggressive and potentially bipolar. However, he continued to chase her and give in to her whims. The pivotal moment comes at the very end of the book and represents the full transformation of Arturo into an adult man who understands what is best for him. Camilla escapes him once again despite him planning a life for them outside of Los Angeles, which he believes has a bad influence on her.

Camilla goes to see Sammy, who kicks her out, and she wanders out into the desert. Arturo looks for her with no result. He then takes a copy of the recently published novel he has worked on, dedicated to Camilla, and symbolically throws it into the desert. To some extent, this can be interpreted as Arturo finally ‘throwing away’ Camilla, getting rid of her for good. Undoubtedly, he is still devastated, but he realizes the emptiness of their relationship as he thinks, “Why should I search for her? What could I bring her but a return to the brutal wilderness that had broken her?” (Fante 198). Arturo, as an adult, begins to understand that Camilla is broken and sick, leaving no future for them. That is why he calmly gets back in the car and drives back to Los Angeles, the city where he made it.


The novel Ask the Dust is a heavy and somewhat dark tale of coming of age. The readers can see the inherent transformation that Arturo undergoes, from a naïve, child-like young guy to a more objective, responsible, and self-aware man. The insecurities that Arturo harbored, he gradually overcame and built up his own identity and perspective on the world. This allowed him to succeed professionally, and after the experience with Camilla, he may be better at judging personal relationships. The hardship and emotional devastation that he went through taught Arturo many lessons and fundamentally changed his worldview and behavior.

Work Cited

Fante, John. Ask the Dust. Edinburgh, Rebel Inc., 1999.

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