The novel is the story of Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, a 19th-century Sicilian nobleman caught in the midst of civil war and revolution. As a result of political upheaval, the prince's position in the island's class system is eroded by newly-moneyed peasants and "shabby minor gentry. " As the novel progresses, the Prince is forced to choose between upholding the continuity of upper class values, and breaking tradition to secure continuity of his (nephew's) family's influence ("everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same"). A central theme of the story is the struggle between mortality and decay (death, fading of beauty, fading of memories, change of political system, false relics etc. ), and abstraction and eternity (the prince's love for the stars and calculations, continuity and resilience to change of the Sicilian people). In a letter to a friend, the author notes: "Be careful: the dog Bendicò is a very important character and is almost the key to the novel". This heraldic emblem is the key to destruction, in the sense that ruin comes even to the dog.