Although he maintained close attention to concrete, realistic detail—both physical and psychological—throughout his career, Italo Calvino, like his fellow neorealists, was quick to point out that his realism was actually quite different from naturalism. Not content simply to describe the visible and tangible, Calvino always sought to arrive at the intangible reality—symbolic, psychological, historical, social, mythic—that concrete phenomena both reveal and conceal.
“Adam, One Afternoon”
“Un pomeriggio, Adamo” (“Adam, One Afternoon”), one of his most discussed early stories, admirably demonstrates his understated skill in this complex endeavor. Maria-nunziata, a young kitchen maid, spies the exotic new gardener’s boy from her window. Her jovial, childlike curiosity is aroused by the odd young man, who wears the short pants of a little boy and the long, tied-back hair of a girl. Liberoso (“Liberty” in Esperanto) beckons and asks if she wants to see—and receive—something nice. Unsure but intrigued, she cautiously follows Liberoso into the garden, even though he refuses to answer her insistent questions. Leading her deeper into shadows, he finds the spot that he had already carefully chosen. Pushing aside some foliage, the half-naked youth reveals to Maria—a toad. Revolted and superstitiously afraid, Maria refuses his unusual gift. However, remaining enticed by Liberoso (who is as desirable and...
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