Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Seven Floors” is, on the immediate level, a simple, realistic tale. Nothing extraordinary happens. There is no careful development of character, not even of Corte’s character, although this “lack” of character is what makes him Everyman. The story’s language is straightforward, concrete, exact, and simple, with nothing fantastic suggested by metaphor or image. Such language emphasizes the actuality of the story; however, it is in the tension between its simple style and the simple but strangely odd story that the meaning of the work develops.

One notes first certain rather small matters, such as no one being given a name except Corte and Professor Dati, and the deliberate refusal to identify the disease treated at the sanatorium. These are, however, no small matters. Everything in the story is itself, but everything is also multi-symbolic. If allegory tends to limit the symbolic meanings of objects, one must say that “Seven Floors” is more than allegory. For example, the hospital building, with its seven floors, is an “actual” place, but the number seven is rich in mystical meanings. Corte’s gradual descent to the first floor reverses the seven days of creation; it is a seven-floor descent ending with dissolution, not creation. If Corte’s disease is a real disease, it obviously stands for much more. Doubtless, it represents life itself, life that closes, like the venetian blinds, with death.

The limited point of view of the story also emphasizes its themes. Everything is told from the point of view of Giovanni Corte and, in large part, the reader knows only what Corte learns and experiences. Occasionally an authorial voice enters, saying that Corte felt this or acted thus, as though reporting what impression he would make on an observer. Nevertheless, keeping the observation almost entirely on what Corte experiences emphasizes his aloneness, his separateness from everyone else in the sanatorium and his separateness from everyone else in the world, even though he is Everyman. He is truly alone, as all people are. It seems to be ironic that Corte knows almost from the beginning that the first floor is for those who are about to die, but this irony is Buzzati’s emphasis on the fact that everyone is going to die, that although people are intellectually aware that they will die, emotionally, they do not think it will actually happen to them.