Calvino appropriately sets The Baron in the Trees, his tale of the rebellious and eccentric Baron Cosimo Rondo, in the late eighteenth century—the uneasy transitional period from Enlightenment to Romanticism. The elegance, inventiveness, and practicality with which Cosimo (only twelve when he climbs into the trees) adapts to and improves upon his condition illustrate the Enlightenment’s faith in reason, progress, and perfectibility. Cosimo’s self-indulgence, “superhuman tenacity,” and feral lifestyle, on the other hand, suggest the egotism, extravagance, and primitivism of Romantic sensibility.
Elevated above the world, Cosimo enters a familiar reality made strange, in which “branches spread out like the tentacles of extraordinary animals, and the plants on the ground opened up stars of fretted leaves like the green skins of reptiles.” Stranger yet are the people he encounters: ragamuffin fruit thieves, murderous Moors, plotting Jesuits, literate brigands, exiled Spaniards, and even the great Napoleon I himself. Each seems more curious than the other.
It is Cosimo who is the most unusual of the lot. As Biagio, the narrator and Cosimo’s brother, remarks, the locals consider him mad: “I am not talking only of his determination to live up there, but of the various oddities of his character; and no one considered him other than an original.” Original in his persistent aloofness and nonconformity, Cosimo is also unique...
(The entire section is 541 words.)