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The two main characters in the novel are two brothers, Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò and Biaggio Piovasco di Rondò. The “baron in the trees” of the title is Cosimo, the elder brother; he is the protagonist. Biaggio, four years younger than Cosimo, is the narrator.

Three other members of the...

(The entire section contains 1440 words.)

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The two main characters in the novel are two brothers, Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò and Biaggio Piovasco di Rondò. The “baron in the trees” of the title is Cosimo, the elder brother; he is the protagonist. Biaggio, four years younger than Cosimo, is the narrator.

Three other members of the Piovasco di Rondò family are Arminio, their father; Corradino, their mother; and Battista, their sister. Outside the family, their neighbor Violate (or Viola) Ondariva plays an important role. This young woman is Cosimo’s great love.

The plot develops around Cosimo’s biography in the years he lives in the trees, beginning when he is twelve. The reader’s understanding of his character is controlled, however, by Biaggio’s position as narrator. The two brothers in some ways grow close, as Cosimo largely depends on Biaggio for food and information, yet both the practical realities of their lives and their worldviews increasingly diverge. The more Cosimo comes to symbolize rejection of the artifice of society, the more Biaggio epitomizes staunch endorsement of the status quo.

More extreme than Biaggio’s loyalism is Battista’s devotion to the artifice of upper-class society. She precipitates the crisis by preparing the dish that Cosimo deems inedible (snails) and other fashionable but unappealing concoctions. Her social-climbing aspirations are realized through her marriage to an aristocrat.

Their father, Arminio, is instead the embodiment of failed ambition, as he longs for the dukedom his family once commanded. In character, habits, and appearance, he harkens back to the glories of court life. Arminio does not merely reject but is utterly unable to comprehend Cosimo’s unorthodox antisocial life.

Their mother is Corradino, the so-called Generalessa, whose father was actually a general. While in some ways she is more stern and imposing than her husband, she manages to accept, if not actually understand, her son’s choices.

Characters Discussed

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Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò

Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò (koh-ZEE-moh peeoh-VAHS-koh dee rohn-DOH), who is twelve years old at the narrative’s outset. He is the eldest son in the Piovasco family and successor as baron of the Ombrosa estate. Cosimo is energetic and determined, an idealist who insists on acting on his principles. the central figure in the story, he sets the main action going when he refuses to eat a meal of snails prepared by his sister. Sent from the table, he climbs into a holm oak on his family’s estate and vows never to descend from the trees. Cosimo eventually develops instincts and senses different from other humans as a result of living in the wild and having to be ever watchful and alert. This vigilance becomes “his natural state, as if his eyes had to embrace a horizon wide enough to understand all.” Despite his arboreal life, he becomes studious and well read in the philosophy of the Enlightenment; as a reader as well as a tree dweller, he acquires, virtually and literally, a bird’s-eye view of his era.

Biaggio Piovasco di Rondò

Biaggio Piovasco di Rondò (bee-AHJ-jee-oh), Cosimo’s brother, eight years old at the outset of the action. He narrates the tales of Cosimo’s extraordinary life. Though at first regarded by Cosimo as weak because of his failure to resist their father, Biaggio is a close friend and confidant to Cosimo. Biaggio takes his brother food and supplies when needed and keeps Cosimo informed of events that Cosimo cannot observe. Throughout the narrative, Biaggio maintains an attitude of wonder and awe at his brother’s exploits.

Violante (Viola) Ondariva

Violante (Viola) Ondariva (veeoh-LAHN-teh on-dah-REE-vah), a neighbor to the Piovasco family and member of the rival Ondariva family, which has claim to some of the same lands as the Piovasco family. Approximately Cosimo’s age, Viola is attractive, blonde, capricious, and independent. She meets Cosimo shortly after he enters the trees, when she is swinging in her garden and he greets her from a tree. She attracts Cosimo immediately with her teasing coyness and the fact that she is a member of the family his father has declared as sworn enemies. She occasionally assists a youthful gang of fruit thieves, who know her as Sinforosa, by alerting them to the location of ripe fruit and sending them an alarm when danger is near. At every chance, Cosimo attempts to impress her; according to Biaggio, this is partly to demonstrate to her his strong will. Later, after being widowed, Viola becomes Cosimo’s lover.

Arminio Piovasco di Rondò

Arminio Piovasco di Rondò (ahr-MEE-nee-oh), the baron of Ombrosa and father of Cosimo, Biaggio, and Battista. A dreamer aspiring unrealistically to higher nobility, Arminio dresses in a powdered wig and formal French court attire, in the outdated style of Louis XIV. His response to the turbulence of his age is that of a reactionary, attempting to regain a lapsed dukedom. His otherwise harmless pretensions disgust Cosimo, whose first impulse to live in the trees is an act of rebellion against his father’s authority. Arminio’s principal reaction to his eldest son’s rebellion is to become too embarrassed to go out or to face his friends among the nobility.

Corradino di Rondò

Corradino di Rondò (kohr-rah-DEE-noh), formerly Konradine von Kurtewitz and also called

the Generalessa

the Generalessa, the wife of Arminio and mother of Cosimo, Biaggio, and Battista. She is called the Generalessa by her children because of her martial bearing and her preoccupation with military matters, which she learned from her father, a general who had commanded Empress Maria Theresa’s troops and took his daughter with him from camp to camp. the Generalessa is domineering and strict but protective of her children. Like her husband, she is absentminded in rearing her children, so that her sons grow up left to their own devices, enjoying much freedom. With Cosimo, she is solicitous and caring. She is one of the first to accept Cosimo’s decision to live in the trees.

Battista di Rondò

Battista di Rondò (bah-TEES-tah), Cosimo and Biaggio’s sister. Battista’s countenance is compared by Biaggio to a rodent’s; she has staring eyes, narrow teeth, yellowish skin, and starched hair. She became confined to her home, dressed as a nun, after she attacked the young son of a noble family visiting her father. Battista’s main interest as a youth is cooking bizarre, revolting dishes, including rats’ livers, pigs’ tails, and porcupines. She is the cook of the infamous meal of snails that her brother Cosimo refuses to eat. Battista eventually marries the young count of Estomac, thus ensconcing herself in the self-aggrandizing aristocratic life that Cosimo has devoted himself to protesting.

The Characters

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All of the characters in Calvino’s novel are eccentric. The plainest and most conventional of them is Biaggio, the narrator. Biaggio profits handsomely from his brother Cosimo’s life in the trees, for he becomes heir to the estate; nevertheless, Biaggio clearly regrets his own comparatively plain life, though he recognizes that he never would have been able to make a similar choice. Biaggio is, like many, successful by the world’s standards but conscious of what might have been.

The boys’ father, Arminio, the elder baron, has as his great ambition the regaining of his lapsed title, Duke of Ombrosa. His obsession with “genealogies and successions and family rivalries and alliances” contrasts markedly with Cosimo’s nonchalance. Cavilier Carrega, Arminio’s illegitimate brother, is only too well aware that though he lives amid Ombrosa’s luxury none of its wealth will ever belong to him. He relies upon deceit (going so far as to steal food from the family table) and smuggling as revenge against his fate.

Arminio supports the Austrian monarchy, and this makes him conservative to the point of being politically reactionary. His wife, Corradina di Rondò, whose father, Konrad von Kurtewitz, commanded the troops which occupied the Genoese Republic, is a strange combination of the maternal and the military. Battista di Rondò, Cosimo’s sister, inherits her mother’s flair for the dramatic. She is given to spiteful scenes and retaliations. Cosimo’s refusal to eat the snail soup she has prepared causes him to be sent from the table and provokes his escape to the trees. It is not Battista’s snails but his family’s aristocratic shallowness which Cosimo actually rejects.


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Calvino, Italo. The Uses of Literature, 1986.

Carter, Albert Howard. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy, 1987.

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays, 1986. Edited by Helen Wolff and Kurt Wolff.

Olken, I.T. With Pleated Eye and Garnet Wing: Symmetries of Italo Calvino, 1984.

Perosa, Sergio. “The Heirs of Calvino and the Eco Effect,” in The New York Times Book Review. XCII (August 16, 1987), p. 1.

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