Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 628
In Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees, the young protagonist, Cosimo, escapes from his idiosyncratic family by climbing into a tree and intending to live there (which he does, throughout the course of the novel). The prose is narrated in the first person by Cosimo's younger brother Biagio. Select quotes shed light on Cosimo's character as well as on his interior thoughts. The first takes place after he first took to the trees. One of his first acquaintances is a young, maturely dressed, aristocratic girl whom he sees swinging from a tree. After some banter in which the girl accuses the boy of being a fruit thief, he responds,
"Where I am isn't land and is isn't yours," proclaimed Cosimo, and felt tempted to add: "I'm Duke of Ombrosa too, and lord of the whole area," but he held himself back, as he didn't want to repeat things his father was always saying, now that he had quarreled with him and had run away from his table; he did not want to and did not think it right; also these claims to the dukedom had always seemed just obsessions to him; why should he, Cosimo, now start boasting about being a duke?..."This isn't yours," he repeated, "because it's the ground that's yours, and if I put a foot on it I would be trespassing. But up here I can go wherever I like."
In this quote we see Cosimo's principled approach to land and ownership. He is tempted to have recourse to his family title; however, he is on surer footing with respect to his values, as he stands by his conviction that no one owns the land.
Cosimo's brother empathizes with Cosimo more than the rest of the family. On Cosimo's first evening alone in his tree, Biagio remarks,
What coziness, what memories of warmth must have seeped from that house so known and near, to my brother in the night chill. I leaned from the window of our room and made out his shadow bent over the hollow of a holm oak, beneath branch and trunk, wrapped in a blanket, and—I think—bound around with a rope to avoid falling.
Here we see the extent to which Cosimo's brother regrets his brother's absence. He is deliberately reticent at this point about whether he agrees with brother's decision entirely; however, his appraisal of Cosimio's decision is more impartial than that of the rest of his family.
Comparison of the above quote with the following (from much later in the novel) is particularly illustrative. In the course of the novel, Cosimo witnesses civil insurrections (as the novel is set before the unification of Italy, while Italy comprised several kingdoms). The sister, Battista (who had been the primary reason for Cosimo's departure), is married to a military commander of the Austro-Sardinians. The narrator describes,
So I found my sister, Battista underfoot again, with what reaction I leave you to imagine. She installed herself in the house with husband, horses, orderlies. And every evening she would spend describing the last executions in Paris; she even had a model of a guillotine, with a real blade, and to explain the end of all her friends and relations-in-law she would decapitate lizards, centipedes, worms, and even mice. So we would spend our evenings. I envied Cosimo, living his days and nights out in the open, hidden in some wood.
At this point, the narrator, and in turn the reader, becomes entirely seduced by Cosimo's initially incomprehensible decision to abscond into the wilderness. This quote, too, exposes and reinforces Battista's awful behavior. The irony is that Battista's position is socially respectable, but her character is demonstrably bad; meanwhile, Cosimo's social position is entirely marginalized, but his character is comparatively respectable.
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