The Cloven Viscount

by Italo Calvino

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 306

The Cloven Viscount is a fantasy-style novel by Italian author Italo Calvino. The first major theme of the novel and which provides the setting of the narrative is the Ottoman Wars, particularly the Christian European battles against the Turkish forces during the seventeenth century. The titular character is an inexperienced soldier but shows bravery, and because of this he is severely injured during the battle. The warfare theme is integral to Calvino's metaphor of being violently torn into parts psychologically. The Viscount would have died in reality, as he was split into two by a cannonball that directly hit his torso. However, instead, the Viscount becomes two people in Calvino's fantasy novel.

The second major theme of the novel is duality, specifically the duality of good and evil. In war and in life in general, the duality of good and evil is a natural dynamic. However, the fact that the Viscount was split into two during warfare illustrates that primal violence can cause a person to display their good side and bad side more distinctively. Calvino examines the philosophical and psychological nature of an individual's personality; how human beings can possess both good and dark traits, and that a "complete" or whole human being can only be composed of the good and bad side. In essence, Calvino believes that even the evil or dark side of a person is necessary to make one whole.

The other prominent theme in the novel is the consequences of a person's deeds, whether those deeds are good or bad. The bad side of the Viscount, Gramo, creates a dictatorial state when he returns to the kingdom and terrorizes the population. The good side of the Viscount, Buono, is benevolent and altruistic, but causes uneasiness towards the citizens of his kingdom. In the end, the villagers dislike both Gramo and Buono.

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