The Nonexistent Knight

by Italo Calvino

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Can The Non-Existent Knight be viewed as an allegory, with each character representing a quality?

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Yes, The Nonexistent Knight is an allegory, or a literary narrative wherein the author conveys to the readers a secondary meaning through his characters that is different than the literal meaning expressed. Calvino considers and satirizes broad topics like bureaucratic rubber-stamping and gender stereotyping. The work is fantasy, not reality.

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The Non-Existent Knight is an allegorical tale. An allegory is considered a literary narrative wherein the author’s story usually contains a secondary meaning, which is often a moral position. In modern times, allegories generally present complex or broader issues rather than simple moral conclusions by the author. An allegory is a literary device that is most often categorized as either political or historical in nature or an allegory of ideas, usually based on abstract concepts.

The Non-Existent Knight follows the exploits of a medieval knight, Agilulf, who is a legendary champion and companion of Charlemagne. Agilulf is presented as the quintessential knight, possessing all the virtues of a medieval knight, such as chivalry and loyalty, and always following the protocols of knighthood. The twist in this story is the fact that the protagonist does not actually exist. Calvino creates his character by using the literary device of allegory to express a modern idea: that bureaucrats and ideologues often act blindly, almost like sheep. He reacts to a medieval code of honor without thought and is, therefore, nonexistent. He is not a real individual. The author opines on modern society in this allegorical fantasy.

The character of Bradamante is another allegorical example of a fictional medieval knight. Just as Calvino satirically paints Agilulf as the perfect man, the author satirically presents Bradamante as the ideal woman. After the protagonist’s death, Rambaldo wears Agilulf’s white suit of armor in battle. Bradamante, an honored knight, becomes enamored with Rambaldo, believing that the armor was worn by Agilulf, until she discovers that it was actually Rambaldo wearing the armor. The author satirizes the stereotypical weaker gender by creating Bradamante as a superior knight, and he ties her into the allegory by demonstrating that her love for Agilulf is really a fantasy. She loves the empty suit of armor and the nonexistent aura surrounding it. The idea of a perfect knight and the ideal man or woman is not reality, but fantasy.

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The Nonexistent Knight is an allegorical novel written by Italo Calvino. The narrative follows the adventures of Agilulf, a medieval knight who exists as an empty suit of armor but displays characteristics which include chivalry, piety, and faithfulness.

Agilulf loses his humanity in his desire to strictly adhere to the medieval code of honor for the knights. His entire identity exists within that code of honor, so his armor is all that’s necessary for his existence. One of the benefits of being a knight was winning the affection of women, specifically by saving the damsel in distress. Agilulf is unable to partake in any of these romances. This portion of the allegory is a warning for all humans of blindly following orders, which will cause one to lose his or her individuality and humanity. Agilulf is more machine than man.

On the other hand, Rambaldo serves as a foil because he is young and inexperienced, driven by a desire to avenge the death of his father. While Agilulf serves a code of honor, Rambaldo exudes passion through his personal experience.

Unfortunately, he falls in love with Bradamante, who is not interested in him, but rather she is interested in Agilulf. This shows the issues with falling in love with the image of a person versus falling in love with the person.

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The Nonexistent Knight is an allegory in every sense of the word. The title itself refers to the primary character, Agilulf, who lives up to his titular descriptor. He is so entrenched in bureaucracy and the code of chivalry that he seems to not exist as a functioning human being. This aspect of Agilulf is explored in every detail of his character, including his appearance. He is only ever seen in his armor, and it is even said facetiously that there is nothing within (which proves eventually to be humorously true). He has all of the traits of a classic and romantic medieval hero, such as prodigious martial prowess and the affections of many women. However, he can enjoy none of them, as he has sacrificed his humanity to be an extension of the knight's code of honor. In this way, he is a parody of the typical fantasy story about upstanding knighthood.

The story functions as an allegory when related to the modernized man who fulfills his role to the letter without question or even passion. The work proves that not only would a life where one lives up to every expectation as a functioning member of society be bland and boring, but that one who follows such a code to the letter may as well be nonexistent. In the same way that Agilulf is disliked by those around him, someone in our modern world that hypothetically functioned simply as an extension of a system would find themselves with few friends indeed, even though such a mindset is often encouraged in professional environments.

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The character of Agilulf can be seen as an allegory of modern man. He's a hollow man—literally—who robotically follows the orders of his king without question. This could be interpreted as a reference to people in mass society, anonymous and lacking in real individuality. On this reading, Agilulf's unthinking devotion to duty parallels the routinized performance by modern humans of mind-numbing tasks in an increasingly bureaucratic society.

At no point has Agilulf ever stopped to think why he acts the way he does, just as his modern equivalent unconsciously allows himself to become nothing more than a small cog in a giant machine. Efficient and loyal he may be on the outside, but inside, modern man, just like the allegorized figure of Agilulf, is completely empty. He has no voice of his own; whenever he speaks, he simply echoes the words of his social superiors, internalizing their self-serving ideology.

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The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino is an allegory. Two characters in particular are representations of chivalry and knighthood.

To start, look at the title: the main character, Agilulf, does not really exist. There is nothing but air in his suit of armor, and yet he represents good and virtue in the world. He is the idealized form of a knight, but he is not real; there is nothing to him at all. He does what is expected of him without thinking. This is clearly a statement about the ideals often attributed to medieval knights.

Bradamente, a female knight, is also allegorical. She represents the expectations of women in the medieval time period. Women are expected to take care of the home and raise children; it would be unthinkable for a woman to fight. Other knights do not take Bradamente seriously, because she is a woman, yet she is a much stronger and more skilled knight than any of the men.

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