Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Path to the Nest of Spiders was Italo Calvino’s first novel and was published in 1947, only two years after the end of the war. In a sense, the book is a literary counterpart to Vittorio De Sica’s film Ladri di biciclette (1948; The Bicycle Thief), which also probes the ravaged, precarious lives of the common men and women in war-torn Italy. Both works, the novel and the film, present life in gritty, uncompromising terms and focus on the fundamental passions which govern human life. Life, they say, is a struggle for sex or bread, a battle in the hills between Fascists and partisans or between the poor and homeless in the streets.

On the surface, then, The Path to the Nest of Spiders would seem to be pure neorealism, a bleak and unblinking depiction of the harsh truth of Italy during World War II. Boys join the Fascists so they can carry machine guns; women sleep with German sailors and officers to have ersatz chocolate and jam to eat; and the partisans, far from being the sterling heroes of myth, are a ragtag collection of misfits, parroting Communists, and confused youths.

This work stands in marked contrast to Calvino’s other writings. There is little humor and no fantasy in this book, while both of these elements are essential qualities of his more mature efforts such as Le cosmicomiche (1965; Cosmicomics, 1968), Ti con zero (1967; T Zero, 1969), or the...

(The entire section is 414 words.)