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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558

Giovanni Corte arrives at an unnamed sanatorium somewhere in Italy to be treated for a mild case of an unnamed disease. He is pleased by the appearance and amenities of the sanatorium building. It has seven floors, with a fine view from the upper floors, especially from the seventh floor where he is roomed. Unfortunately for those on the bottom floor there is no view at all except for the trees in front of the windows. In a conversation with his nurse, Corte learns that the seventh floor is for people like himself, those hardly ill at all. However, the lower floors are for people who are most ill. The first floor is only for those who are dying. Appalled but fascinated by this system, he looks down at the bottom floor and sees that most of its rooms have their venetian blinds pulled down. Now he discovers that the blinds are pulled down only when a patient has recently died.

After some days Corte is asked if he will, for the moment, give up his room to accommodate a new patient who is bringing her two children and needs more space. He agrees, but then is dismayed to discover that the only room available for him is on the sixth floor. Nevertheless, thinking he will soon be brought back to the seventh floor, he goes down to the sixth floor. Here the routine is different, for the patients are truly ill although not seriously so. Corte is assured that he belongs above, but he is made aware that something, after all, is wrong and perhaps he should stay here, where the doctors really know their business, as opposed to the less knowledgeable physicians above.

Suddenly the patients on the seventh and sixth floors are separated into two classes—those less ill and those more ill. By apparent bureaucratic mischance, Corte is placed among the more ill who are sent down to the fifth floor. He objects violently but finally agrees, because he suddenly lacks strength to continue protesting. On the fifth floor he develops an eczema that will not go away and that can only be treated by an apparatus located on the fourth floor. His doctor does say that Corte belongs on the fifth floor but that he must not tire himself by going up and down the stairs, and so he should go to the fourth floor. Corte reluctantly descends.

Soon Corte’s fourth-floor doctor says that to cure his disease properly, Corte should go to the third floor, where he will get full treatment and at last get well. Once more he unwillingly descends. Shortly thereafter the third-floor staff goes on a two-week holiday; to be sure of his correct care Corte must go to the second floor. His stay on the second floor is “temporary,” but when the nurses come to move him a week later he asks if the third-floor staff has come back early. No, he is to move to the first and last floor; his removal order has been signed by the head of the sanatorium, Professor Dati himself. A doctor assures Corte that there has been a mistake, but Professor Dati will be gone for some days, so Corte must go down. After he comes to the last floor, he suddenly becomes aware that the venetian blinds are closing.

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