Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515

“The Watcher” is told from the third-person-singular point of view, which facilitates approaching the protagonist objectively while still revealing his thoughts. The clearest impressions in the story are those of Amerigo’s mind. Other impressions are less detailed, or vague. Though the voting officials play dramatic roles in the story, their names are not mentioned, and they are drawn in only the harshest of outlines. The major character of Lia is never seen, and her voice is heard only over the telephone, accompanied by undescribed music. All of this serves to intensify the focus on Amerigo’s thoughts and swings of mood. The world of the story is, in fact, presented only as a perception of Amerigo’s. Even the rain at the outset of the story, rather than being presented objectively, independent of Amerigo, is presented as one of his perceptions: “It looked like rain.” Soon afterward is the image of Amerigo “tilting his umbrella to one side and raising his face to the rain.”

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Paradox and symbol in this story are basic to Calvino’s theme, and are obvious rather than subtle. The significant symbols are well explained: Cottolengo represents human society as a whole, and the Cottolengo man who was reared in the hospital is homo faber—representative, that is, of the spark within a man that accounts for his humanity.

The most outstanding stylistic trait of the story is Calvino’s mirroring in his sentence structures the complexity of Amerigo’s thoughts. In the story’s second chapter, it is learned that At times the world’s complexity seemed to Amerigo a superimposition of clearly distinct strata, like the leaves of an artichoke; at other times, it seemed a clump of meanings, a gluey dough.

What follows is a tour de force, a one-sentence paragraph that is nearly two pages long. To create many layers of subordination (Amerigo’s qualifying comments and retakes), Calvino utilizes thirty-eight commas, nine pairs of parentheses, four sets of colons, two sets of dashes, and a semicolon. The sentence, about Amerigo’s role as a Communist, is filled with contradictions and paradoxes. Within the sentence, he describes himself, by turns, as pessimistic, optimistic, and skeptical. The paragraph is, itself, like the complexity of Amerigo’s world, an artichoke, each set of leaves enfolding another inside itself.

Another example of Calvino’s artistry occurs in the fourth chapter of the story. The second paragraph (“It was a hidden Italy that filed through that room . . . ” ) is another lengthy, one-sentence paragraph. This time, the sentence is periodic rather than cumulative, in order to create tension. It describes the inmates of Cottolengo as the “secret of families and of villages,” poverty’s “incestuous couplings,” and “the mistake risked by the material of human race each time it reproduces itself.” The sentence is rhythmically interrupted with the parenthetical disclaimers, “but not only,” which emphasize Amerigo’s caution and fastidiousness as a thinker and build up suspense toward the climax in the image of mutants, products of poisons and radiation, and the insistence on randomness as the governing agent in human generation.

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Themes