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If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler

by Italo Calvino

Disappointment Theme

As the actual human reader of If on a winter's night a traveler, you'll probably be able to identify pretty closely with this one. Over and over, Calvino offers you really interesting beginnings to novels, only to break them off just when they're starting to get good. And it's all crafted, too—it's a technique he's using to show how pleasure is connected to your sense of potential in what you're reading.

As much as you, the Reader, are disappointed with books in this text, your way with the ladies is no different. You're continually attempting to find concrete points of connection with Ludmilla, only to see them swept away by her pesky insistence on being her own person (what nerve). This sort of disappointment arises whenever you try to make the world mean something, then have it constantly contradict your reading. Ugh, world.

Questions About Disappointment

  1. What point is Calvino making by intentionally (and continually) disappointing your normal expectations as a reader?
  2. Is it possible for a book to be more enjoyable because it disappoints you? Are you on board with what Calvino's doing, or would he do better to stick to a traditional plot?
  3. Do you think that Calvino is actually pulling a dirty trick by cutting off his fictional novels the way he does? Is this his way of breaking the promises that truly great writers are able to fulfill? In other words, is this book too gimmicky?
  4. What is the connection between your desire to continue reading the books you've begun and your desire to possess Ludmilla as a sexual object? What do you learn about both by the end of the book?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The "disappointment" experienced by the Reader isn't actually disappointment at all, but rather a prolonged feeling of excitement.

Calvino's text suggests that Readers who come to books expecting a clear, straightforward plot are ignorant and don't deserve to feel satisfied.

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