If on a winter's night a traveler
Think about this: is there any point in If on a winter's night a traveler when you, the character, are totally and completely sure that the book you're reading is, well, the book you're reading? And doesn't that kind of mess with you, the human Shmooper?
The trickster-translator Ermes Marana has counterfeited and mistranslated text to the point where titles are constantly confused, books with completely different storylines are posing as the same text, and there's actually an international literature conspiracy based completely on lies. Ultimately, Calvino brings into question the authenticity of any text you read, which is kind of concerning to us Shmoopers.
Questions About Lies and Deceit
- What is Ermes Marana's main motive for all of his lying and counterfeiting? What does he hope to accomplish by doing it? Is it possible to sympathize with him, or is he just a jerk?
- What about Marana's lies makes them so difficult to untangle? By the end of this book, is it possible to trust anything the narrator tells you?
- What is the significance of the word "apocryhpa" in Marana's activities? What does this word add to your understanding of his role in this book?
- By the time you get to the end of the book, it's impossible to tell who anyone is, who the real and fake police are, or which kidnappings are real and fake. Does this completely take you out of the action as a reader, or does it serve some worthwhile purpose?
Chew on This
Ultimately, Ermes Marana is the true hero of If on a winter's night a traveler.
In the conflict between two sects of The Organization of Apocryphal Power, Calvino is on the side of The Archangel of Light, the group that believes it can encounter absolute truth if it finds the right book.