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If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler

by Italo Calvino

Literature and Language Theme

It's kind of impossible to sum up what Calvino thinks about literature and language, since all of If on a winter's night a traveler is pretty much one big chaotic treatise on it. How are we supposed to read? Is there truth within or behind words? What does literature have to offer us? One thing we can say for sure is that Calvino is pretty sure there's no such thing as completion or perfection in language and literature. At least in his ideal world, there would always be new ways to read a text. Shmoop would have to agree.

Questions About Literature and Language

  1. What's with all the vague talk about the "silence" or "void" that lurks behind words? How can we know about this silence if it's impossible to talk about?
  2. How does Calvino's description of the train station in If on a winter's night a traveler challenge your normal understanding of how words work in books? What is the effect of saying that "steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph"? (2.1)
  3. Why has the dude named Irnerio taught himself not to read? How has he done it? Could you ever see yourself learning such a skill? What would be the biggest challenge in doing it?
  4. If you were Silas Flannery, why would you wish that you could write without feeling like you were an individual person? Isn't the point of writing to do something great and slap your name on it? Isn't that why authors' names are printed in larger letters than the titles of books?

Chew on This

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

In If on a winter's night a traveler, Italo Calvino suggests that all language and all knowledge is ultimately meaningless in the face of a real world that has nothing to do with words.

Calvino's novel shows us that true communication is impossible, since we can never break through the personal "spin" that someone else's brain puts on our words.

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