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If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler


by Italo Calvino

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : Quest

The Call

In Calvino's metaworld, the book literally makes a call on "you" when you sit down to read Italo Calvino's novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Your quest to continue reading this book is endlessly put off as you become interested in other books, but always have your readings interrupted when it's most unbearable to stop. As you move along the quest to finish the books you've started, you also set out to win the heart of your fellow reader, Ludmilla.

The Journey

Your desire to finish reading your books takes you all over the world and eventually lands you in the middle of a worldwide conspiracy. You travel to countries where dictators impose heavy censorship laws, even as these same dictators import the books that they've banned (no one ever said dictators made sense). Emerging from this muddle is your primary antagonist, the elusive and brilliant—dare we say dastardly?—Ermes Marana. If only he had a moustache to twirl.

Arrival and Frustration

You go to a library and finally find success: they have copies of all the books you want to continue reading (why is the library always the last place people check?). But of course, it's too good to be true. For one reason or another, the library isn't able to offer you the books you need. And things were looking so good…

The Final Ordeals

Just when your spirit seems broken, you are verbally assaulted by a group of men reading at the library, who all say that reading should never give you a clear beginning, middle, and end, no matter how much you want these things. You try to plead your case with these people and wave your list of books at them, but they don't seem all that moved.

The Goal

When you're completely beaten down, one of the men at the library takes the list of books from you and reads the entire thing out loud. All of the titles come together to form a single sentence, which the man is certain is the beginning of some other book he's read. When you insist that you just want the endings to the individual books, he gives you a very succinct and profound account of how novels are supposed to end. Listening to him, you decide that your story cannot end until you choose a final goal, and so you decide to marry Ludmilla.

The decision seems like enough in itself, because within seconds—poof—you're lying in bed and reading next to Ludmilla. It's a scene of total domestic bliss. She asks you to put your bedside lamp out, but you tell her you're just about to finish reading If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino. Pretty mind-bending. Kinda makes you wonder if you're a character in someone's novel right now... anyone ever seen The Matrix?

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