Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 14

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 14

In a network of lines that intersect 

  • The speaker introduces himself as a collector of optical instruments, especially kaleidoscopes.
  • He specializes even more in "catoptric" instruments, which use a lot of little mirrors to multiply a single tree into a forest, a soldier into an army, etc.
  • This man has been very successful in business by acting on the principles of mirrors reflecting off one another. How exactly, it's hard to tell.
  • He begins to suspect that he might be kidnapped, so he multiplies everything in his life, including his exits from his house, his returns, even his own person. For example, he creates five Mercedes cars exactly like his own and has them leave his house at different times.
  • He has various body doubles posing as him and moving about the city at all times.
  • When he feels that these tactics won't be enough to keep him safe, he hires fake bandits to kidnap him, followed by the issuing of a fake ransom. Okay then.
  • He claims that he has made much of his money by starting a company that insures people against kidnapping. The problem, though, is that his associates are tight with the kidnapping underworld, and he knows they were hatching a plan to kidnap him and demand as ransom all the capital of his insurance business.
  • He is even aware of the exact plot against him, in which three Yamaha motorcycles are supposed to get between him and his bodyguards, so he arranges to have three Suzuki motorcycles fake-kidnap him 500 meters before the other kidnapping is supposed to go down.
  • Just when it looks as though his plan will work, though, three Kawasakis come at him even earlier, and he realizes that his counterplan has been foiled by a counter-counterplan! Why do you make our heads hurt so much, Calvino?!
  • These third-party kidnappers take him to his own house and lock him inside a hall of mirrors.
  • He finds his mistress Lorna tied up on the floor.
  • Elfrida, his wife, enters the room with a gun, saying she staged the kidnapping for his own protection.
  • Everything runs together in the hall of mirrors, and the narrator becomes disoriented, sensing that he might be physically absorbing everything in his surroundings.