Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 20

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 20

What story down there awaits its end?

  • A nameless, seemingly omnipotent person is strolling along a stretch of space he calls "The Prospect," choosing to erase anything around him (including people) that doesn't suit his mood.
  • He wants to meet a woman named Franziska, but wants it to seem spontaneous.
  • So he begins to erase all of the women who can't be her, hoping that this will increase his chances of bumping into her. He gets caught up in his erasing, and decides to get rid of all office workers, bureaucrats, and official figures of authority.
  • Then he starts abolishing non-human things, like fire, garbage, and mail. Then doctors, professors, and universities…
  • Eventually, he eliminates all of nature entirely, and is left walking along the surface of an empty world. (It's kind of like those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where the artist steps in and takes out everything until Bugs Bunny is just left against a white background.)
  • The narrator bends down and grabs a piece of blowing paper, which seems to be a page from the Calixto Bandera book, Around an empty grave. 
  • When he looks back up, he sees Franziska and waves to her.
  • She doesn't seem to hear him, though.
  • He runs for her and finds that she's surrounded by men in coats.
  • He tries to erase them, but finds that he can't.
  • Now he tries to bring the world back into existence, but realizes that he can't do that either. A giant crack opens up in the ground between him and Franziska.
  • Beyond the crack, Franziska smiles at him and says she knows a café nearby, asking him if he'll meet her there.
  • The void around them continues to open.