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.
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.
Want to experience jealousy in If on a winter's night a traveler? Just get a lady involved. Whether it's you (the character), Silas Flannery, or Ermes Marana, someone's always feeling the envies about a girl. And of course, jealously even rears its ugly head in a few of the fictional novels that Calvino puts out in his book. If one thing's for sure, it's that it's a guy thing. The desire to read and to somehow capture meaning is connected to the desire to capture or possess a woman sexually. Reading will never be the same again.
In If on a winter's night a traveler, feelings of jealousy are deeply connected to the male Reader's desire to possess a woman and have her all to himself.
Jealousy shows a person's desire to get between someone else and his or her book; it's basically just anger about the fact that reading is like an inside joke, filled with private meanings and secrets.
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.
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.
As the actual human reader of If on a winter's night a traveler, you'll probably be able to identify pretty closely with this one. Over and over, Calvino offers you really interesting beginnings to novels, only to break them off just when they're starting to get good. And it's all crafted, too—it's a technique he's using to show how pleasure is connected to your sense of potential in what you're reading.
As much as you, the Reader, are disappointed with books in this text, your way with the ladies is no different. You're continually attempting to find concrete points of connection with Ludmilla, only to see them swept away by her pesky insistence on being her own person (what nerve). This sort of disappointment arises whenever you try to make the world mean something, then have it constantly contradict your reading. Ugh, world.
The "disappointment" experienced by the Reader isn't actually disappointment at all, but rather a prolonged feeling of excitement.
Calvino's text suggests that Readers who come to books expecting a clear, straightforward plot are ignorant and don't deserve to feel satisfied.
The men in If on a winter's night a traveler love them some sexy women. The dynamic of male desire for a female sex object is actually present in every one of the ten phony first chapters Calvino writes into his book. And as a matter of fact, they become increasingly explicit and aggressive as the novel goes on. There's no question about it: for Calvino, there's a major connection between the pleasure of reading and the pleasure guys get from chasing women.
Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, both through its general depiction of women and specific depiction of Lotaria, is a sexist book.
In this book, the Reader's final scene with Ludmilla shows that the man has overcome his desire to possess women and books as objects.
Are you a jaded grad student? Then If on a winter's night a traveler is the book for you. Throughout the novel, Calvino satirizes university education without mercy. Lotaria's political, feminist reading of books is often scorned, contrasted against Ludmilla's innocent desire to simply read for pleasure. Shmoop is all for literary theory and analyzing great books (duh), but we agree with Calvino that there should be pleasure in reading, too. Professor Uzzi-Tuzii gets the royal Calvino mockery treatment, too, because he shuts himself up in a dusty office and studies stuff that no one else care about. Bottom line: no one associated with the university is getting out unscathed in this one.
In If on a winter's night a traveler, Calvino is essentially telling us to torch all of the institutions of higher learning so we can live in a world where we can read completely for pleasure.
Calvino's approach to education in this book is socially irresponsible, since our ability to question what we read is what keeps us from falling under the spell of propaganda.
In If on a winter's night a traveler, you, the Reader, are constantly being pulled along by a conspiracy that works in ways you don't understand. And you have no say in the matter. Every time you act or think, you have to wonder if this is the way you've been intended to act or think by some higher power. This question finds its biggest expression when Silas Flannery wonders if his thoughts are secretly being dictated to him by aliens. (Um, what?) It might seem really weird and out of place, but it refers back to the larger question of how much free will you actually have as a human being—especially when you're immersed in the world of reading. In this world, interpretation might belong to you, but the world itself has been created by some author you've probably never met.
In If on a winter's night a traveler, Calvino suggests that you have just as much control over what happens in a book as you do in real life. It all depends on how you look at it.
By constantly talking about how wonderful the pleasure of innocent reading is, this book basically teaches its readers to take a more passive approach to life, and to accept whatever happens to them with a smile.
Innocence comes in all shapes and forms, but have you ever thought about being an innocent reader? If on a winter's night a traveler introduces us to this idea by exploring Ludmilla's desire to avoid authors, publishers, and anyone else who has any part in the creation of a book. She wants to remain innocent—i.e., reading only for pleasure. In this way, Ludmilla is always contrasted with her sister, Lotaria, who is a very analytical, political, and intellectual reader.
Innocence in reading is the highest value put forward by If on a winter's night a traveler. It should be pursued at all costs.
Even while Ludmilla, Cavedagna, and Flannery all have some desire to read innocently, Calvino recognizes that this type of reading could be considered ignorant and irresponsible.