Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Fate and Free Will

By Italo Calvino

Fate and Free Will

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.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. What active role, if any, do you have in this book as a reader? Are you just being carried along for the ride, or is there something more to what you can do with this book?
  2. Why does Calvino include the little plot point about Silas Flannery and the extraterrestrial messages? What bearing does it have on the book's larger themes?
  3. Why would writers ever want to give up control of what they are writing? Why would they want to lose their individual personalities in writing? What would the benefit be?
  4. Why does Calvino go to such pains to constantly remind you that you are living inside a story that he has written?

Chew on This

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.