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Title:The Role of The Narrator in Italo Calvino's Fiction
Author(s):Markey, Constance Daryl
Department / Program:Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Romance
Abstract:The role of the narrator in Italo Calvino's writing forms a valuable basis for inquiry, providing insight both into the author's artistry as well as into his sceptical reflections. In his storyteller Calvino has created more than just a naively amusing observer, but an ambivalent portrait of contemporary man. It is precisely this darker side to Calvino's narrator and his humor, the modernist (and post-modernist) attitudes that influence the storyteller's point of view, which this study explores.
Towards this end, in Chapter I we concentrate on the evolution of the narrator as a colorful yet unified characterization in Calvino. We examine the mechanism of modern social and psychological alienation consistently reflected in the thoughts and behavior of this central figure, exploring his cynical, contemporary sense of humor, as well as the existential preconceptions which nurture it. We also contemplate the crippling element of self-doubt or spiritual dimidiamento which marks the narrator's personality and undermines his relationship with the reader as well as with the other characters in Calvino.
Chapter II studies the quality of the narrator's existence from his viewpoint. As this aspect of the drama unfolds, we observe that life through the eyes of Calvino's storyteller is primarily construed as an absurd, labyrinthine journey defiant of ordinary human comprehension. This negative perception is best exemplified in Il castello dei destini incrociati where Calvino structures the novel on the ironic promise that life is patterned after the epic hero's journey with its redemptive message, only to show this model reversed by the narrator's penetrating dialectical analysis. In a scathing parody (particularly of Dante's journey), the hero is deprived of all saving virtue. The original sin which only temporarily constrains Dante in the Divine Comedy, in Il castello takes the form of a permanent impediment, an irremedial metaphysical blemish. No divine intercession, no means of expiation guide the storyteller and his fellow travelers out of the labyrinth. The hero does not return, is not spiritually re-born in the traditional sense of the journey in Calvino. Life proceeds in modernist terms, as ceaseless striving, a voyage without meaning or purpose.
Integral to Calvino's narrator's inquiry into the nature of man's existence are other closely related philosophical questions. One of them, the issue of man's free choice, forms the basis of Chapter III. The dilemma of choosing or the bivio, as it is called in Il castello, has always been a source of both tension and humor in Calvino's works. Even in Calvino's earlier, I nostri antenati, we see the narrator emerge as a pivotal figure in a dialogue which centers on the problem of "right" choosing in a modern, valueless society. Tracing the question of la scelta in Calvino, we note that this theme is inevitably presented from an existential view. Sartrean reasoning and eventually Sartrean terminology distinguishes the storyteller's discussion of choice. Finally in Calvino's most recent novels, the dialogue on la scelta evolves to its logical, nihilistic existential conclusion: choice perceived as an exercise in futility in the face of contingent reality.
The anxiety over man's alternatives, the inconsistencies reflected in the dialogue of Calvino's spokesman in no way diminish his integrity as a character. Nor do his gloomy musings detract from Calvino's humor. In Calvino's storyteller we encounter both the comic and the tragic, and thus a thoroughly modern perspective of humor. Through the narrator's stream of consciousness, the recitation of his fears and idiosyncrasies, we meet in Calvino both a unique, consistent personality as well as a complex image of contemporary man and his world.
Issue Date:1980
Description:226 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8026555
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1980

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