The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees

by

Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Around this time, Cosimo begins to notice the cavalier avvocato behaving strangely. He begins spending time at the port, chatting with sailors about pirate activity. Biagio explains that Barbary pirates still make raids, but these days they steal cargo rather than take sailors as slaves. As a whole, the piracy is casual, as it’s in both sides’ best interest to not fully shut down the other. Biagio makes it clear that the story he’s going to tell is one that Cosimo told to him in many different versions, but he’s going to keep to the most detailed and logical version.
The way that Biagio describes piracy shows that at this point in time, the world is becoming more connected. Relationships between different parts of the world contain elements of good and bad, not just one or the other. Biagio’s aside about the truth of the story to come helps him connect more with the reader. It makes Biagio seem more human and in this sense, more sympathetic.
Themes
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
While watching for fires one night, Cosimo sees the cavalier avvocato walking rapidly down to the valley. This is unusual; the cavalier avvocato usually goes to bed early. Once he gets to the beach, he begins waving his lantern until a small boat appears. The men in it wear turbans and speak Turkish. Cosimo picks out the names of Ombrosotti ships and realizes that the cavalier avvocato is telling the pirates about routes, schedules, and cargo of local ships. Cosimo sits in his tree, stunned. As a child he thought his uncle was untrustworthy, but his recent dealings with his uncle made him think otherwise—and now, the cavalier avvocato has proven himself a traitor. Cosimo wonders if his uncle is nostalgic for the only countries where he was ever happy, or if he’s angry at Ombrosa, which has done nothing but humiliate him.
Though it’s clear that the cavalier avvocato is the bad guy here, it’s still telling that one of Cosimo’s first thoughts—at least when he goes on to tell this story—is to wonder why his uncle did such a thing. This shows that Cosimo is becoming kinder and more compassionate, and he recognizes that his uncle isn’t just a one-dimensional villain. Instead, he understands that the cavalier avvocato is probably wildly unhappy in Ombrosa and though this attempt is misguided, it’s an attempt, nonetheless, to find happiness elsewhere.
Themes
Education, Connectedness, and the Written Word Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
Cosimo is torn. On one hand, he wants to alert the local port officials; on the other, he knows that Baron Arminio will suffer if word gets out. He also vowed after Gian dei Brughi’s death that he’d never attend another hanging, and he can’t bear the thought of essentially sentencing the cavalier avvocato to death. Cosimo decides to take the middle road by frightening the pirates and the cavalier avvocato so that they’ll be too afraid to work together again. He lies in wait for two nights and on the third night, he sees his uncle approach the shore. This time, the pirates unload loads of goods and hide them in a cave. Later, Cosimo realizes that this is so that the Barbary ship can pass a search at the port, since it pretends to be legitimate.
Deciding simply to scare everyone into not continuing with this arrangement reads both as wildly naïve and as extremely kind—if it’s successful, it will allow the cavalier avvocato to maintain what little status he has in the community, and it’ll keep him from a brutal death. That Cosimo thinks this plan will work, however, shows that he’s still very young and doesn’t understand all the things that could be outside his control in this situation.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
Cosimo considers alerting the local merchants, but instead alerts the impoverished charcoal burners. The charcoal burners grab whatever weapons and containers they have and follow Cosimo to the beach. Suddenly, a pirate jumps out at them, and Cosimo stabs him. Pirate chiefs are meeting in the cave and when they hear their lookout’s cry, a battle begins between the pirates and the charcoal burners. The pirates are ill prepared, as their guns are damp. The battle eventually becomes a battle of throwing stones and when the opportunity arises, the pirates flee to their boats. Cosimo leaps onto their mast and kills the three pirates on board, stunning pirates still on land.
Alerting the transient and poor charcoal burners is another way for Cosimo to demonstrate his growing kindness and generosity, and it’s another way for him to justify putting a stop to something that possibly allowed the cavalier avvocato a sense of purpose in the world. When the pirates’ guns don’t work, the battle becomes significantly more primitive and focused on using the natural world against one’s foe—which, given the logic of the novel, makes it more honorable.
Themes
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
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Cosimo feels triumphant until he sees the cavalier avvocato racing for the boat. He leaps into Cosimo’s boat and begins to row for the sea. Cosimo doesn’t know what to do: this is clearly the only way his uncle can survive this ordeal, and he doesn’t want to kill his uncle. He realizes that Ottimo Massimo is in the bottom of the boat and decides that all is well. The cavalier avvocato begins weeping and speaking in Turkish about a woman named Zaira. Cosimo wonders if Zaira is a lover or a long-lost daughter and figures that the cavalier avvocato will now be able to get the Turkish pirates to take him to her.
Though Biagio later suggests that Zaira isn’t real at all, that Cosimo thinks of her and comes up with these options as to who she might be shows that Cosimo is nevertheless trying to humanize the cavalier avvocato and understand where he’s coming from. Since Cosimo himself is motivated by love for Viola still, it’s certainly understandable to him that his uncle may miss a former lover.
Themes
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
The cavalier avvocato begins to hail a nearby pirate ship. Cosimo hides and watches two pirates lift his uncle into their boat. He hears an argument, the cavalier avvocato mention Zaira, and he understands that the pirates think the cavalier avvocato betrayed them. After hearing a thud, Cosimo shows himself. He sees his uncle floating in the sea, only his face visible above the water. Cosimo sends Ottimo Massimo into the water to rescue the cavalier avvocato. Ottimo Massimo obeys, but he returns with only the cavalier avvocato’s head.
Sending Ottimo Massimo after the cavalier avvocato is a way for Cosimo to, in his mind, make it clear to his uncle and to Baron Arminio that he cares about them and is a part of the family, even if the cavalier avvocato is now definitely a bad guy. When Cosimo is unsuccessful in this, it reminds the reader how naïve Cosimo’s plan was—it’s likely Cosimo’s attempt at meddling that led to the cavalier avvocato’s death.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon