The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees

by

Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Cosimo gets closer to Olivabassa, people greet him in Spanish even though it’s obviously not their native language. Finally, he comes upon groups of nobles in the trees, and they greet Cosimo in a tone of bitter understanding. Cosimo identifies the man who looks like he’s in charge, Frederico Alonso Sanchez, and introduces himself. Father Sulpicio, a lanky man in black robes, translates. Don Frederico is in awe that Cosimo has chosen to live in the trees. Cosimo learns that these nobles are Spanish aristocrats who rebelled against King Carlos III, who exiled them. They reached Olivabassa, where they were told they couldn’t touch the ground per an agreement with the Catholic Church. Thus, the exiles were allowed to live in the trees, and now they’re waiting for Carlos III to let them return. In the meantime, their money reinvigorates Olivabassa’s economy.
This kind of exile that these nobles find themselves in is exactly what many Enlightenment philosophers spoke out against through their work, as exile like this means that the monarch has outsize power to do as they please and aren’t accountable to the people. This again situates the story in the height of the Age of Enlightenment. By showing these nobles and their situation, the novel creates the sense that something needs to change—which it does with the French Revolution later in the novel.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cosimo peppers Father Sulpicio, a Jesuit, with questions about how the Spaniards live in the trees. He’s cagey about answering, but Don Frederico answers some of the questions. Father Sulpicio shows Cosimo around. Men sit in saddles, while women sit on embroidered cushions, sew, and pet their cats and birds. They tell Cosimo about the palaces they left behind. The way they speak about King Carlos III is confusing, so Cosimo often doesn’t know how to react when he comes up in conversation.
The Ombrosotti don’t have a monarch to worry about, so it’s possible that Cosimo simply doesn’t know how to talk about monarchs. This does situate him as an outsider in terms of Enlightenment philosophers, as he’s not coming from a place where he has to overthrow a monarchy to institute change.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Father Sulpicio introduces Cosimo to an old man named El Conde. El Conde continually looks at a distant hill, and Father Sulpicio murmurs to Cosimo that El Conde’s son was tortured on King Carlos III’s order. Cosimo realizes that this man is the only one of the exiles who truly suffers—and he’s the one who shows the others what it means to suffer and hope. One day, Cosimo notices a beautiful young woman. Her name is Ursula and she’s Don Frederico’s daughter. Cosimo impresses her by picking an out-of-reach rose and then introducing her to his pulley system to get into faraway trees. They kiss and fall in love. Cosimo thinks that love is beautifully simple and should always be this way.
Interestingly, Cosimo’s assessment of El Conde reads as far more Romantic than anything else, in that it’s his emotional suffering that makes his plight understandable and commendable. This again makes the point that while many things that Cosimo believes in align with the Enlightenment, he is truly between eras and ways of thinking. His simple, reasonable love with Ursula, meanwhile, is far more Enlightenment in that it’s not built on high emotions.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon