The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees

by

Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Biagio admits that he doesn’t have much to say about this period. He turns 21, and since Cosimo doesn’t need much, Cosimo agrees to let Biagio use the property in exchange for paying his taxes and managing the affairs. Before Biagio takes this on, he tours Europe and discovers that Cosimo has quite the reputation. In Paris, he meets Voltaire. Voltaire has heard of Cosimo and is surprised that Biagio is Cosimo’s brother. When Voltaire asks if Cosimo lives in trees to get closer to the sky, Biagio answers that Cosimo believes that in order to study the earth, it’s necessary to have some distance. Voltaire likes this answer and insists that it’s an example of reason.
Voltaire’s question can be taken in several ways; he could be asking whether Cosimo is trying to study the stars (a more Enlightenment possibility) or whether he’s trying to get closer to God (which could perhaps be Romantic or Enlightenment,). Biagio’s answer makes it clear that Cosimo is a true member of the Enlightenment philosophers, as he wants to study what’s here on Earth and write about it in ways that he can then use to spread his ideas to others.
Themes
Education, Connectedness, and the Written Word Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Biagio returns to Ombrosa when he receives word that the Generalessa is ill. He finds Cosimo sitting outside the Generalessa’s window and is struck that the Generalessa speaks to Cosimo as though he’s there in the room. Cosimo is able to give her things using a harpoon, and she only asks Cosimo for things he can reach. Cosimo spends all night in her window, distracting her from her pain. One sunny day, Cosimo blows soap bubbles and for the first time, she seems to enjoy the game. She bursts bubbles, smiles, and dies. A year later, Biagio gets engaged to a local girl and goes to great lengths to convince her that Cosimo is trustworthy. Even after they marry and have children, she avoids Cosimo and eventually moves into the old castle to get further away from him.
The tenderness between Cosimo and the Generalessa in her last days shows that in important ways, Cosimo has never truly distanced himself from his family. The Generalessa has taken it upon herself to fully accept Cosimo’s choices and give him every opportunity to be a part of the family, whenever possible. Biagio’s wife, meanwhile, represents change, as she’s unwilling to accept that Cosimo has anything meaningful to say from his perch in the trees. She therefore points to the future, when Cosimo becomes obsolete.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Eventually, Cosimo becomes aware of the passing time. Ottimo Massimo is old and no longer wants to join the bloodhounds or court Great Danes. Cosimo restlessly climbs to the tops of trees, unsure of what he wants. One day, Ottimo Massimo restlessly sniffs the wind. Suddenly he starts off through the woods towards a hunting reserve that belongs to Duke Tolemaico, an old man who doesn’t hunt but who employs vigilant guards. Cosimo curiously follows. Ottimo Massimo reaches two pillars topped by stone lions and beyond, a meadow. It’s entirely silent and disturbs Cosimo, but Ottimo Massimo races across the meadow. Anguished, Cosimo realizes he’s waiting for something beyond the meadow.
It’s telling that this is the first time that Cosimo has truly wanted something he cannot have, per his personal philosophy. That he doesn’t know what it is suggests that it’s something more instinctual and emotional—and, in that sense, Romantic—but Cosimo has to sit here and wait for it in a very patient, rational, and Enlightenment-style way. The fact that even the very unique Ottimo Massimo can cross the field drives home for Cosimo how separate he is from the rest of humanity.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
A game warden passes below. Cosimo asks the man if he’s seen Ottimo Massimo. The man hasn’t, but asks if Cosimo caught anything good—Cosimo can hunt here now, as Duke Tolemaico has been dead three months and doesn’t care. He says that the heirs of Tolemaico’s first two wives are now fighting with the third wife, who is in her early 20s, was only married to the old man for a year, and doesn’t like any of the things she inherited. The man says that the widow has been going from property to property, staying for a few days before declaring everything ugly and letting the heirs have at it. She’s at the hunting pavilion now.
The deaths in this chapter, even of minor characters like Duke Tolemaico, makes it very clear that time is passing and Cosimo isn’t a young man anymore. His adult individuality, however, means that Cosimo is stuck hanging in trees and waiting for whatever is across the meadow to come to him, showing him the consequences of his choice to live separate from everyone else.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
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Cosimo waits for Ottimo Massimo until the following evening. The dog appears, wags at Cosimo as though inviting him to follow, and then runs back across the meadow. Two game wardens pass later and tell Cosimo that Ottimo Massimo is with the widow duchess. Cosimo remains in the tree at the edge of the meadow, studying the meadow as though it is the one thing able to teach him about distance and waiting.
In a sense, the meadow really is the only thing that can teach Cosimo about distance—even though many of his correspondents are in France or elsewhere in Europe, the distance doesn’t matter because they can write and send mail. Whatever’s across the meadow doesn’t allow him that luxury and therefore makes him feel isolated.
Themes
Education, Connectedness, and the Written Word Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon