The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees

by

Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, Cosimo sees a fair-haired woman on a white horse gallop out of the trees on the other side of the meadow. He hopes that she’ll get close enough so he can see her face, but he also hopes that she’ll be the answer to what he’s been waiting for. Cosimo painstakingly watches her cut diagonally across the meadow. She changes direction and Cosimo notices that two knights are chasing her. The woman continues to change direction as though to disorient her pursuers, and it disorients Cosimo as well. Finally, she passes between the pillars and Cosimo sees that it’s Viola. Cosimo feels almost feverish and wants to cry out for her, but he can only make the sound of a woodcock.
The way that Viola leads the horsemen on this chase mirrors the chase game she played with the fruit thieves and Cosimo when they were all children, which suggests that at least in terms of how Viola deals with suitors, not much has changed since she was a child. Cosimo’s inability to make human speech, meanwhile, suggests that when confronted with true love like this, he’s forced to face how distant he really is from people—here, he’s more at home in the natural world than in Viola’s human world.
Themes
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
Viola gallops through a chestnut wood and Cosimo leaps through the trees after her. She reappears closer and again, Cosimo can only make the sound of a gray partridge. He sees that she seems somewhat in control of the men chasing her, but he still can’t pick out her intentions. Cosimo makes the plover’s cry and realizes that if this is indeed Viola, there’s only one place she’ll definitely go. He heads for the D’Ondarivas’ garden and sure enough, Viola gallops into the yard. She studies the trees, ignores his bird cries, and at the villa, starts shouting orders for the servants to renovate the house. Cosimo’s heart pounds with love and fear. Now that Viola has returned, he’ll have to give up his memory of her as a girl.
Here, the D’Ondarivas’ garden is symbolic of the time period, which is right before the French Revolution. At this point Romanticism is already on the rise and pushing back against Enlightenment ideas, but both eras coexist. The novel shows this by focusing on the ways in which the garden itself has gotten bigger and wilder, while Viola shouts orders to renovate the house: the natural world, as well as the built world of humans like Viola, are converging.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Viola tells her servants where to hang the swing and finally sees Cosimo. She’s surprised, but she recovers immediately. Viola tells him to meet her at the end of the park in an hour. Cosimo fearfully races for the big tree and Viola arrives on time. Cosimo helps her into the tree and admits that he only knows that Viola is a widow. Viola accuses Cosimo of knowing nothing, even though he’s nosy, and she quickly explains that her parents forced her to marry Duke Tolemaico since she’s a flirt, but now she’ll live on the D’Ondariva estate. She insists that she can do what she likes since she’s a widow—and in fact, she married Duke Tolemaico on purpose knowing she’d be widowed soon.
Viola’s explanation shows how manipulative and cunning she is, and how she understands how to leverage the social mores of the time to get her way while making others feel that she’s doing what they want her to. In this way, Viola is doing much the same thing that Cosimo is in terms of her relationship to her family, as she’s asserting her independence in important ways while also giving the illusion that she’s an integral part of the family and cares about how things go at home.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Cosimo is stunned and asks who Viola was flirting with. Viola says she’ll never let Cosimo be jealous, which startles him. She abruptly asks what Cosimo has been up to. He says he’s hunted, fought pirates, read books, and communicated from Diderot. Viola cuts him off and asks if he’ll love her forever. She commands him to kiss her and after unbuttoning her blouse, she leads him away through the branches. Cosimo leads her to one of his hiding places and Viola asks if he’s brought other women here, insisting that if he hasn’t he’s worthless—but slaps him for not waiting for her when he admits he has. She becomes suddenly gentle and they have sex. For the first time, Cosimo feels like he knows himself.
That sex is such a transformative experience for Cosimo suggests that, to a degree, Viola’s way of loving—by keeping him always on edge and experiencing heightened emotions—is interesting and compelling for him. This again makes the case that Cosimo contains qualities of both the Enlightenment and the Romantic eras, as Viola’s way of behaving in a relationship is largely Romantic.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
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