The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees

by

Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Biagio says that for the most part, the people of Ombrosa gossip about Cosimo but treat him respectfully. They reproach Viola’s behavior but generally talk as though their behavior is normal for nobles. Viola has properties across Europe and so is away for months at a time. When she’s gone, Cosimo spends more time in the oak in the square. She always leaves after a fight, though they do make up first, but Cosimo lives in a state of anxiety. He tries to return to the way things were, but he also thinks that life without Viola is flavorless. Biagio insists that in this sense, Cosimo loves Viola just like Viola wants to be loved, as she’s always in control.
When Cosimo spends more time in the square—that is, with people, talking and communicating—when Viola is gone, it suggests that he’s going to try to take a step backwards in the direction of his Enlightenment ideals when she’s not around. This means that he’s going to try to connect more with others and spread his ideas, something that he cannot do when he’s too caught up in being in a relationship with Viola.
Themes
Education, Connectedness, and the Written Word Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Their romance always resumes when she returns, but they also argue jealously as Cosimo suspects she sees other men while she’s gone. Once, Biagio journeys to Paris on business and in a salon, he runs into Viola. She gives Biagio a handkerchief to pass on to Cosimo, but a friend takes Biagio aside. He says that according to the Paris gossips, Viola goes from lover to lover and then disappears for months, supposedly to a convent. Biagio tries not to laugh—the convent surely refers to her time with Cosimo—but he knows that this will upset Cosimo. Back home, he gives Cosimo the handkerchief and says he heard that Viola is seeing other men. Cosimo shrugs and runs away, but Biagio knows that this is his way of rejecting anything that makes him confront reality.
Reality, in this case, is the knowledge that time is passing, that Enlightenment ideas are becoming normalized and are no longer revolutionary, and that the Romantic era (as represented by Viola) is beginning to run the show everywhere. Cosimo’s unwillingness to accept the inevitable changes suggests that in this regard, he’s a lot like his father. Like Baron Arminio did for most of his life, Cosimo is getting to the age where he’s living in the past, but the future is too different for him to accept.
Themes
Coming of Age, Family, and the Individual Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Viola returns, pleased at how jealous Cosimo is, and accuses him of holding a narrow idea of love since he tries to make his jealousy submit to reason. Cosimo insists that everything, including love, is better with reasoning, but Viola says that love shouldn’t be reasoned with. A few days after her return, Viola begins spending time with two officers, an Englishman and a Neapolitan. The men lurk around her villa. Viola hangs out the windows in a nightgown, and Cosimo camps out in her trees to watch everything. He plans to trick his rivals and hopes that Viola wants to make fun of both of them.
The idea that it’s good and right to submit love to reason is a distinctively Enlightenment idea, as it suggests that Cosimo can make everything fit into his worldview. When Viola essentially throws this in Cosimo’s face by starting to court the Englishman and the Neapolitan at the same time, it shows that Cosimo is fighting a losing battle here. The Romantic era will come, whether he likes it or not.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One morning, Cosimo watches Viola drop a note to the Neapolitan, asking for a meeting. He then watches her do the same to the Englishman, but he can’t decide which one Viola is tricking. Cosimo reasons that they’ll probably meet at the summerhouse, so he hides in the trees around it. The Neapolitan arrives and Cosimo shoots squirrel dung at him. When the Englishman arrives a moment later, Cosimo hurls more dung. The officers introduce themselves as Salvatore di San Cataldo and Sir Osbert Castlefight, and then begin a duel. They fight until Viola tells them to stop. She feigns confusion as to which one she invited to meet her and invites them both in, suggesting she could see both of them at the same time. The officers are aghast.
The summerhouse itself represents the kind of civilization that Cosimo cannot join, given that he chooses to live in the trees. Though this normally isn’t a problem for him as it saves him from suffering some moral corruption, in this case, it’s painful to not be able to enter it and make things “right.” Viola’s treatment of Don Salvatore and Sir Osbert, meanwhile, shows yet again that she’s no different now than she was as a child: she wants to be in control and to make her suitors tie themselves in knots to impress her.
Themes
Virtue, Dignity, and Kindness Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
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Sir Osbert and Don Salvatore refuse to share Viola, so Viola says she’ll belong to whoever is the first to say that they’ll share her. The men turn to their horses. Cosimo is thrilled to exact revenge, but decides to warn the officers since they were so honorable. He tells them to not sit on their horses, but their confusion and Viola’s laughter makes Cosimo angry again. The officers decide to sit and sit on porcupine quills. They rush as though to get angry with Viola, but Viola angrily climbs into the trees to confront Cosimo. She cries that she wants him jealous like this all the time and throws herself at him. However, when she notes how much the officers love her, Cosimo hits his head against the trunk and declares that they’re worms. Incensed, Viola climbs back down and invites the officers into her carriage.
Essentially, Viola just wants to know for sure that everyone wants her and is angry, which is why she’s so pleased with Cosimo’s jealousy. However, where she sees heroics and grand gestures, Cosimo sees pointless, silly, and overall meaningless gestures that don’t do anything but make people angry. This argument brings Cosimo and Viola to their tipping point of their relationship, as they cannot continue while neither of them will concede defeat to the other’s way of thinking.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Biagio suspects that this was a time of torment for all four lovers, even Viola. Sir Osbert and Don Salvatore spend all their time with her, remaining firm in their agreement to not share her but constantly agreeing to more and more concessions. Every time they make another promise, Viola rushes to tell Cosimo. Finally, both officers desert and spend their days playing dice while Viola stalks around in discontent. She finds Cosimo in a tree one day and says she’s tired of all three men, and the officers’ promises aren’t enough. Biagio says that Viola and Cosimo were in love and were thinking all the right things. They could’ve made up, but they refused to give any ground and Viola declared she was leaving.
When Viola gets tired of running her suitors in circles, it indicates that the Romantic era will also eventually come to an end, just as Cosimo’s Age of Enlightenment is soon to come to an end. However, when Biagio insists that it was Cosimo and Viola’s failure to communicate that led to the end of their relationship, it’s a concession to the possibility that the Enlightenment was right about something: rational, reasonable communication, at least when it comes to love, is superior.
Themes
Education, Connectedness, and the Written Word Theme Icon
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Viola leaves immediately for France and gets caught up in the French Revolution. She eventually ends up in England, marries a lord, and settles in Calcutta. Sir Osbert and Don Salvatore stay together and go on adventures, but they eventually disappear. Cosimo wanders through the wood, weeping in grief. Then, he destroys trees. He doesn’t resent Viola, but he does resent himself for losing her because of his pride. He understands now that she was always faithful to him, and bringing other men along was a way to make their love grow. He stays alone in the woods (Viola took Ottimo Massimo with her) and even Biagio has to admit that Cosimo is mad.
Without Viola around, Cosimo can rationalize what happened and make it fit into his personal philosophy. His emotional displays suggest that at least personally for Cosimo, Romanticism has arrived—while he may be trying to rationalize things, what ends up coming out are emotional displays of grief. Taking it out on the woods, however, suggests that Cosimo may also be taking issue with his choice to live in the trees to begin with.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon