The Baron in the Trees

The Baron in the Trees

by

Italo Calvino

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The Baron in the Trees: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Biagio explains that Cosimo told so many wild tales about his exploits during the war that it’s impossible to know what’s true. Instead, Biagio will faithfully recount Cosimo’s stories. Cosimo listens to soldiers crashing through the woods to figure out if they’re Austro-Sardinian or French. A pretty Austrian lieutenant leads a patrol of soldiers through the woods. Cosimo drops heavy pinecones on one, throws porcupines at another, and sets a trap of poisonous caterpillars. The lieutenant keeps going, so Cosimo hurls angry wildcats at them. When this doesn’t work, Cosimo leaps ahead to look for French soldiers to capture the Austro-Sardinians.
Here, Cosimo uses the natural world to very literally fight back against the corruption and awfulness of the civilized world. That the Austrian lieutenant is described as being so handsome and well put-together signifies that he’s a member of the civilized elite that Cosimo has always scorned to some degree, and because of this, he’s a prime target for the French and for Cosimo.
Themes
The Age of Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Era Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cosimo hears something move as he reaches a mossy spot. He realizes that what he thought was water is actually French soldiers, wet and flowering with mold and moss. Lieutenant Agrippa Papillon leads this group. He believes that nature is good, so he tells his soldiers to let the twigs and snails stay stuck to them. Cosimo introduces himself as a patriot of the woods and tells Lieutenant Papillon that there’s an Austrian patrol ahead. Lieutenant Papillon calls his men to arms, but the soldiers move carelessly and curse. Cosimo offers his own plan: let the Austrians walk into them and get trapped. Cosimo acts as a lookout and the plan works perfectly.
By working with Lieutenant Papillon, Cosimo is truly able to bridge the divide between the natural world and civilization. Lieutenant Papillon’s men in general represent what it’s like to go too far in the direction of revering nature, but Cosimo is able to start bringing them back by reminding them that they have a goal here that they must reach.
Themes
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
Cosimo collaborates often with the Republican Army. His notoriety as a Jacobin among the Austro-Sardinians spreads, and those soldiers fear an attack by nature. Thus, by making strategic noises, Cosimo can direct troops anywhere. Once, he leads a troop into thick underbrush where wild boars are hiding. Though Cosimo often works alone, he enjoys Lieutenant Papillon and wants to help him. His soldiers have moss and ferns growing out of their uniforms and seem to be growing into the forest, so Cosimo comes up with a plan. He approaches Lieutenant Papillon one night and says that they could rouse the soldiers using fleas. Lieutenant Papillon scoffs that the Republican Army doesn’t have fleas, so Cosimo decides to act alone. He sprinkles fleas on the soldiers, which successfully makes them itchy and human again.
Again, Lieutenant Papillon’s soldiers represent the dangers of leaning too far into the natural world—they show that it’s possible to literally forget that one is human, which makes that person useless in Cosimo’s opinion. Reintroducing the soldiers to their humanity allows them to be much more successful soldiers and people, thereby situating them in a state similar to Cosimo’s. In this sense, it’s not entirely necessary for one to take to the trees specifically; it’s possible to gain the same insight Cosimo did through other means.
Themes
Civilization vs. Nature Theme Icon
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