Marcovaldo Response

Paul Andreas Fischer
The neo-realist novel, Seasons in the Summer, by Italo Calvino is a fantastical narrative following the life of a simple factory worker, protagonist Marcovaldo. Marcovaldo “since he does not have great powers of communication” (97) himself is forced by his concrete surroundings to seek a better life for himself and his family in the urban jungle. Though he finds at the end of the story that he is interviewed by a reporter for television, largely he goes unnoticed in the city, a ghost or a vagrant to some, mostly representing as a quiet factory worker, helping every day to produce the city’s many goods.
The post-fascism, almost communist views of the author are latent in the text. In chapter 16, Marcovaldo at the supermarket, the consumers come “to dismantle, to gnaw, to grope, to plunder,” (84) and the irony is, of course that though Marcovaldo works in one of the factories that produces the wide variety of goods, his family cannot afford to actually shop and only take the minimum requirements at the supermarket.
Combined with this socialist commentary, which the narrative style of the story affords the author great room in inserting, is an environmental lamenting of the passing of the country from the lives of the city’s inhabitants. Rather than focusing on the joys of country life, or the beauty of nature in and of itself, this environmental criticism instead highlights the contrast inherrently experienced by a family of city urchins. The family goes to nature on occasion, when his son, Michelino follows a herd of cattle to the country, Marcovaldo’s first questions are, “How are you? Was it beautiful?” (49) There is an envy for the boy, though he worked like a mule, it is a completion for Marcovaldo’s earlier dream that his children might one day be able to go in the meadows.
While Marcovaldo himself never was able to go into the country, or even to see a forest as a child, being of the first generation of truly urban city-dwellers, he still has an instinctive wish to see his children experience nature for themselves. Explaining to his child the need for good air and taking them to the hill, their response is almost comical, “Walls without a roof… Did they bomb them?” (41). But even in this passage, the hills and pastures that Marcovaldo finds for the children to roam, and play in, the land is owned by a Sanatorium, it seems to be a statement that in today’s urban world, nature is for the insane.
Calvino is writing with a strong voice that retains a playfulness reminiscent of European folk tales. In fact he is in a sort of way recording urban legends or myths, compiling his own series of modern tales following this unlikely protagonist of his own creation. The result is a compelling work that forces the reader to reconsider many assumptions that may be held about industrial “progress” and uncovers some of the realities of urban life. As the book has two parts, one set in hard times, post-war Italy and the second during boom times of the sixties, it is very difficult to define a set of values though out the work. Certainly it is possible that some recurring themes can be identified, the need for escape, and constant watchfulness of a caring father for his children’s health and well-being for example. While it would be impossible to characterize this book as ideological in a specific sense, it is better compared to a series of folk tales, with morals and consequences for the reader and protagonist as the narrator manages to remain suitably distanced in giving outright judgements. Marcovaldo doesn’t attempt to change or influence the world he is in, but merely to survive in it.

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