Italo Calvino’s Italo Calvino’s Italo Night a Traveller demonstrates how Calvino attempts a comparison between reading a novel and a man pursuing a female. This text has the reader playing the role a male protagonist trying to read a novel. The protagonist encounters a female reader along the way and they become friends. This pursuit mirrors our interactions as readers and text. The narrative begins draw us in to reading. This interpretation might seem to be sexist or inaccurate for female readers at first, but further analysis will confirm its validity. Calvino’s goal in this novel is to analyze the experience of the reader. The romantic encounter allows us to draw important insights about the experience of the reader. Although Calvino may only value the masculine experience of the readers, this comparison will enhance our understanding of the relationship between text-reader. It will also reveal how Calvino’s novel values female pleasure.

In Earl G. Ingersoll’s Waiting for the End. Gender and Ending. Contemporary Novels, Ingersoll examines the inconsistency of Calvino’s endings and the effects this has on the reader. Readers have been taught to read traditional narrative to enjoy the plot. Calvino challenged this notion with If on a Winter’s Night, a Traveller. This book eliminates endings. Calvino draws the attention of readers repeatedly with compelling beginnings of stories. Then, he abruptly ends them at their most engaging part of each story. Calvino wants to make the reader question their relationship with the text. Calvino wants readers to appreciate the text as a reading experience, not for a particular ending. The plot is what has always been the most important part of narrative. A good ending is the key. It isn’t worth telling a story if there’s no good ending, climax, rising action or climax. This thought was supported by Sigmund Fréud. Freud believed that all human beings have a pleasure or death drive. These drives drive people to seek pleasure and their own ends. Peter Brooks wrote “Freud’s Masterplot” in his essay. Even in narrative, the characters seek a satisfying ending–an honourable death. This notion has been challenged by Calvino and other postmodern writers. These postmodern thinkers say they don’t pursue the end but rather find joy in the process. Ingersoll claims that Calvino is seeking a “pleasure of text”, which transcends the traditional notion that a plot’s ending can be transformed into meaning. We will expand on this idea as we examine If on the winter’s nights a traveling companion. Calvino examines the different ways readers interact with the text during reading. Calvino wants readers to be more aware of their reading experience. Calvino knows that an author can manipulate the reader through the words he or she chooses, and he writes to make this clear. Calvino challenges the conventions of narrative by doing this. Traveller is an example of a story that has no endings. The storyline can be interrupted at times, but it doesn’t end. Reader and other Reader never read all ten of the books. Even the end of the novel is omitted. The book’s final line tells us that the reader/reader is “almost finished [reading]” (Calvino 266) The last line of the book tells us that we’re “almost” done. This means we won’t be able to reach the ending. Calvino’s postmodern philosophy, which challenges the notion of endings in narratives, is based on Calvino’s questioning of the narrative itself. This is Calvino’s argument. We can better understand it by comparing the experience to a romantic relationship. There are two types in romantic pursuits. One is those that are interested only in one thing; the other is those who seek a genuine relationship.

Literature can be said to be read for plot. If the ending is good, then they move on to another book. However, those who read to enjoy the text’s narrative value it as it is. Susan Winnett further explores this theme in her essay, “Coming unstrung. Women and Men, Narratives, and Principles of Pleasure.” Winnett asserts that since ancient times, narratives have been written with male pleasure as their goal. This is the reason why narratives of increasing conflict, resolution or ending have been so strong emphasized. She proposes the idea of writing with female pleasure at heart, creating a totally new style. While she doesn’t intend to change the style of literature as such, she makes compelling arguments for a new style. She direct compares reading pleasure to romantic pleasure between a man or woman. This is a striking comparison when we look at Calvino’s narrative. Winnett opens her essay saying: “Considering decade-long preoccupations over sexuality and the pleasures that come with reading, it is astonishing that theories about narrative and pleasure seem to have neglected to mention the differences between men and women’s reading pleasures” (505). This is something most people, including women, have probably never considered in relation to reading. Winnett continues explaining that male pleasures tend to be more closely associated with the plot narrative. Female pleasures, however, are not. Male pleasure is more about conquering or ending. While female pleasure can continue into forward motion, new lives, or sharing the pleasure of the other.

Winnett compares male and female orgasm to the enjoyment of reading good stories. Winnett uses Peter Brooks’ essay on “Freud’s Masterplot” to describe the experience. This narrative plot structure mimics the pattern of arousal. It has a beginning, middle and climax. Then comes resolution. Here, the pleasure drive is matched by the desire for the ending. Winnett argues that this idea is inherently masculine, and misrepresents a large number of readers. She says that Brook’s description of the oedipal dynamics which structure and determine traditional fiction narratives and psychoanalytic paradigms are brilliant. It reminds us, in the case we have forgotten, exactly what men want and how they go about achieving it. These ideas are explored by Calvino in Traveller as Reader/We reread the ten novels. Each story involves the main character trying to pursue a female protagonist in some way. These stories are all graphic and show the male protagonist trying to romance the woman. Some stories are about actual physical intimacy. Other stories have the male protagonist pursue the woman until it shifts to the most exciting part. These stories could be seen as proof of Calvino’s sexist novel. However, this perspective can offer a totally different view.

Calvino might be contrasting his narrative with the inner stories. Each inner story is structured in a way that resembles a traditional plot. The satisfying ending is left at the end. Reader’s pursuit to Ludmilla (or Reader) is, however, not at all objectifying. Reader pursues Ludmilla’s company because she is curious and respectable. Their story is not over with the male conquering and arousing female. Their story does not end with the male conquering the female by the female, as the seventh reader at the library said. The seventh reader stated that “the ultimate meaning to all stories has two faces” (259). Calvino’s story continues as Reader and Reader wed and continue their daily reading habits in bed. Calvino’s tale, unlike traditional novels, does not want to end. Given the gender versus male dichotomy, Calvino’s narrative desires to continue. The female is the one who sustains human life by giving birth to new lives. Winnett expands her analysis by looking at breast feeding and birth for women. While the experience of a woman giving birth to a baby or breastfeeding may look similar to that of a man, it is fundamentally different. While the male experience ends with death, release or rebirth, the female experience is one of continued life.

A female experience is dependent on another. A woman’s conception is dependent upon another. The birthing experience is dependent on another. Breastfeeding pleasures are dependent on one another. Winnett’s argument is that childbirth and breastfeeding force us to think forward, not backward. The finality of birth as a physical experience pales when compared with the thrilling, terrifying feeling of the start of a new chapter in our lives (509). It is not easy, but it is worth it. The experience of sharing it with another person seems to be a joy. Traveller as Reader is an example of this. Instead of focusing on the book, you try to shift your focus to Ludmilla’s presence to the book. However, you are unable to read. The novel is now stalled before your eyes. The presence of other readers has multiplied reader’s world. The presence of another reader has made life easier.

Winnett concludes that it is time for a reexamination of the traditional narrative structure that has “told” us in advance where we should go and what will happen. (516). Calvino’s Traveller takes us one step closer to this goal. Calvino’s novel creates new beginnings and ends, so his novel is more than just a conclusion. Calvino lets the reader (us), decide how we read the text. He provides beginnings and endings for stories between Reader and Reader but does not address the final question. The possibilities of interpretation are endless, just as the story with mirrors suggests. Calvino does not want us to be lost, but he wants us all to continue to live in the constant realm of existence. Winnett proposed that Calvino’s novel is representative for “the continuity and life”, as it aligns more with the pleasure of females and not the certain, conquering nature or inevitable ending of male pleasure (Calvino 259). Calvino’s novel, If on a Night a Traveller (Calvino 259) isn’t sexist for its male protagonists or objectification of women. Instead, it’s more feminine-oriented than masculine pleasure. Calvino created a novel that challenges the traditional narrative structure without knowing if he intended to do this.

Calvino is not content to offer his readers closure. He creates a complex narrative that explores the reader’s relationship to the text, author and author. He creates an endless stream of beginnings that never ends. Calvino’s new approach to literature has been created by this. Reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller can change the way you view literature forever. It will open up new perspectives and give rise to a new kind of literary life. Italo Calvino’s ability to compare the reading experience with a romantic relationship has helped readers see narrative in a new way.

Works citées

Calvino, Italo. A traveller is someone who goes out on winter nights. Orlando was published by Harcourt Books in 1979. Print.Ingersoll Earl G. Waiting For the End: Gender & Ending in Contemporary Fiction. Madison (2007) published a work by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. The Shmoop Editorial Team published a print version. The theme of gender is explored in Italo Calvino’s novel “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 11 March 2015.Witten, Susan. “Coming unstrung: Women and Men, Narratives, and Principles for Pleasure.” PMLA103.5 (1990): 505-518. Web. March 13th, 2015.


  • rhysgraham

    Rhys Graham is an educational blogger and professor who writes about topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science. He has written several books, including one on the history of science. He is also the co-founder of the website Learn Out Loud, which helps educators create and share classroom activities.