The Cloven Viscount
Each writer wants his literary works to give answers to the eternal questions. An outstanding Italian Italo Calvino rightfully deserves to be called a master of philosophy, psychology, and literature. His novel The Cloven Viscount, which was written in 1952, is considered to be a fundamental source of creative exploration and multifaceted valuable heritage in a treasury of the world literature. Calvino describes a range of topical philosophical questions, which are depicted in the context of historical events of the time. It is well known that the war with the Turks left a mark on the people's consciousness, behavior, and, of course, a point of view. Exactly these changes in people's behavior and moral principles were brilliantly described in the novel. Therefore, the eternal struggle between good and evil is a major theme of The Cloven Viscount even though it is closely intertwined with such mythological motif as splitting.
Confrontation between good and evil is the major theme of The Cloven Viscount, as it was mentioned above. The topic is present throughout the novel and sublimates into a deeper variation. Calvino skillfully depicts not the usual confrontation between two opposing forces good and evil, but an opposition on the physical and moral levels. It is a noteworthy fact that the author describes the influence of a war between Christendom and the Turks on people's minds and behavior (Calvino, 2012). Hence, he depicted a bright character to represent the key theme of the novel.
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A symbolic image of a young Italian viscount was created by Calvino to manifest an idea of moral and immoral, good and bad, true and insidious, as well as cruel and merciful beginnings that existed in a society in a post-war period. Medardo of Terralba is a main character of the novel. Struggling against the Turks, he is split into two parts by a cannonball. Despite this almost absurd and simultaneously symbolic fact, the readers realize that one viscount's half personified evil, and the other, as it turned out later, was the embodiment of good. Moreover, the author tried to show the permanence of existence and struggle between good and evil in a human life using this literary device. The doctors save Medardos surviving half and he returns home. However, the viscount is changed: it seems that only his evil side has survived. Nevertheless, once it becomes obvious that it is his evil half, dark and cruel nature prevails and controls the viscount's actions. His bifurcated body requires splitting the other things as Medardo hates the whole world because of the wound. He believes that justice only exists in what has been cut to shreds (Calvino, 2012). Furthermore, he is controlled by a penchant of splitting things as flowers, mushrooms, frogs, and fruits and hates all unhalved things in the world. Thus, through an image of the viscounts evil half, the author shows a destructive domination by the evil in people's lives and warns them against such devastating behavior.
The main character's cruelty is reinforced by an image of the narrator, who is a little boy Medardos nephew. Calvino not accidentally used the image of the child narrator in The Cloven Viscount. This young boy, so unbiased, curious, attentive, with common sense, and insightful, is a witness to all the vicissitudes that occur around. He sincerely expresses his vision and attitude to events. The young narrator is associated with the Italian people in the post-war period. He is standing at the crossroads of life and does not know which way to choose for the future. Calvino reveals splitting and ambiguity of the society's opinions through the image of a lonely wandering young narrator, who is walking in the world full of responsibilities (Calvino, 2012). Thus, the perception of the main theme of The Cloven Viscount is reinforced by a vivid symbolic image of the narrator, who is essentially a prototype of Italian people in the context of a complex and ambiguous post-war period.
Another interesting feature of the novel is that it has a connection to the fantastic fairy-tales. This feature allows the author to portray the main theme of The Cloven Viscount more vividly and deeper. As in the fairy tales, good at the end of the novel overcomes evil, but the author interprets this victory ambiguously. Calvino asserts in the image of the narrator a share of uncertainty. At a certain point, every person finds himself in such a situation but, in this case, the author's country does. Similarly to fairy tales, the author enables the viscounts good half to correct the mistakes and bad behavior of the evil one. The inhabitants of Terralba suffer from the harassment and abuse of evil generated by the viscount's bad part. Furthermore, the author finds the only right decision of resolving the conflict that is the reunification of the two halves. Thus, traditionally, good triumphs over evil, but a certain percentage of a doubt remains. The author used this method to force readers to think about their own actions and the fate of the country.
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Moreover, the novel can be interpreted not only as a philosophical, psychological, and fantastic work, but also as an example of army folklore since the main theme of the work is examined through the prism of such mythological motif as the splitting of the human body. The army folklore is regarded to be one of the main genres of the works, which have been written during the war period. Calvino employed only a key motif of the genre that helps in discovering the main theme of The Cloven Viscount. Furthermore, although the splitting of the human body is one of the ways to inflame the tension and fear, the author set the goal not to frighten the readers, but to draw even greater interest and attention to the problem of the eternal struggle between good and evil.
Traditionally, the splitting of a body in the literary works is connected with a psychological attitude to evoke the feeling of fear or disgust, and at the same time an obligatory curiosity on the part of the reader. It is also inseparable from the so-called genre of "black art" and "gothic" novel. Calvino did not follow all the traditions of these genres because he sought to portray a more fundamental spiritual problem by showing a man's physical disability. Therefore, the confrontation of two halves of the human body represents a symbolic conflict of the opposing opinions and attitudes in a society and, undoubtedly, the opposition of good and evil in the world in general. Thus, the author used elements of black art to involve more readers to the urgent problem of confrontation between two opposing forces.
In conclusion, Calvino's The Cloven Viscount is an interesting and unusual vision of the struggle between good and evil. The novel makes one think about the eternal issues of morality, spirituality, and philosophical essence of life. The main topic was depicted through a mythological motif of splitting that makes this work similar to the fairy tales and army folklore. Therefore, the author masterfully outlined the problems that were relevant not only in the post-war period, but they also remain topical nowadays.