The Plague and Its Aftermath in Florence
In the years immediately preceding the arrival of the plague in Florence in 1348, the city suffered economically from the failure of three major banking houses within a span of four years (1343–1346). The nearby Po River Valley was struck by flash floods in 1345, and the city experienced widespread famine in 1346. Late in 1347, the plague reached Italy and spread along trade routes from port to port, from Catania in Sicily to Genoa, Pisa, and Venice. The plague reached Florence in 1348. Unbeknownst to fourteenth-century Italians, the disease was spread by the bite of fleas carried by rats, which ran rampant aboard ships and in port cities. The bacterial disease infects the lymph nodes of contaminated individuals and is known as the bubonic plague at this stage. It is characterized by black swellings, or buboes, in the victim’s armpits and groin area. When the infection spreads to the lungs, the disease is . . . Read More
Boccaccio’s Decameron, of which ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon’’ is a part, is written as a frame narrative. In a frame narrative a story, or a series of stories, is embedded within a larger structure. This framing structure is itself a narrative designed to introduce or set the stage for the other story or stories. Each one of the embedded works is regarded as a story within a story. In Boccaccio’s Decameron, the framing narrative is the story of the seven young women and three young men who escape the plague in Florence by secluding themselves in a villa in the countryside. This structure provides the author with a convenient, cohesive way to link otherwise unrelated short stories. Critics studying the work as a whole examine each of the narrating characters, seeking continuity in the storytelling styles of each individual. In ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon,’’ narrated by the character of Fiammetta, the narrator briefly describes . . . Read More
In medieval tradition, the notion of courtly love was a chaste and idealized version of love in which individuals who desired one another demonstrated their affection through noble deeds and self-sacrifice. Courtly love was believed to be ennobling, yet at the same time it was most often expressed between individuals not married to one another and usually married to someone else. The interaction between Giovanna and Federigo is characterized, to some extent, by the conventions of courtly love. Federigo pursues Giovanna, though she is married to another. As she is the pursued object, Giovanna’s actions exemplify the traditions of courtly love in the sense that she remains aloof. In the typical courtly love scenario, however, the woman desired would give the man pursuing her a series of tasks to accomplish. His achievements were intended to be demonstrative of his love. Typically this type of relationship would also remain secret, due to . . . Read More
Federigo is the son of Signor Fillippo Alberighi (Fillippo Alberighi does not appear in the story. He is mentioned only to draw attention to the prestigious reputation of the Alberighi family.) Federigo falls in love with the lady Giovanna. Despite Giovanna’s continued ambivalence toward Federigo’s advances, Federigo continues to spend his fortune extravagantly. In Giovanna’s honor, Federigo hosts banquets, feasts, jousting tournaments, and other grand events. He sends her all manner of gifts, sparing no expense in the process. Eventually, he has spent everything he has and is forced to live on a small farm in the country, with only one reminder of his former wealth—his rare and prized falcon. The narrator observes that Federigo bears Giovanna no ill will for being the cause of his poverty; rather, his love for her grows more intense. When Giovanna visits Federigo at his home, he receives her like a gentleman, exchanging . . . Read More
Bocaccio’s ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon’’ is a story told within the larger framework of the Decameron. ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon’’ is the ninth story told on the fifth day. It is offered by Fiammetta, the young woman elected queen for the day.
Fiammetta opens the story by urging the women in the group not to discriminate among potential suitors regardless of ‘‘chance or fortune.’’ Fiammetta then tells of a young man, a gentleman named Federigo, a member of the wealthy and respected Alberighi family. As Fiammetta’s narration continues, she reveals that Federigo loves the rich and beautiful Monna Giovanna. Despite the fact that Giovanna is already married, in order to win her heart Federigo holds feasts and tournaments in her honor and sends her expensive gifts. In spite of the lavishness of his offerings, however, the lady is unmoved by Federigo’s displays of affection. Federigo loses the entirety of his wealth in pursuit of Giovanna. He retains only . . . Read More
An important question to consider in reading Munro’s short story ‘‘Day of the Butterfly’’ is whether the story is an accurate representation of Helen’s memories. The point is not to question the reality of Myra’s illness, of course, but to question Helen’s memory of her treatment of Myra. Childhood memories are often poorly recalled. Many are deliberately falsified and some are simply incomplete. Childhood memories are revised memories because of our need to protect ourselves and the image we have created of who we are. Helen’s rendering of Myra’s last few months in Grade Six is the memory of an eleven-year-old child, but it is told and filtered through the psyche of an adult. Remembering Myra and the events of that spring when she became ill is an act of atonement, in which Helen tries both to justify her actions and to rewrite them more favorably.
In telling a story, people often remember the version they told most recently, rather than remembering . . . Read More
Canadian Immigrant Life
For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Canadian immigration mirrored that of the United States. Western European immigrants were welcomed in Canada, strict limits on Chinese immigrants were put in place, and by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, sharply reduced quotas limiting the numbers of Jews and Italians were instituted. Because of the Great Depression of the 1930s, immigration was curtailed; however, as soon as World War II ended, a booming economy increased the need for immigrant labor, and Canada once again welcomed large numbers of immigrants to meet the need for workers. However, not all of the new immigrants were welcomed. For several years after the end of World War II, large numbers of people, who had been living in European Displaced Persons (DP) camps, immigrated to Canada, looking for a better life. In many cases, they faced discrimination. Many Canadians, especially those . . . Read More
Foreshadowing is a technique that allows the writer to create a darker mood by suggesting an ominous change in events in the future. In a detective story, a writer might use foreshadowing to provide clues to help a reader solve the crime. In ‘‘Day of the Butterfly,’’ Munro uses foreshadowing at the end of the story to suggest that Myra’s future is dark and uncertain. The children playing outside in the last snow of winter, as the season transforms into spring, is a reminder that Myra may not be alive for the next snows of winter. Although Myra hopes for a future in which she and Helen are friends, foreshadowing suggests that Myra may not have any kind of future.
In a short story or novel, the term narrator is used to describe the person who tells the story. Helen is the narrator in ‘‘Day of the Butterfly,’’ and she is also the protagonist, the central . . . Read More
Miss Darling’s instructions to the class to be nice to Myra have exactly the opposite effect. The children not only begin to make fun of Miss Darling by imitating her words and actions, but they begin to treat Myra more cruelly, with little regard for her feelings. Before Miss Darling interferes, Myra is excluded from play and ignored, which is a different kind of cruelty, but after the teacher interferes in class dynamics, Myra is treated with contempt. Helen describes an escalation of meanness after the teacher gets involved, in which small groups of girls approach Myra to taunt her about her hair or her smell. The girls engage in a kind of mob behavior. None of the girls approach Myra individually to mock her unless they are in groups of three or four. The ridicule of Myra is so intense that Helen feels a sense of danger in just being seen walking and talking with her classmate. When forced to write a letter wishing Myra a quick . . . Read More
Miss Darling is the teacher for Grade Six. Young and inexperienced, she is more concerned about her own image than in dealing with the bullying that occurs in class. She lacks self-confidence and is unsure about what she should do. The older, more experienced teachers ignore the children at recess. They go into the teacher’s lounge and let the children do what children do at recess. Miss Darling, on the other hand, watches the children at play and is described as trying to direct their play or their actions. She is not at ease and is overly earnest about directing the girls in Grade Six, whom she asks to be nicer to Myra. The children easily pick up on Miss Darling’s uncertainty and exploit it. Because she has no understanding of adolescent behavior or of how bullying works, Miss Darling is completely unaware that pushing the girls to be nicer to Myra will have exactly the opposite effect and lead to more cruelty. Although the . . . Read More