An allusion is a literary or artistic device that refers to a historical or mythological event or figure. It can also refer to another literary or artistic work. Allusions can ground a work in the time in which it is written or the time in which it is set. The narrator’s reciting of the details surrounding the war and its end are examples of the use of allusion to make the work seem more realistic or authentic. Other examples are the narrator’s mentions of women being granted the right to vote and the passage of the income tax.
In addition, when an allusion is made to a literary or artistic work, the piece in which it appears can take on the themes—or be contrasted to the themes—of the work being alluded to. This latter phenomenon occurs when the narrator mentions The Playboy of the Western World. In that play, the characters are interested in the salacious story of a murder, though they remain untroubled by the moral . . . Read More
Horrors of War
The primary theme of ‘‘The First Year of My Life’’ is the horror of war. The ultimate horror of the war is that it colors everything. It frames the baby’s birth date and her inability to smile. It frames her brother’s behavior. The image of a six-year-old marching about with a toy gun and singing war-themed nursery rhymes is chilling. It is made even more so when the women who have lost their husbands and sons in the war find such play acting endearing. The conspicuous absence of the narrator’s father also hints at this horror. Secondly, the literal horror of the war is seen through the narrator’s omniscience. She actually witnesses the ‘‘slaughter’’ and the bloody battles. Often, the baby watches the battles on the front in order to understand what is going on. She witnesses the execution of the deposed Russian czar and his family. She recounts the riots in eastern Europe. She sees the homeless and starving . . . Read More
Mr. Asquith in the story is the former prime minister and author/speaker of the words that ultimately cause the baby to smile. The baby admits initially that she slept through this speech, but she hears words from it repeated by the stout man at her birthday party. Nevertheless, the narrator has spied on Mr. Asquith previously on two occasions. In both instances he is portrayed as a normal, fallible human being. In the first moment, he is complaining about his political rival. In the second, he has been drinking and is putting his arm around a woman in a limousine. The character of Mr. Asquith is based on the historical figure of Herbert Henry Asquith, the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916.
Brother The narrator’s brother is six years old. He is portrayed at two points in the story. First, the narrator notes that he is playing at being a soldier, marching around with a toy gun and singing a nursery song . . . Read More
‘‘The First Year of My Life’’ begins with the unnamed narrator’s statement: ‘‘I was born on the first day of the second month of the last year of the First World War, a Friday.’’ In other words, the narrator was born on February 1, 1918 (the same date that Spark was born). The story continues with the narrator noting that she will not smile for her entire first year of life. The implication is that the baby will not smile because of the war. Family members and family friends all try to get the baby to smile. The narrator then states that she was told about this later, but that she already knew this. She knew this because human babies are omniscient for their first year of life. Even now, psychologists and scientists are studying and working to prove this phenomenon. The narrator also notes that poets and artists have always known this. Parts of this power remain, the narrator says, in adults with psychic abilities or in members of primitive . . . Read More
In ‘‘Federigo’s Falcon,’’ Boccaccio presents the reader with a woman, the lady Giovanna, who appears to exercise a sense of agency in her own life. A married woman, Giovanna ignores the apparently unwanted affections of Federigo, despite the fact that within the conventions of courtly love, which were socially accepted in her day, it would not have been outside the realm of possibility for her to allow herself a flirtation with Federigo. Yet she does not acknowledge Federigo, or the grand demonstrations of his affection, in any fashion. Despite the illusion of personal power and independence—and against her better judgment—Giovanna does her son’s bidding and follows her brothers’ wishes for her to remarry despite her protestations that she is content to be alone. Giovanna revolts against the authority of her brothers by choosing someone they do not approve of, namely, Federigo. Likewise, Federigo’s falcon is allowed to hunt, only she hunts for food for Federigo. . . . Read More
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