Collections of Traditional Folk Tales
“The Feathered Ogre” was originally published as part of the collection Italian Folk Tales (1956), which Calvino transcribed and retold from the oral tradition. The most famous collection of folk tales is probably that of the Brother’s Grimm, who wrote a comprehensive collection of traditional German folk tales, which have been republished many times. Less commonly known is Charles Chesnutt’s 1899 collection of African-American folk tales, entitled The Conjure Woman. In 1935 Zora Neale Hurston published Mules and Men, a collection of African-American folk tales she gathered from oral stories during her travels in rural Florida and Louisiana. Leslie Marmon Silko’s book, Storyteller (1981), translates oral traditions from Native-American culture into a written form.
Mussolini and Fascist Italy
Calvino was a staunch critic of the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy. Mussolini, an ex-socialist, was the leader of the fascist movement in Italy, which had gained popularity by 1920. In 1921 Mussolini formed the National Fascist Party. After Mussolini organized a “March on Rome” by fascist sympathizers, the king of Italy, hoping to curb social unrest, appointed him to form a constitutional government, and in 1923 Mussolini became Prime Minister. In 1939 Mussolini formed an alliance with Hitler’s Germany. In 1943 after the Allies had invaded Sicily, the Fascist Grand Council asked the king to depose Mussolini from power, which he did, immediately appointing a new prime minister. Mussolini was arrested shortly thereafter but was eventually rescued from prison by the Germans. Mussolini was shot and killed while fleeing to Switzerland in 1945.
Several of Calvino’s works are in the style of Italian neorealism, a literary and cinematic style that emerged in the post-War era. As a response to the traumatic experiences of the War, Italian writers in the post-War period focused on realistic portrayals, often based on their own experiences of life in wartime Italy. Calvino’s early novel and short story collection were based on his own experiences during this time. Italian neorealist cinema developed a documentary style of narrative film, which often depicted every day people in their daily lives, in an attempt to capture the experiences of war-torn Italy.
Resistance to Fascism under Mussolini
Communist organizations in Italy were a primary locus of anti-fascist activity. However, Mussolini’s crackdown on anti-fascist activity, beginning in 1925, as well as state-sponsored censorship, significantly curbed the strength of any resistance movement. Communist leaders were sent away to remote prisons or executed, and national censorship of the press, radio, and cinema curbed the expression of anti-fascist sentiment and the spread of dissident ideas. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, remained a significant supporter of antifascism, despite government attempts to curb such activities. Anti-fascism had gained sympathizers by the late-1930s, and many opposed the institution of anti-Semitic policies in 1938. It was during World War II that Calvino joined the Resistance movement, which he wrote about in his early novel and collection of short stories. The active part the Communists had played in the Resistance during the War made it a popular movement in the post-War era.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Italo Calvino, Published by Gale Group, 2001.