The Marchesa is an old woman who lives in a tiny villa attached to a garden. Her lot is the last remaining piece of undeveloped land in the quickly growing downtown area, and she is surrounded by high-rise buildings. She is a mysterious figure seldom seen in the neighborhood. Passersby and neighbors have several theories on why she has refused to sell her very valuable property to a developer. Some believe it is because she wants to preserve the last remaining natural habitat for the city’s animals. When Marcovaldo’s fish becomes stuck in one of her trees, she catches it in a pan and fries it for herself. He knocks on her door to ask about the fish, and through the window blind he sees only ‘‘a round, pale blue eye’’ as well as ‘‘a clump of hair dyed an undefinable color, and a dry skinny hand.’’ Later he is able to glimpse her face, and it seems to him to be ‘‘the face of a cat.’’ Marcovaldo is surprised when the woman expresses hatred for the many cats that occupy her garden. She insists that the cats are keeping her prisoner there, afraid that if they let her leave, she may sell the place to a developer. She even suggests that the cats ruined one deal for the sale of the property by destroying the contract. One night the following winter, the Marchesa dies in her tiny villa. Her garden is filled with cats crying, as if in mourning.
Marcovaldo is a poor factory worker who lives in a large city in northern Italy. Every day he brings his lunch to work with him in a sack, while all the other workers go home for lunch. He refers to this meal as a snack, suggesting that Marcovaldo is left hungry afterward. This explains why he comes up with the idea of ‘‘fishing’’ in the tank of the Biarritz Restaurant for a trout, and why he is so determined to reclaim the fish after the tabby cat runs off with it. His fishing scheme also reveals Marcovaldo to be clever and adventurous. Indeed, he would never have stumbled upon the Biarritz if he were not willing to follow a neighborhood cat on its journey, which also indicates his adventurous spirit. Marcovaldo also seems to experience extremes of luck, both good and bad, that ultimately leave him in the same sorry position in which he began. For example, he is lucky to find the Biarritz, and even luckier when he manages to successfully catch a trout from the tank and haul it up through the dining room without being seen. However, bad luck takes over when the tabby cat steals his fish and runs away. Even when he finds the fish again— another lucky break—it is stolen by the Marchesa before he can retrieve it.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Italo Calvino, Published by Gale Group, 2010