Italy During and After World War II
Calvino grew up during troubled times in Italy. After World War I, Italy fell under the control of Benito Mussolini. Though King Victor Emmanuel III was technically the head of the nation, he essentially granted Mussolini unlimited powers as prime minister with the hope that the country could avoiding turning to socialism, which emphasizes the rights of the working classes at the expense of the very wealthy. Indeed, Mussolini used violent and brutal tactics to crush those who supported socialism, as well as any others who questioned his philosophies. This type of political rule is called fascism. Mussolini’s forces invaded both Ethiopia and Albania and claimed those countries as part of an Italian empire. During World War II, Mussolini aligned Italy with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Although Mussolini was expelled from office just after Allied forces arrived in southern Italy in 1943, he managed to retain control of northern Italy with the help of—and at the insistence of—Hitler’s German forces. These events split Italy in half for the remaining two years of the war. After the end of the war, the Italian people voted to abolish the monarchy and establish a democratic republic. Even in these years, however, the country was divided into citizens who supported workers’ rights through socialism and communism and those who feared the spread of these movements. The Catholic Church official position against communism, threatening to excommunicate any Catholic citizen who supported it. The U.S. government also opposed these movements due to growing fears of the communist Soviet Union’s influence in Europe.
Unlike after World War I, the opposition to communism and socialism led not to another fascist takeover but to a relatively moderate party gaining majority control of the Italian government. This allowed Italy to prosper economically and culturally, with artists and writers finally able to express themselves without fear of sanctions by the government. With economic growth came urbanization, especially in northern Italian cities like Milan and Turin. The rapid expanse of these cities meant that older, smaller buildings were often torn down and replaced by uniform apartment buildings and skyscrapers, as in Calvino’s story.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Italo Calvino, Published by Gale Group, 2010