Italo Calvino's experiences growing up during a time of strict rule in Italy had a profound impact on him. He was against the unfair control and censorship imposed by the government. These early experiences shaped his unique writing style, which is evident in If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. The novel stands out for its postmodern approach, where the process of reading itself and the reader's engagement with the text are central themes.
Calvino's novel engages directly with the reader by using a style that's quite rare—it talks to you as if you are part of the story. The narrative takes you through several unfinished tales, creating a sense of being involved in a book that knows it's a book. This method of writing is known as metafiction, and it's used to make you aware that you're experiencing a story someone has crafted, rather than being absorbed into a fictional world as if it were real.
The backdrop of Calvino's work was a period filled with civil unrest, protests, and governmental upheaval. The 1960s were a time of significant cultural shifts, with student-led protests in Paris and across the world, which influenced the chaotic and questing nature of the stories within If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. The novel mirrors the real-world search for truth and meaning amid societal changes and upheaval.
Within the novel's pages lies a fictional country named Cimmeria, a symbol for nations whose cultures and languages are lost to more powerful neighbors. This imaginary place reflects Calvino's views on the role of governments and publishers in literature, as he was no stranger to the effects of censorship and propaganda. Through Cimmeria, Calvino expresses his discontent with the limitations placed on freedom of expression and the importance of preserving cultural identity.