‘‘End of the Game’’is a story about the end of childhood innocence and thereby an end to the rich imaginative, colorful world that the children live in. The reader meets the characters, Letitia, Holanda, and the Narrator as they are in transition between living almost exclusively in their childhood world of fantasy and having to face some harsh realities in their lives.
In the story’s first scene the girls are creating chaos in the orderly adult world. They are helping to dry dishes after lunch but are much more interested in causing arguments and confusion and upsetting Mama and Aunt Ruth. Immediately in this scene, Cortazar shows the reader the vast divide between the children and the adults. The girls are colorful, mischievous, and imaginative and seem to be willing to do almost anything to bring vibrancy and excitement into their lives. They go through the motions of chores but are preoccupied with fending off the women’s boring ‘‘bits of advice’’ and ‘‘drawn-out family recollections.’’ They get a thrill out of causing fights between Mama and Aunt Ruth, upsetting the cat and being chased across the house. By contrast, Mama and Aunt Ruth are flat characters. They are dull and boring, preoccupied with chores and housework and prone to scolding and chasing the girls around the house with the ‘‘whipstick.’’
The rich, vibrant fantasy world of the girls pervades the girls’ lives. They regularly sneak out past the white gate and into the wider world where life is infinitely more exciting and alive. The difference between the children’s perspective and that of the adults is exemplified in Mama’s threat that the girls will ‘‘end up on the street.’’ The girls are perplexed by this threat. To them, ending up on the street seems normal, even desirable—the street would certainly offer more fun, more life, more richness than a mundane existence in a house doing chores.
The girls’ sneak outside to what they call their ‘‘Kingdom’’ each day after lunch. The Kingdom is a fantasy world near the railroad tracks where the granite sparkles ‘‘like real diamonds’’ and where the river is ‘‘coffee and cream.’’ They play right by the tracks, for what could be more exciting than a moving train? It holds the promise of the unknown, of a world even farther beyond the white gate, full of interesting strangers with whom the girls seek to interact, if only for the brief moment in which the train passes.
The girls, led by Letitia, have created an elaborate game based on fantasy that they play by the railroad tracks. The girls take out their ornaments that are hidden under a stone and work together to create elaborate statues, in anticipation of exhibiting a good pose for the passing train riders. The game is an alternate reality that completely consumes the girls. In the richness of their fantasy world they are swept into a place of pure beauty and joy where jealousy, shame, envy, and fear are celebratory poses and decidedly not difficult emotions. In their imaginations the girls become beautiful and admirable characters, perhaps a Chinese princess or the ‘‘Venus de Nilo.’’ Most importantly, though, the Kingdom is the place where Letitia, who is disabled and often in pain, reigns supreme. In the Kingdom, Letitia is beautiful, regal, and noble. In the Kingdom, Letitia could pose and be—or at least appear to be—physically well.
While the Narrator is fully aware of Letitia’s disability at the outset of the story, in her immature view, the disability is an advantage. Although she calls Letitia ‘‘poor thing’’ (perhaps words she has heard adults use when speaking of Letitia) and describes Letitia’s pain and partial paralysis, she shows her childish innocence by calling Letitia ‘‘the luckiest and the most privileged of the three of us.’’ After all, Letitia is excused from chores and could ‘‘laze the day away’’ if she so chose. In the Narrator’s childish point of view, Letitia’s disability is something to envy.
Meeting Ariel, however, changes everything. After he first drops them a note, the girls make him an added character in their fantasy world, an unknowable train rider who represents the wider world and the unknown. They fantasize about where he goes to school and about how old he might be. When he makes clear that he admires Letitia, that is also based on a fantasy—about her physical beauty and of course, perfect health. For a while, Letitia lets herself be caught up in the fantasy of what the Narrator calls, ‘‘true affection’’ that ‘‘knows no barriers and other fat ideas.’’
But when Ariel expresses a desire to meet Letitia, the disability becomes a central issue that can no longer be denied. Ariel’s note telling the girls that he will come for a chat the next day forces the three girls to face the reality of Letitia’s condition. They can no longer pretend that Letitia is just like them and in fact, the luckiest of them. If Ariel meets her, he will see her physical limitations. anticipation, three girls become extremely aware of the disability. In that instant, childhood innocence is lost.
In fact, the Kingdom itself disappears. The Narrator, in trying to convince Letitia to come out with them to meet Ariel, no longer calls their play area the ‘‘Kingdom’’ but rather the ‘‘willows.’’ Their special place is no longer part of a fantasy world.
In the final scene Letitia says good-bye to the game and to the innocence of childhood. This final time the pretend ornaments are not sufficient for the girls to use. Because the girls have lost their childhood innocence, they can no longer take baubles and imagine them into jewels. This time, Letitia has taken real jewels that belong to Mama and Aunt Ruth. Letitia’s farewell pose marks the transition between childhood and adulthood as she poses as ‘‘the most regal statue she’d ever done.’’ Here, for the last time, Letitia is beautiful and an object of envy.
Now the girls must face the reality of Letitia’s disability and the limitations she will face in her life (and loves). The next day Letitia’s pain increases and the Narrator and Holanda must be absolutely silent, rather than boisterous and playful, to allow her to rest. The two girls go out to the willows but they do not even consider playing the game. And when the train passes, Ariel is no longer at his usual window. The game has ended. The fantasy world of childhood is gone.
Esther Mrzrachi Moritz, Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Julio Cortazar, Published by Gale Group, 2010