In a sense, the house itself is an integral character in ‘‘House Taken Over.’’ It rules over the siblings’ lives. It is blamed for their respective spinsterhood and bachelorhood. They spend half of their time cleaning and maintaining the house. The house is also a family heirloom. It symbolically connects the siblings to their past, which is why they cannot bear to part with it, despite that fact that doing so would be the most practical course of action.
Irene is the narrator’s sister. It is not clear whether she is the elder sibling or the younger. It is clear, however, that she is a childless spinster in or nearing her forties. Irene has turned down two eligible suitors who proposed marriage, and she has since settled into a chaste ‘‘marriage’’ with her brother. Irene is also a recluse who never leaves the house. She spends her time cleaning the house or knitting clothes for herself or her brother. She does so even though they can afford to buy clothing. Irene also trusts her brother’s opinion. He purchases her knitting yarn and she always approves of his choices. Irene spends her time being pointlessly productive: she has knit so many shawls that she could open a store and sell them, but they sit forgotten in drawers surrounded by mothballs. Some part of Irene is aware of this. When she and her brother are evicted from their house, she drops the knitting and leaves it without a backward glance. The ease with which she abandons her primary pastime is nothing short of astounding.
Although the reader is unsure as to what the mysterious noises indicate, Irene understands her brother perfectly. When he tells her, ‘‘I had to shut the door to the passage. They’ve taken over the back part,’’ Irene replies: ‘‘In that case … we’ll have to live on this side.’’ Despite calmly accepting this turn of events, it takes Irene some time to resume her knitting. This exchange reveals her to be pragmatic but still affected. Irene’s life is inextricably intertwined with her brother’s. When she talks in her sleep, it disturbs the narrator. Near the end of the story, when her brother freezes in the hall, she notices and joins him. However, while she is able to abandon her knitting with ease, she seems less able to abandon the house. Her brother takes her by the waist and leads her outside.
Maria Esther is the narrator’s dead lover. The narrator partially blames his bachelorhood on her death. However, her death and her role in the narrator’s life are explained in only one sentence. It seems clear that she was not nearly as important a figure as the narrator makes her out to be. In fact, she appears to be no more than a convenient excuse.
The unnamed narrator is Irene’s brother. He owns and maintains his ancestral home with her. He is arguably the story’s protagonist since all of the events are seen through his point of view. However, he does not appear to change or grow throughout the narration and is certainly not a hero in the usual literary sense of the word. The narrator spends much of his time cleaning the house, though on some level he knows it to be a pointless endeavor. The dust settles back on the furniture as soon as it is removed. After he and Irene die, distant cousins will dismantle the house and sell it and the land for a profit. He thinks it would be better if he and Irene circumvented this process and sold the house themselves. On the other hand, he remarks that he and Irene are in a chaste but fitting marriage, one that will see the family line come to an end in the very home in which it began.
The narrator picks out his sister’s yarn and enjoys watching her knit. He finds both the action of her knitting and the products thereof to be ‘‘lovely.’’ While the narrator does admire the house and describes its notable features, his most effusive descriptions are devoted, oddly, to Irene’s knitting. In addition to his sister’s knitting, the narrator also enjoys French literature. He inquires at the local bookstores, but he notes that they have not received any good French books since 1939. When the narrator is cut off from his books, he is lost. The only thing he can think to do to occupy his time is organize his father’s stamp collection.
The narrator has an interesting sense of pragmatism. On his way to the kitchen to make tea, he realizes that the house is being taken over, and he throws himself at the oak door that separates his and Irene’s chambers from the main house. Then, however, rather than immediately informing Irene of this strange and remarkable development, the narrator completes his task, continuing on to the kitchen and making tea as he originally intended. It is only after this task is accomplished that he tells Irene what has happened. He does so, too, in a matter-of-fact tone. On some level, though, he is aware of the direness of their situation. Both he and his sister are unable to sleep. They speak loudly in the rooms closest to the main house in order to avoid hearing the noises coming from there. He acknowledges that he and his sister are living without thinking—living in denial.
The narrator’s pragmatism, or stoicism (a philosophy emphasizing control of the emotions), is also evident in the story’s last scene. He realizes that his money is gone without becoming upset. He cannot recall whether or not his sister was crying at the time, only that she may have been. He also calmly notes the time and carefully locks the house that he and his sister have been forced to abandon. He does so because he fears what might happen to an unwitting robber.’’
The mysterious noises that ultimately force the siblings from the house are also something of a character. In fact, they are the only agents of change in the story. Their appearance forces Irene and the narrator into their own apartment. The siblings are clearly afraid of these noises; they sing loudly in order to avoid hearing them and ultimately flee the house for good as soon as the noises have breached their tiny apartment.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Julio Cartazar – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.