Julio Cortazar’s ‘‘House Taken Over’’ is a brief but carefully constructed tale. It is particularly noteworthy for what it does and does not reveal. The narrator’s attention to mundane detail is astounding, particularly when seen as a contrast to the details that remain unaddressed. This lack of seemingly important description lends the story an ambiguity that allows for numerous interpretations. In this sense, the story itself becomes as spacious as the house in which it is set. Certainly, despite its brevity, the plethora of critical interpretations of ‘‘House Taken Over’’ illustrates that it is a story potentially filled with ideas. For instance, Neophilologus contributor Amanda Holmes notes in her explication that ‘‘some of the most prominent analyses of this story by literary scholars see the experience of Cortazar’s characters as similar to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden … a baby in the mother’s womb … excrement in the . . . Read More
Argentine dictator and subsequent president Juan Peron came into power at the time that Cort´zar began his writing career. Furthermore, the 1940s were the beginning of a tumultuous and historic period in Argentine politics and economy. This same tumult may have been partially responsible for Cortazar’s decision to live abroad. To a certain extent, the uncertainty and anxiety of ‘‘House Taken Over’’ can be seen as a reflection of the political climate in which it was written. Peron began his military career at the age of twenty and was promoted to colonel in 1941. Two years later, he was instrumental in the military coup that overthrew then-president Ramo´n Castillo. Under the new regime, Peron became minister of war and then undersecretary of war. However, he gained the most power in his subsequent position as secretary of labor. In that post, Peron made great headway as a champion of the working class, making significant . . . Read More
Unreliable First-Person Narrator
The unnamed first-person narrator in this story is characterized not by what he does but by what he says, thinks, and feels. The reader experiences all of the events in the story through this lens. The reader understands Irene and her actions only through her brother’s opinions. While this creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character of the narrator, it also distances the reader from all else. There is no second opinion of events, no objective point of view, only subjective. This paradox is occasionally defined by the term unreliable narrator.
A first-person narrator can present hazards for the reader, who must infer what is going on despite any details that are left out. What the narrator chooses to divulge and what the narrator chooses to conceal are suspect. In addition, the narrative in this story is somewhat jarring, making seemingly random leaps from subject to subject between . . . Read More
‘‘House Taken Over’’ paints a stark picture of the life of the Argentine upper class. Irene and her brother have inherited a large house and gather income from the farms that they own. All of this means that neither has to work. They have enough income to enjoy a leisurely and well-off lifestyle. Oddly enough, the siblings insist on maintaining the house themselves. Irene also knits clothes for herself and her brother, despite the fact that they are well able to afford store-bought clothing. While both choices seem thrifty, they are remarkably self-limiting. The narrator blames his bachelorhood and his sister’s spinsterhood on their devotion to maintaining the house. There is also something wasteful in Irene’s constant knitting. She has made so many shawls that she could sell them in a store, but instead they languish in a drawer filled with mothballs.
As rich people, Irene and the narrator are required to do very . . . Read More
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 . . . Read More
The story begins with the statement, ‘‘We liked the house.’’ It is not yet apparent who is represented by ‘‘we.’’ The unnamed narrator then states that the house is large and ancient; it preserves the memory of their youth and of the family’s past generations. In the next paragraph, the narrator explains that he and Irene (presumably part of the ‘‘we’’ referred to earlier) live in the house together. Since the house is so big, several people could live there comfortably. However, given that the house is so large, it takes him and Irene several hours each day to keep it clean. They wake at seven in the morning and clean until lunch. The narrator believes he and Irene are both single because they spend all their time maintaining the house. Irene has declined two eligible husbands. The narrator’s love, Marı´a Esther, died before the couple was to be engaged. (It is at this point that it first becomes clear that the speaker is a male.)
Both . . . Read More
There can be few readers of ‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind,’’ especially those who note the date of the story’s first publication, who have not viewed it an allegory of the cold war, with the deadly rivalry between the cities regarding the shape of their walls being a metaphorical presentation of the nuclear arms race. However, in an interview with Steven L. Aggelis in 2002, in which Aggelis asked whether ‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind’’ and ‘‘The Meadow,’’ another story that appears in the same short-story collection, were intended as ‘‘pro United Nations pieces,’’ Bradbury denied that he had any political theme in mind.
Be that as it may, ‘‘The Meadow,’’ first published just two years after the end of World War II, the founding of the United Nations, and the birth of the atomic age, undoubtedly has some thematic links to ‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind.’’‘‘The Meadow’’ opens with a description of . . . Read More
The Cold War
Even before World War II ended in 1945, the world divided into two power blocs, East and West. The United States and its Western European allies believed that the communist Soviet Union was an aggressive power that would seek to expand its influence throughout the globe. In 1946, George Kennan, who was then the American charge´ d’affaires in Moscow, wrote a dispatch about the intentions of the Soviet Union that was to have a profound influence on President Harry Truman and other U.S. policy makers. Kennan wrote that the Soviet Union was a serious threat to the United States (quoted in Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945–1948, by Robert J. Donovan):
“[The Soviet Union is] committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our . . . Read More
The story may be interpreted as a political allegory. An allegory is a narrative in which characters, objects, or events represent something independent of the actual story told. As William Flint Thrall and Addison Hibbard state in A Handbook to Literature, ‘‘Allegory attempts to evoke a dual interest, one in the events, characters, and setting presented, and the other in the ideas they are intended to convey or the significance they bear.’’ This story may be read as an allegory of the cold war that dominated global politics from the late 1940s to the end of the 1980s. The cold war pitted the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, against each other. The Soviet Union had been a U.S. ally during World War II, but its communist ideology, its postwar control over most of Eastern Europe, and its desire to further spread its influence beyond its borders brought it into conflict with the democratic, capitalistic West. The . . . Read More
The story presents two different models for relationships between human communities. They can choose conflict or cooperation. At first the unnamed city of the Mandarin and the growing city of Kwan-Si choose the conflict model. Each city feels threatened by the other. For example, the people in the first city think that the wall shaped like a pig will allow Kwan-Si to devour their city, which has walls shaped like an orange. Therefore, the first city elects to counter the pig by building a wall shaped like a big stick. Kwan-Si soon develops a strategy to counter this, which in turn is countered by the first city, and so the conflict goes on and on, escalating all the time. The conflict model—the idea that these two cities must necessarily have opposing interests—proves to be disastrous. The cities keep trying to outwit each other, but their triumphs are always short-lived. The other side always has an answer and a fresh challenge. The . . . Read More