The House Is Taken Over! But By What?
The line between the real and the imaginary can sometimes be quite thin. I found myself trying to decipher what was really imaginary in the story of “House Taken Over” by Julio Cortázar. I didn’t know what exactly Cortázar was trying to say to us, as readers, through this story, but I think I made some small connections with it. This story tells of a quaint pair of older siblings living in the large, colonial house of their ancestral family. This brother and sister spend a large majority of their time cleaning the house and just enjoying their free-time. The sister, Irene, consumes all of her free-time with knitting. This could possibly be because she refused to marry two men in her life, and she compensated for her lack of ability to take the joining vows of marriage by weaving together wool and yarn, only to undo her work and start over. The brother, who remains unnamed, and who is the narrator of the story, likes to spend his time reading French literature. I thought this was quite interesting because when I think French, I think very feminine, emotional, risqué, romantic things. So this brother could also be trying to make up for a moment in his life. The brother’s fiancée-to-be, María Esther, died before he could propose to her. He even seems to have some disdain for this unfortunate event when he states she “went and died on me before we could manage to get engaged.” It seems to me like he couldn’t get over her death, so he turned to French novels and literature to fill his love loss.
Now to turn to the pretty confusing part of this story, the entrance of “them.” Right in the middle of the story, the brother/narrator was going to get some sort of drink called a mate, and when he was heading to the kitchen, some strange noises could be heard down the hall. He immediately is filled with some sort of fear and closes the door to their side of the house, and locks these things on the other side. I was having the hardest time trying to figure out when these things came into the story, why they were there, and what they were? I read the story and reread the story over and over trying to discover some clue to what the answers to these questions were. The only thing I could think of to give meaning to these creatures is that the old brother and sister are simply psychotic. They have been stuck up inside this old house, cleaning it over and over again, lost within their obsessions. It seems pretty logical to me to think that they simply went a little crazy and started imagining things. This is a great transition for the meaning of “magical realism” in this piece. Magical realism is the seamless encounter of fantastical or magical occurrences in a work within the real.
I found this story to be interesting in the aspect of magical realism and literal realism. Are these events in the siblings’ life magical or paranormal while still seemingly real, or is it an actual psychosis that is happening to two real people? I guess we can never really know.