Study Guide

Axolotl

by Julio Cortazar

Axolotl Characters

Characters

"Axolotl" opens with a blunt summary of its own plot: "There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl." An axolotl, the narrator later explains, is the larval stage of a type of salamander.

The rest of the story recounts how this fantastic transformation took place. The narrator, a man living in Paris, has grown bored with the lions and panthers he usually observes at the zoo, the Jardin des Plantes. He decides to explore the aquarium and unexpectedly "hits it off with the axolotls." A sign above the tank tells him they are Mexican, but he already knows this because their pink faces remind him of Aztecs. He begins to visit the axolotls several times a day. He peers through the glass for hours, studying them closely. He becomes particularly fascinated by their golden eyes, which suggest to him "the presence of a different life, of another way of seeing."

As time goes on he feels a growing sense of relationship with the axolotls. One day, as he is pressing his face against the glass, he suddenly realizes that he is no longer looking at the face of an axolotl inside the tank but at his own face, staring into the tank from outside. At that instant he realizes that it is impossible for the man to understand the world of the axolotl: "He was outside the aquarium, his...

(The entire section is 595 words.)

Axolotl Characters

Narrator
The unnamed narrator of "Axolotl" is a lonely man who becomes so obsessed with axolotls (Mexican salamanders) that he becomes one—or at least, believes that he does. Cortazar provides few details about the narrator, but the details he does provide are revealing. It is a spring morning, and Paris is "spreading its peacock tail after a wintry Lent," when the narrator visits the Jardin des Plantes. He remarks that he is (or "was") a friend of the lions and panthers and had never before entered the "dark and humid" aquarium. This suggests that the narrator is attracted to all that is beautiful and assertive in nature: the morning, spring days, lions, and panthers. In fact, it is only when he finds that the lions are "ugly and sad" and that the panthers are sleeping—in other words, when they do not measure up to his image of them—that he decides to go into the aquarium. In choosing the beautiful and assertive he has avoided another side of nature, that represented by the dark aquarium. The narrator desperately wants to get inside the mind of the axolotls. He believes their golden eyes speak to him "of the presence of a different life, of another way of seeing." Some critics think that the narrator represents the modern individual in search of self-realization and spirituality.

(The entire section is 225 words.)