Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel must be read, in part, as an allegory of the political situation in the Argentina that Cortázar had left in 1951. This shipload of fools at the mercy of an authority that is perceived as sinister and arbitrary, with its bureaucratic nonsensicalities, is a microcosm of Argentina. As is usual in Cortázar’s work, however, it is not so much the political situation itself that concerns him as it is the uncritical, even unheeding, acquiescence of the average person, who, confronted with such a situation, does nothing. It is the impact of the oppressive regime on people whose lives are ruled by received opinion and cultural conventions that fascinates Cortázar. Yet complacency in the face of abuses of power and the dilemma of the contemplative mind confronted with the violence of the world are common enough problems to make the book more than a political allegory of a particular situation or moment.

Through the meditations of Persio, the reader is led to contemplate another of Cortázar’s major themes, the relationship between art and reality, between artistic contemplation and political involvement. While The Winners is not as clearly an “antinovel” as Rayuela (1963, Hopscotch, 1966), it foreshadows it in its ironic treatment of the themes of the European literary tradition (Orf as Orpheus at the gates of the underworld, for example) and particularly in the experiments in nonlinear narrative that comprise the...

(The entire section is 410 words.)