Julio Cortázar

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Discuss the motif of nature in Julio Cortazar's "Meeting."

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In Meeting, the motif of nature highlights the themes of revolution and the transcending character of Luis/Fidel, one of the chief revolutionaries of the Cuban Revolution. The story begins with a quote from one of Che Guevara's works, in which the hero contemplates suicide as he leans against a tree trunk. Meeting itself is an appropriation of Che's retelling of Fidel Castro's independence war against Cuban president Fulgencio Batista, which culminated in 1959. 

The motif of nature is epitomized in the forbidding terrain of the Sierra Maestra mountain ranges, where Castro and Che make their last desperate stand against Batista. In late 1956, Che, Castro, and eighty revolutionaries had approached the Sierra Maestra mountains from the region of Playa Las Coloradas; however, they were ambushed by Batista's soldiers before they could get very far, and fewer than twenty of the revolutionaries survived. The survivors broke up into smaller groups and took refuge in the Sierra Maestra mountains. In Cortazar's story, Fidel/Luis is separated from Che (the narrator of the story) and some of the other surviving guerrillas. Che is worried because he does not know Luis/Fidel, Pablo, and Lucas's fate.

In the mountain region, Che tells us that he and his fellow revolutionaries have to contend with excruciating hunger, swampy terrain, and vermin. Nature becomes a nemesis, a symbol of the oppressive Batista regime. Meanwhile, the tree (another nature motif that is present at the beginning of the story) reappears later in the story. The narrator tells us that he has a vision about Luis/Fidel beside a tree, surrounded by his fellow revolutionaries. In the vision, Luis takes off his face as if it were a mask and bids his peers to put it on their own faces. One by one, the soldiers resist Luis's invitation to do so. The narrator, Che, then speculates what would happen to the guerrilla movement if Luis dies. 

He comes to the conclusion that all of them would continue the fight but that none of them could do it with Luis's "face." The tree against which Luis/Fidel leans in the midst of mountain terrain reinforces the image of Luis/Fidel as a god-like revolutionary figure. The Gautama Buddha himself was said to have attained enlightenment under the shade of the Bodhi tree. Here, the nature motif supports the theme of revolutionary fervor and Marxist enlightenment.

In the story, Cortazar views Luis/Fidel as a savior of sorts. The tree motif appears several times in the story. The narrator likens the war to Mozart's "death flourish" in the first movement of the Hunt quartet. He imagines that the rhythm of this "death flourish" intertwines with the branches of a tree; indeed, the rhythm becomes the tree itself, separating into branches and stems in a harmony of purpose. The narrator revels in the order of such a musical arrangement. It mimics the order that is in nature.

The narrator hopes that the war effort will usher in the same order, politically and socially. Historically, this doesn't happen; after the victories of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro set himself up as a dictator in place of Batista. However, in the story, Cortazar highlights his own conversion to the Marxist revolutionary cause. In Cortazar's retelling of Che's narrative, Luis/Fidel is the messianic revolutionary figure. It is fitting that the tree motif appears again towards the end of the story. This time, Luis is leaning against the trunk of a tree as he and the narrator discuss the future and everything they have endured since they reached the Sierra Maestra mountain range.

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