House Taken Over Summary

What is the summary of the short story House Taken Over, and what theme is it? Also, who are the characters in the short story?


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House Taken Over is a short story written by Julio Cortazar. It is set in Buenos Aires and it centers around a brother and his sister. The brother is the narrator and is unnamed, his sister is Irene and two live in a large family home, that has been in the family for generations. Irene and her brother are in their forties and have never been married. Irene was engaged a couple of times, and her brother was going to be married, but his future wife died before they could set the date, so the two of them live alone in the big house. They spend their days cleaning and then doing what makes them...

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Written in the 1940s by Julio Cortázar, and set in Buenos Aires, “House Taken Over” tells the story of adult siblings living a life of solitude together, in the mansion their family has owned for generations.

The characters are Irene the sister, and her unnamed brother whose is narrator of the story. Clearly and realistically, the story and narrator introduce the reader to the reclusive characters’ daily routine, and to the environment of the house itself. As the story progresses, it acquires an abstract or supernatural quality when the siblings perceive an area of the house to become inhabited by unseen and unexplained presences other than themselves. Calmly, the siblings adapt to their situation with somewhat disappointed resignation. The story concludes when the siblings suddenly perceive the unknown presences to pervade their remaining living area. Quickly and unquestioningly, they abandon the house with nothing but disappointment, locking its door and discarding the key

The store interweaves several themes. An opening theme is nostalgia for and attempted maintenance of fading identity, represented by the siblings’ choice to decline marriage and social norms in favor of occupying and maintaining their house full of memories in solitude.

A theme appearing throughout the story, is the practice of apparently futile but relatively undemanding activities, which can inspire contemplative satisfaction, but can also facilitate ineffectual resignation. This theme is most clear in the narrator’s observations of his organizing stamps when he loses access to his cherished books, Irene’s knitting undone and redone, and of the siblings' and other Buenos Aires citizens’ coping with endless cycles of dust. The following quote demonstrates this theme.

“Since it left her more time for knitting, Irene was content. I was a little lost without my books, but so as not to inflict myself on my sister, I set about reordering papa's stamp collection; that killed some time. We amused ourselves sufficiently, each with his own thing, almost always getting together in Irene's bedroom, which was the more comfort-able. Every once in a while, Irene might say:

"Look at this pattern I just figured out, doesn't it look like clover?"

After a bit it was I, pushing a small square of paper in front of her so that she could see the excellence of some stamp or another from Eupen-et-Malmedy. We were fine, and little by little we stopped thinking. You can live without thinking.”

Lastly, a theme of dispossession hangs over and concludes the story, evocative of both the layers of dispossession throughout Argentine history, and of the fleeting quality of individual identity itself.