What is the meaning of the story "Axolotl"?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short story "Axolotl" by Julio Cortázar follows the magical transformation of the narrator into an axolotl--an amphibious creature (known as the "Mexican walking fish") which does not undergo metamorphosis and originates in Mexico City in Lake Xochimilco. 

The narrator spends hours watching these creatures at the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and is "unable to think of anything else." After doing some research on the axolotl, he returns to the aquarium the next days and gets in the habit of visiting them daily, knowing that they are "linked, that something infinitely lost and distant kept pulling us together." The narrator loves how quiet the creatures are and is interested in "their secret will... to abolish space and time with an indifferent immobility." 

Thematically, Cortázar explores the connection between humans and animals and ponders the uncrossable divide between the two that is created by their inability to communicate with one another. The narrator also suffers from a lack of communion with his own human body, a facet of his personality which is reflected in his obsession with the axolotl--a creature which cannot change or grow into something else and which is largely immobile.

epollock | Student


Julio Cortazar' "Axolotl" is a wonderful magic realism story. It combines incredible events with realistic details and relates them all in a matter-of-fact tone.

An axolotl is a larval salamander indigenous to Central America. Unlike other salamanders, it remains in its aquatic larva stage for life, rather than morph into an amphibious adult.

In the story, the narrator first recounts his obsession with visiting a public aquarium to watch a group of axolotls and then relates his eventual metamorphosis into one of these animals. The story ends with the axolotl wondering whether the man looking into the tank will write a story about axolotls.

The theme of the story could be: Intense thought can cause the mind to blur reality and fantasy. Another could be: Genuine communication is unattainable.

One wonders if he really turned into an axolotl. That adds to the story's magic qualities.

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