Julio Cortázar

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Does Cortazar use an archetype or magic realism to develop the theme of "House Taken Over"?  

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"Casa Tomada," or "House Taken Over," is a short story written by Argentine writer Julio Cortazar. It was first published in 1946 in the literary magazine, Los anales de Buenos Aires, which was edited by seminal Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges at the time. It is one of Cortazar’s most...

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"Casa Tomada," or "House Taken Over," is a short story written by Argentine writer Julio Cortazar. It was first published in 1946 in the literary magazine, Los anales de Buenos Aires, which was edited by seminal Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges at the time. It is one of Cortazar’s most well-known stories.

"Casa Tomada" centers on two siblings who live together in their ancestral home: the narrator (unnamed) and Irene. The two, both in their early-forties, live in solitude—their existence is marked by domesticity and mundane routines such as doing chores, knitting, and collecting literature. The conflict arrives, however, when their quiet solitude is disturbed by an invasive noise coming from some part of the house. The two are then forced to retreat into smaller and smaller sections of the house as strange noises continue to harass them. Finally, the story ends with the siblings fleeing their estate, with the narrator tossing its front keys into a sewer.

Cortazar utilized magical realism to develop the story’s central themes, as it was never specified from where and how exactly the intrusive noises came about—the noises were shrouded in mystery and the siblings’ growing paranoia. Furthermore, the noises’ disconcerting effect on the siblings bordered on the unnatural or supernatural; they seemed to believe, beyond reason, that the noises were a sure sign of home invasion.

"Casa Tomada"’s particular strain of magical realism is Gothic, evidenced by the setting and its quiet, fearful mood. Gothic literature typically explores the grandeur, solitude, and idleness of the upper middle class in vivid, romantic language. The Gothic juxtaposes idle luxury with terror, and, in doing so, forces the audience to confront the reprehensibility of materialism and the capitalist notion of surplus. This can be seen in "Casa Tomada," as the story is brought to a climax when the two siblings are forced to abandon their life of luxury and material possessions because of the ambiguous and invasive specter.

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"The House Taken Over" by Julio Cortazar is an archetypal Gothic story in the style of Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, with its aging brother and sister and large, mysterious house, one may be reminded of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." Gothic literature often includes references to the supernatural; magic realism, a style most often used by Latin American writers, also presents supernatural characters and events that are seemingly accepted by the other characters as part of everyday life. 

In "The House Taken Over," the references to the supernatural are rather subtle, but we understand that the family home is gradually "taken over" by ghosts, probably ghosts of the ancestors referenced early in the story. The narrator says the house "kept the memories of great-grandparents, our paternal grandfather, our parents and the whole of childhood."

At first, this doesn't appear to be unusual, but it seems those ancestors take over portions of the house over the course of the story. Furthermore, the ghosts seem to be a threat to the siblings, as they will no longer go in those portions of the home that have been "taken over," and even lock themselves into their own section of the house. Over time, the ghosts even take over the siblings' own area, and they flee the house. The narrator seems to simply accept this at the end of the story when he says he "felt terrible," but drops the key into the sewer, since apparently the house cannot entered by anyone. In a way, the siblings seem to respect the ancestors' ownership of the house, or at least do not try to fight them. They resign themselves to leaving the house with that supernatural force. 

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"Casa Tomada", or "House Taken Over, by Julio Cortázar is a representative of magical realism because the plot of the story can only be moved forward by the use of dynamics that are sustained by supernatural or magical intervention. 

This means that the author has free literary license to create characters and situations which are outside of the norm, and whose traits color the story even further. In Cortázar's case, he does use archetypes as his main characters; it is indeed his use of archetypes what moves the theme more effectively.

When analyzing the characters of Irene and the narrator, we do see the archetypes of the Gothic genre: two potentially disturbed individuals who have allowed life and fate to lead them, instead of them leading their own lives. They are isolated, seem quite tragic despite of living presumably "well", and suffer from the same kind of phobia. Hence, the themes of isolation, desolation, creeping insanity and mundane compulsion define the characters of Irene and the narrator, while effectively matching them to their surroundings, and to their immediate situation.

As a lonely pair of siblings, they have confined themselves to a house and to a routine of which little color or character actually come out. When they begin to hear "the noises" take over the different parts of the house, their tendency to routine is so strong that they simply move into another specific niche within the house where the noise had yet not caught up with them. Once the noise does enter their separate quarter, and the house is completely "taken over", the brother and sister will merely follow each other's lead of leaving the house for good and throwing the keys to the house in the sewer.

 The actions of the two leave a lot to the imagination, as well as the enigma of the noises in the house. However, this is the whole purpose of the story: to infer from the few cues given by the author on what exactly is going on in the house, or in the minds of the main characters. This is also archetypal of Gothic literature, as there is always a "perennial" mystery, curse, or situation permeating the plot. 

Conclusively, Cortázar does use a Gothic archetype in his type of characters and in the stylistic devices of the story in order to convey the themes effectively. 

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