Julio Cortázar Cortázar, Julio (Short Story Criticism) - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Julio Cortázar 1914-1984

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Julio Denís) Argentine novelist, short-story writer, poet, essayist, critic, translator, and dramatist.

The following entry presents criticism on Cortázar's short fiction from 1991 through 2003. See also Julio Cortazar Literary Criticism (Introduction), and Volumes 2, 3, 5, 10, 13.

Cortázar is one of the seminal figures of the “Boom,” a surge of excellence and innovation in Latin American letters during the 1950s and 1960s. Influenced by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, Cortázar is considered to have enlarged literary tradition with a consistent inventiveness of style, language, and theme. Like Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and other contemporary Latin American writers, Cortázar combined fantastic and often bizarre plots with commonplace events and characters. Much of Cortázar's fiction is a reaction to the Western tradition of rationalism to represent reality. To this end, he experimented with narrative identity, language, time, space, and form in his short stories.

Biographical Information

Cortázar was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1914. At the age of four, he moved with his parents to their native Argentina, where they settled in a suburb of Buenos Aires. An excellent student and reader, Cortázar began writing at a young age and completed a novel by the time he was nine years old. After earning a teaching degree, Cortázar taught high school from 1937 to 1944. During this time Cortázar began writing short stories. He taught French literature at the University of Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina; however, by 1946 he had resigned from his post after participating in demonstrations against Argentine president Juan Péron and moved to Buenos Aires, where he began working for a publishing company. Also in 1946 Cortázar published his first short story, “Casa tomada” (“House Taken Over”), in Los anales de Buenos Aires, an influential literary magazine edited by Jorge Luis Borges. Between 1946 and 1948 Cortázar studied law and languages to earn a degree as a public translator. In 1951 Cortázar published Bestiario, his first collection of short stories, and also received a scholarship to study in Paris, where he became a translator for UNESCO. In 1953, collaborating with his wife, Cortázar completed translations of Edgar Allan Poe's prose works into Spanish. Later that year he adopted France as his permanent residence. Throughout his life Cortázar traveled extensively—primarily between Argentina, Cuba, Nicaragua, and the United States—often lecturing for social reform in Latin America. He continued to publish writings in several genres and to work as a freelance translator from the 1950s until his death in 1984.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Many of Cortázar's short stories are representations of a surreal, metaphysical, horror-filled world that prevailed upon his imagination. In these works, he often expressed a conflict between unreal and real events by allowing the fantastic to take control of the mundane in the lives of his characters. Significant in this transformation from the ordinary to the bizarre is the compliant acceptance of extraordinary events by Cortázar's characters. His fascination with the double, a character's other, or alter ego, and his related concept of “figures,” or human constellations, is evident in numerous short stories. For example, in “Lejana” (“The Distances”), Alina Reyes, a wealthy South American woman, becomes obsessed with visions of a beggar woman living in Budapest whom Alina believes is her true self. She travels to Budapest, believing she will relieve the woman's suffering and her own by assuming her real identity as a beggar. After the women embrace on a bridge, Alina is left standing in the bitter cold as the beggar woman walks away in Alina's body. Cortázar often employs motifs in his fiction based on games, children's play, and music as representations of humanity's search for an existence that surpasses limits imposed by logic and reason. With “El perseguidor” (“The Pursuer”), he not only incorporates the syncopated rhythms of jazz music to illustrate this search, but also begins to explore existential questions and focus on the inner lives of characters. Modeled upon jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, the eponymous pursuer of the story is protagonist Johnny Carter, a character whose inability to articulate what he seeks is a source of anguish, while his talent for intuitive expression through music allows him to approach reality beyond ordinary existence that has been closed to most of humanity. In contrast, the narrator, a jazz critic and biographer, is entrenched in the analytical delineation of Johnny as he writes his biography—a book that is incapable of authentically portraying the artist's life.

Cortázar addresses complexities in the relationship between art and life in several works, and his short stories also reflect his concern for political and human rights while upholding his belief in open-ended art, in which he states it is the writer's responsibility “never to recede, for whatever reasons, along the path of creativity.” Cortázar evidences his political convictions in several works, including his early short story “Reunión” (“Meeting”), a fictional account of the Cuban revolution as told by Latin American revolutionary leader Che Guevara, and “Segund vez” (“Second Time Around”), in which Cortázar utilizes the repressive political situation in Argentina during the 1970s, when citizens often disappeared under false arrests, as a backdrop for his delineation of a woman's experiences surrounding an official summons. According to critics, the narrative voice, which changes from the first-person perspective of a bureaucrat to the third-person limited perspective of the woman, and then back to the bureaucrat's point of view in the last sentence, emphasizes the mysterious and omniscient nature of the summons, creating an Orwellian sense of institutionalized paranoia that extends that work beyond the Argentine government to encompass other Latin American totalitarian regimes.

Critical Reception

In Cortázar's short fiction, contrasting elements such as the fantastic and commonplace; past, present, and future; reality and dream; and the self and the other, blend to suggest multiple layers of meaning that invite varied interpretations. Critics have suggested that Cortázar strove for this ambiguity as a means to express what may exist beyond humanity's rational perceptions. His stories are often characterized by humor despite their generally serious themes, and they are noted for his technical innovations in point of view, language, and form. Moreover, there have been psychoanalytical and feminist interpretations of his stories. Along with his novel Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch), Cortázar's short stories have established him as a leading voice in modern literature. Critics regard his contribution to Latin American literature as profound.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Bestiario 1951

Final del juego 1956

Las armas secretas 1959

Historias de cronopios y de famas [Cronopios and Famas] (short stories and other writings) 1962

Cuentos 1964

Todos los fuegos el fuego [All Fires the Fire, and Other Stories] 1966

El perseguidor y otros cuentos 1967

End of the Game, and Other Stories [also published as Blow-Up, and Other Stories] 1967

La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos. 2 vols. [Around the Day in Eighty Worlds] (short stories and other writings) 1967

Ceremonias 1968

Ultimo round (short stories and other writings) 1969

Relatos 1970

La isla a mediodía y otros relatos 1971

La casilla de los Morelli (short stories and other writings) 1973

Reunión 1973

Octaedro 1974

Antología 1975

Vampiros multinacionales: una utopia realizable 1975

Los relatos. 4 vols. 1976-85

Alguien que anda por ahí y otros relatos 1977

Un tal Lucas [A Certain Lucas] 1979

A Change of Light, and Other Stories 1980

Queremos tanto a Glenda y otros realtos [We Love Glenda So Much, and Other Tales] 1980

Deshoras 1982

Nicaragua tan violentamente dulce [Nicaraguan Sketches] 1983

Cuentos completos 2 vols. 1994

Presencia [as Julio Denís] (poetry) 1938

Los reyes (poetry) 1949

Los premios [The Winners] (novel) 1960

Rayuela [Hopscotch] (novel) 1963

62: Modelo para armar [62: A Model Kit] (novel) 1968

Pameos y meopas (poetry) 1971

Libro de Manuel [A Manual for Manuel] (novel) 1973

Cuaderno de bitácora de “Rayuela” [with Ana Maria Barrenechea] (notebooks and criticism) 1983

Salvo el crepúsculo (poetry) 1984

El examen (novel) 1986

Richard A. Young (essay date fall 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Young, Richard A. “Prefabrication in Julio Cortázar's ‘Lugar Llamado Kindberg’.” Studies in Short Fiction 28, no. 4 (fall 1991): 521-34.

[In the following essay, Young provides a stylistic analysis of “A Place Named Kindberg.”]

“Lugar llamado Kindberg” (“A Place Named Kindberg”), a short story by Julio Cortázar, first published in 1974 in a volume titled Octaedro, has a narrative economy that is one of the author's trademarks and consists of very few elements: two characters, a restricted space, and a simple chain of events that unfolds in a short period of time. One rainy day, while driving through Central Europe, a traveling...

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Sally Harvey (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Harvey, Sally. “Dominator-Dominatrix: Sexual Role-play in Julio Cortázar's ‘La señorita Cora’.” In Love, Sex & Eroticism in Contemporary Latin American Literature, edited by Alun Kenwood, pp. 99-106. Melbourne: Voz Hispánica, 1992.

[In the following essay, Harvey delineates the sexual power dynamic in “La señorita Cora.”]

As critics have pointed out on various occasions,1 Cortázar's short stories have lacked in general the attention they deserve. “La señorita Cora,”2 which is the focus of our study here, is no exception. In spite of its literary merit, it has warranted only scant mention in broader studies on...

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Sarah E. King (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: King, Sarah E. “Julio Cortázar: The Fantastic Child.” In Critical Essays on Julio Cortázar, edited by Jaime Alazraki, pp. 115-32. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1999.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1992, King regards the examination of childhood as a central theme in Cortázar's short fiction.]

“What—is—this?” he said at last.

“This is a child!” Haigha replied eagerly, coming in front of Alice to introduce her …

“We only found it today. It's as large as life, and twice as natural!”...

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Brett Levinson (essay date July-December 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Levinson, Brett. “The Other Origin: Cortázar and Identity Politics.” The Latin American Literary Review 22, no. 44 (July-December 1994): 5-19.

[In the following essay, Levinson considers the “return to origins” theme in “Azolotl” and discusses the link between origins, identity, authenticity, and Otherness in Latin American thought.]

The “return to origins” is one of the recurring themes of Latin American cultural criticism and literature. The discussion has assumed many forms, but a more or less “dominant school of thought” has established itself, one that associates the return to origins with the recovery of a former authenticity and/or...

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José Sanjinés (essay date fall-winter 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Sanjinés, José. “‘Blow-Up’: A House with Many Stories.” Point of Contact 4, no. 1 (fall-winter 1994): 46-55.

[In the following essay, Sanjinés analyzes the narrative framework of “Blow-Up,” asserting that the story “is constructed on the principle of Chinese boxes.”]


One of Cortázar's best-known short stories, “Blow-Up,” is constructed on the principle of Chinese boxes. The text consists of a series of stories interpolated one within the other; each new story in the syntagmatic disposition signals a new hierarchical level and opens a new internal frame. Although the agile narrative...

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Patrizia Bittini (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Bittini, Patrizia. “Film is Stranger than Fiction: From Cortázar's ‘Las Babas Del Diablo’ to Antonioni's Blow-Up.RLA: Romance Languages Annual (1995): 199-203.

[In the following essay, Bittini compares “Las babas del Diablo,” which was published in English as “Blow-Up,” to the film adaptation of the story.]

In the opening credits of Blow-Up, the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni acknowledges that his film is based on “Las babas del diablo,” a short story by the Argentinian Julio Cortázar. In my paper, I will compare aspects of both the story and the film, focusing on Blow-Up's postmodern agenda. The several...

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Danielle M. Roemer (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Roemer, Danielle M. “Graffiti as Story and Act.” In Folklore, Literature, and Cultural Theory: Collected Essays, edited by Cathy Lynn Preston, pp. 22-8. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995.

[In the following essay, Roemer perceives the idea of graffiti as folk practice to be a key theme of “Graffiti.”]

My focus here is both literary and folkloristic. I draw on the premises of graffiti as folk practice in considering a short story, “Graffiti,” by Julio Cortázar (1983).1 At the same time, I look to the shape and voicing of that story in an attempt to contribute to our understanding of the folk practice.

At the level...

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Marcy E. Schwartz (essay date winter 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Schwartz, Marcy E. “Cortázar's Plural Parole: Multilingual Shifts in the Short Fiction.” Romance Notes 36, no. 2 (winter 1996): 131-37.

[In the following essay, Schwartz argues that “Lejana,” “El otro cielo” and “La autopista del sur” “exemplify Cortázar's manipulation of multiple language registers to underscore ontological displacement.”]

Geography and national languages in Cortázar's fiction operate as semiotic cultural codes from which the characters struggle to break free. Although much of his writing takes place in French-speaking surroundings, Cortázar's multilingual and interterritorial movements are not limited to his...

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Isabel Alvarez Borland (essay date spring-fall 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Borland, Isabel Alvarez. “Cortázar: On Critics and Interpretation.” INTI, nos. 43-44 (spring-fall 1996): 157-66.

[In the following essay, Borland explores the role of protagonist/critic in several of Cortázar's short stories and essays.]

En algún lugar debe haber un basural donde están amontonadas las explicaciones. Una sola cosa inquieta en este justo panorama: lo que pueda ocurrir el día en que alguien consiga explicar también el basural.

—Julio Cortázar, Un tal Lucas 66

Cortázar's writing overtly challenges and invites the reader to participate in the act of...

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Pamela McNab (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: McNab, Pamela. “Julio Cortázar's Axolotl: Literary Archaeology of the Unreal.” The International Fiction Review 24, nos. 1-2 (1997): 12-22.

[In the following essay, McNab asserts that Cortázar's depiction of the unreal in “Axolotl” was “inspired by a variety of literary sources, both classical and modern.”]

“Axolotl” (Final del juego, “end of the game”), one of Julio Cortázar's masterpieces, chronicles one man's discovery of the axolotls, rather unusual-looking amphibians, his growing obsession with them and, ultimately, his supposed transformation into an axolotl. One of the better known and most frequently analyzed of all...

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz (essay date January-June 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Schmidt-Cruz, Cynthia. “Writing/Fantasizing/Desiring the Maternal Body in ‘Deshoras’ and ‘Historias que me Cuento’ by Julio Cortázar.” Latin American Literary Review 25, no. 49 (January-June 1997): 7-23.

[In the following essay, Schmidt-Cruz elucidates the role of Oedipal desires in “Deshoras” and “Historias que me cuento.”]

I suspect that one of the reasons why Cortázar's stories hold such a strong grip over many readers is because they often portray seemingly unnatural or “perverse” instinctual urges which threaten to unravel the very fabric of our civilized society, but which are ultimately kept in check by their status as literary...

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz (essay date autumn 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Schmidt-Cruz, Cynthia. “What Does Luciana Want? Reclaiming the Female Consciousness in Cortázar's ‘Cambio de Luces’.” Hispanic Review 65, no. 4 (autumn 1997): 415-30.

[In the following essay, Schmidt-Cruz examines the treatment of sexual difference in “Cambio de luces.”]

Any reference to the female characters in the short stories of Julio Cortázar is bound to set up a characteristic expectation in the mind of the reader. After all, what type of depiction of women can we expect from the writer who gained notoriety by coining the phrase “lector hembra” to denote a passive, non-critical reader? When we focus on the female characters in his best...

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Pamela J. McNab (essay date December 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: McNab, Pamela J. “Shifting Symbols in Cortázar's ‘Bestiary’.” Revista Hispánica Moderna 50, no. 2 (December 1997): 335-46.

[In the following essay, McNab considers the symbolism in “Bestiary,” contending that “the reader must dispense with traditional notions in order to appreciate fully Cortázar's masterful and innovative manipulation of symbols via the uniquely limited narrative perspective of a child on the threshold of adolescence.”]


In his recent study Hacia Cortázar: Aproximaciones a su obra, one of Julio Cortázar's most careful readers, Jaime Alazraki, singles out “Bestiario” as a...

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P. Eric Henager (essay date spring 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Henager, P. Eric. “Physical Competition and Identity in ‘Día Domingo’ and ‘Final del Juego’.” Aethlon 17, no. 2 (spring 2000): 77-91.

[In the following essay, Henager elucidates the role of sport and physical competition and its connection to the development of identity in Mario Vargas Llosa's “Día domingo” and Cortázar's “Final del juego.”]

An incident like the murder of Colombian soccer player Andrés Escobar after he had scored an autogol for the U.S. team in the 1994 World Cup reminds us that modern sports differ significantly from “play,” defined by Allen Guttmann as “nonutilitarian physical or intellectual activity...

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David Musselwhite (essay date June 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Musselwhite, David. “Death and the Phantasm: A Reading of Julio Cortázar's ‘Babas del Diablo’.” Romance Studies 18, no. 1 (June 2000): 57-68.

[In the following essay, Musselwhite considers the model of the phantasm in “Babas del Diablo” and other stories collected in Las armas secretas.]

‘Babas del diablo’ is probably Cortázar's best known short story, and in spite of the quite extraordinary amount of commentary dedicated to it,1 it still remains one of his most problematic,2 quite apart from the notoriety that accrued to it from being the text on which Antonioni based Blow-up. There are many things that are...

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R. Lane Kauffmann (essay date 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Kauffmann, R. Lane. “Narrating the Other: Julio Cortázar's ‘Axolotl’ as Ethnographic Allegory.” In Primitivism and Identity in Latin America: Essays on Art, Literature, and Culture, edited by Erik Camayd-Freixas and José Eduardo González, pp. 135-55. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Kauffmann offers an ethnographic interpretation of “Axolotl.”]

Is it possible to represent alterity without reifying, colonizing, or preempting it? In the diverse modes of ideology-critique prevalent at the end of the twentieth century, the Other is often invoked as though it were an amulet to ward off a host of ideological...

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Silvia Tandeciarz (essay date July-December 2001)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Tandeciarz, Silvia. “Writing for Distinction?: A Reading of Cortázar's Final Short Story, ‘Diario para un Cuento’.” Latin American Literary Review 29, no. 58 (July-December 2001): 73-100.

[In the following essay, Tandeciarz views “Diario para un Cuento” as representative of Cortázar's recurring thematic interests and determines the influence of his experiences in Peronist Argentina on his fiction.]

[T]he logic of identity-formation involves distinctive associations and switching between location, class and the body, and these are not imposed upon subject-identity from the outside, they are core terms of an exchange network, an...

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Brent J. Carbajal (essay date 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Carbajal, Brent J. “Illusive Reality in Cortázar's ‘Las Babas del Diablo’ and Antonioni's Blow-Up.Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 29, nos. 1-2 (2002): 169-76.

[In the following essay, Carbajal examines the theme of illusive reality in “Las babas del Diablo” and its cinematic adaptation, Blow-Up.]

It goes without saying that many of Julio Cortázar's writings have to do with the ambiguous and illusive nature of any “true” reality. In fact, Cortázar himself would probably agree with the assessment that “it goes without saying,” owing to the fact that he often explored in his fiction a crisis in language and literature in which...

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Amanda Holmes (essay date April 2003)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Holmes, Amanda. “Residential Unhomes in Short Stories by Julio Cortázar and Ilse Aichinger.” Neophilologus 87, no. 2 (April 2003): 246-64.

[In the following essay, Holmes compares the question of home in Cortázar's “Casa tomada” and Ilse Aichinger's “Wo ich wohne.”]

In his short story “Casa tomada,” Julio Cortázar creates what Anthony Vidler calls an “unhomely house”—a house that prevents the dweller from experiencing the comfort and shelter that a home should otherwise offer. Characters feel ill-at-ease inside these houses, fleeing them to escape the disquieting inner environments as the once cosy spaces become unhomely. Cortázar's...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Alonso, Carlos J., ed. Julio Cortázar: New Readings, pp. 260. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Collection of critical essays.

García, Graciela P. “Time, Language, Desire: Julio Cortázar's ‘The Pursuer’.” Pacific Coast Philology 38 (2003): 33-9.

Contends that by analyzing the many layers of meaning in “The Pursuer” we are able to perceive “a vision of desire as a profoundly contradictory force at the center of both personal and social human experience.”

Lohafer, Susan. “Preclosing an ‘Open’ Story by Julio Cortázar.” In Reading for Storyness:...

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