Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Manual for Manuel is a novel about the continuing war between Latin American guerrillas and Latin American government. It is literally a collage of fragments. Using newspaper clippings, testimony from human rights commission hearings, advertisements, recipes, and musings on literary criticism, Cortázar interrogates his own identity through the character of Andres; he questions his life as an intellectual and the role of the intellectual in relationship to political commitment. As an Argentine who lived in Paris after 1951 and as a translator for UNESCO, Cortázar was acutely aware of the ideological as well as the directly confrontational warfare in Argentina and elsewhere. In fact, selecting and translating from newspapers has been part of his job; his transformation of these newspaper texts into a novel may be understood as his attempt to recapture the subject which he has had to translate for others. He is aware of the difficulty of writing about the themes of A Manual for Manuel, which include political torture; in one passage, he points out that Latin American readers are already aware of the issues, rendering the novel useless as a didactic device, while North American readers do not usually have the background to understand the political references. In Hopscotch, he discusses the dilemma of the man of action and the intellectual. These roles are played by Horacio and Traveler. He condemns the man of action for having the same unforgivable sin as Traveler: conformity. One conforms to the party while the other capitulates to the dictates of everyday life. The dilemma is presented again in A Manual for Manuel, but this time, the work centers on a group devoted to political action. Andres, the narrator, is not present at the moment of political action, the kidnapping of the Vip. He is always on the outside. This is the problem of the modernist writer. Cortázar seeks to overcome it to some extent by actively involving what he calls the “reader accomplice.”


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A Manual for Manuel portrays reality from two distinct perspectives or levels. On the one level it presents the objective reality of...

(The entire section is 892 words.)