Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369
Themes of "The Southern Thruway" by Julio Cortázar include community, uncertainty, and disconnection.
As the traffic jam continues, different groups of cars create communities among themselves. This is very clear when the engineer is walking around between groups and finds that a man won't even talk to him because someone else is in charge of their group. Later, there are official transactions between communities on the highway. Though the people there were once strangers, now they're actual groups with routines and rituals. The engineer, the farmer, and the men in the Taunus meet for war councils to determine how to distribute food and solve problems for the group.
No one on the highway has any real information about what's happening. The uncertainty contributes to a sense of unreality that makes the entire story seem a little like a fantasy. There are roaming gossips who tell different stories about what might have happened: they speculate about an overturned bus, cars that slammed into each other and the resulting deaths, or cars that collided and slammed into another bus. The engineer thinks that all the stories are probably lies and that they don't do anything good for those who are stuck. Eventually, the gossips are sent away as the people they approach honk their horns and show their anger. Later, there's a rumor that the government is going to do something about the highway, but the narrator notes that nothing happens aside from a helicopter flying over.
Though they're disconnected from the world, the characters in the story are connected to each other. They're cut off from food and supplies because the farmers won't sell to them or let them leave the highway. But when the road opens and people start to drive forward, the group of characters lose each other. It's impossible to keep pace as traffic moves in fits and starts for the first time in days. The engineer even loses sight of the girl in the Dauphine who said she was pregnant with his child. As he drives on, the sense of disconnection is stronger while he thinks about the people driving around him, facing forward, knowing nothing about the people driving around them.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275
Julio Cortázar bases his story on an experience common to everyone, a traffic jam, and on a common response: an impatient, exasperated “I feel as though I’ve been here for days.” Well, speculates Cortázar, what if it were days, what if the figure of speech became literally true? The traffic jam becomes an emergency situation that brings out the best in everyone (leadership qualities, compassion, generosity, fairness) as the group collectively fights for survival. Stripped of possessions, of acquired social status and influence, of all the qualities and barriers that would normally isolate them from one another, the denizens of the freeway form close bonds with their companions. There is real satisfaction in contributing to the primitive tribal society where each member of the group has a function and is essential, where each member is cared for and recognized. Twentieth century technology is reduced to a collection of metal boxes and radios that cease to convey any message relevant to their actual situation. The individuals discover resilience and dormant primitive skills within themselves and take pleasure in this meaningful connection with their ancestral heritage. Positive human values are revealed when these superficial overlayers of materialism, technology, and the rush of contemporary life are stripped away. These are twentieth century men and women, and when traffic does move they must inevitably go with it, however regretful they may feel. The metaphors of the river (or highway) of life and the medieval dance of death (of which one is explicitly reminded by the sickle, symbol of death) are ones of inexorable progression; once cars enter the thruway they must move along to their destinations.