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Liliana Heker was born in Buenos Aires in 1943 and published her first short story in El Grillo de Papel (The Paper Cricket) in 1960, shortly after the magazine was founded. She was later to work there as an editor, and the magazine’s values were close to her own, combining left-wing politics with a focus on creativity and the arts.

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“The Stolen Party” is a good example of Heker’s—and El Grillo de Papel’s—approach to combining politics with fiction. The political message of the story is not heavy-handed or overly doctrinal. On one level, it can be taken simply as a character study of childhood, and an exploration of the bitter disappointment with which a child discovers the cruelty and injustice of the world. There is an additional layer of meaning, however, when the reader understands that this disappointment is not the result of arbitrary fate but of political attitudes and actions. Even the title is a reminder of Marx’s idea that property is theft: the rich are able to enjoy what they have only because they exploit the poor, many of whom are unaware of the exploitation.

It is bitterly ironic that Señora Ines steals the party from Rosaura by the act of giving her money. The way in which this occurs makes another Marxist point. It is the system which is rotten—not the individual rich person, who may be well-intentioned, though thoughtless. The only character in the story who displays malice is the blonde girl, who clearly knows or suspects that Rosaura is from the servant class and wants to force her to admit it. Rosaura is not entirely certain of what is happening in this exchange, but she does know instinctively that the blonde girl is her enemy and that her mother has warned her against such people. However, the open and malignant snobbery of the blonde girl does not spoil the party or steal her happiness.

This emotional theft is achieved only at the end of the story by the ingrained attitudes of Señora Ines, which amount to systemic discrimination. Señora Ines simply assumes that while rich people give each other gifts, they give poor people payment or tips. Like a mystery writer, Heker plants several clues before revealing this theft, hiding them well enough that the reader may, on an initial reading, be as oblivious of what is actually happening as Rosaura is herself. Rosaura regards it as a privilege to be allowed to visit the kitchen, which is off limits to the other children, and she is quite happy to take a jug of orange juice back to the dining room when she goes there. When Señora Ines asks her to help serve the hot-dogs “as she knew the house so much better than the others,” this explanation does not really make sense. However, Rosaura accepts it unquestioningly, even taking this request as confirmation of her special status as Luciana’s friend and, therefore, as a moral victory over the blonde girl.

At first, there does not seem to be anything very unusual about asking a child at a party to help pass the plates round. However, by the time Rosaura is asked to distribute the cake, it becomes clear that only Rosaura is asked to perform these tasks. Again, Rosaura regards her role in passing out the cake to...

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