Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605

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In this story, as in many of her other works, Luisa Valenzuela expresses her interest in women’s relationship to language, myths, rituals, and nature. Searching is a basic theme in Valenzuela’s writings. The protagonist in “Up Among the Eagles” is the narrator herself. Unnamed—reflecting her universality and lack of connections to anyone—she undertakes a symbolic journey out of the abyss of a valley and up to the peaks where the eagles dwell. She travels back in time through a natural world that she does not understand well until the end, when, in a brilliantly lit scene—signifying inner enlightenment and self-awareness at the moment of a literal or symbolic death—she is finally empowered to see and understand the mythical world around her.

The narrator, a city woman, arrives in the archaic country town wearing shoes and carrying a watch and a camera, among other things—all items of the modern world. Her relationship to nature may lead to an analysis of the meaning of civilization and barbarism. Representing modern society, she associates time with progress. She is unable to comprehend the functioning of a language that is only insinuated and not verbalized and thinks of the native culture and villagers as strange because they are different.

Although the protagonist is focused on external reality and the preservation of her physical self, the villagers concentrate on the inner reality and the creation of mental images that they materialize into fantastic visions—making magical thinking visible. She refuses to be like them and live in subjective contemplation. Protective of her rationality and existence, she avoids participating in religious ceremonies and ritual slow dances that emphasize a common identity and remind her of death. Because she equates immobility, sameness, and eternity with death, she struggles for movement, self-realization, and change. She verifies the concrete passage of time by capturing herself and the fleeting moments in the tangible and visible form of the photographs.

Whenever the principal character begins to feel lost, isolated, suffocated, and invisible in this mysterious and timeless environment, she needs to reaffirm her ideas about time and death. In the successive and linear arrangement of the snapshots—in reality a series of fragmented and multiplied images of herself—she is able to observe the marks of aging on her face but not the mystery of her inner world. The perception of the chronological movement of time by means of the photographs makes her feel alive and more secure. The protagonist dreads running into the mummies in the city of the dead; however, she freezes or “mummifies” herself as a reproduced image in each picture—if this is discovered by the villagers, she may be scorned or revered as a goddess for materializing herself in such a way.

The revelation of the blankness in the last photo provides the climax of the story and signals the end of the narrator’s control of images in space and time. The blankness visualizes nonexistence, signifies an absence and silence, and suggests the disappearance or death of corporeal life. In her voyage through the world of nature and before her disintegration, the protagonist had acquired the color of the clay of the landscape. At the end of the story, in the final phase of her quest, she undergoes a utopian transformation into a new reality; she sees herself as a stone rolling down freely and with audacity to her origins—meaning that she has attained the features and the essence of nature, represented by the mountain and the rocks, in the magical yet real world in which time is cyclical and rebirth is possible.