“House Taken Over,” originally published in 1946 as Casa Tomada, is a short story by the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar.
This enigmatic and haunting tale is a blend of the mundane and the fantastic, a trademark of Cortázar’s writing style.
The story revolves around a brother and sister, Irene, and the unnamed narrator, who live in a large, old house inherited from their parents in Buenos Aires. Their lives are quiet and routine, filled with simple pleasures and domestic chores. As the narrative unfolds, an unexplained and unsettling phenomenon begins to occur and what happens next is both chilling and self-reflective.
In the heart of Buenos Aires, a grand family house stands as the central character of our story.
This venerable home, passed down through generations, now shelters only two inhabitants: the narrator and his sister Irene. Their lives are entwined with the expansive walls and endless rooms of this abode, which they maintain tirelessly for five hours each day.
This dedication to their ancestral home, the narrator muses, might be why neither sibling ever ventured into matrimony. He reminisces about Maria Esther, a lost love, and Irene recalls the marriage proposals she declined.
Now in their forties, they see the house as their final dwelling, yet there’s an underlying fear that distant relatives might demolish it posthumously for profit.
Irene’s world revolves around her knitting, creating practical items with a skill that sets her apart.
The narrator, a connoisseur of French literature, often ventures out to procure wool for Irene and to quench his thirst for new books, a rarity in Argentina.
He stumbles upon a treasure trove of Irene’s colorful knitting, sparking curiosity and a hint of fear.
Their lives are comfortably sustained by income from distant farms, a legacy that spares them the need for employment. The house itself is a divided realm: one wing houses the library, dining room, living room, and spare bedrooms, while the other contains their personal quarters, kitchen, and bathroom.
United or divided by a large oak door, the house’s size is deceptive. Yet, the omnipresent dust from Buenos Aires makes their cleaning efforts almost Sisyphean.
One evening, the tranquility is shattered by sounds of intrusion in the back wing. Acting swiftly, the narrator seals the oak door, forever splitting their world in two. He informs Irene, who takes the news with stoic resignation.
They adapt to their constrained existence, reminiscing about the lost comforts of their former life, now reduced to the smaller portion of their home.
Their days settle into a new rhythm, marked by Irene’s knitting and the narrator’s engagement with his father’s stamp collection.
The simplicity of their life is punctuated by the small noises they make, disturbing the silence of their separation.
Their conversations echo in the kitchen, now a border with the unknown occupants of their home’s other half.
Tragedy strikes again one evening.
While seeking water, the narrator and Irene become aware of the intruders’ presence, too close for comfort. In a frenzied escape, they abandon their sanctuary, leaving behind not just possessions but a part of themselves.
Irene’s knitting, connected to the inside by a trailing yarn, symbolizes their severed connection to the house.
The narrator, realizing the gravity of their loss, secures the house one last time, condemning their memories and treasures to the hands of fate. With heavy hearts, they step into the unknown, leaving their once-grand home to its silent, unseen occupants.
1. The Inescapability of the Past and Family Legacy
The grand house in Buenos Aires is not just a setting but a symbol of the narrator’s and Irene’s past and their family legacy.
Their deep attachment to the house and the daily ritual of cleaning and maintaining it represent their connection to their family history and the weight of tradition. This attachment prevents them from pursuing personal aspirations and relationships outside the family sphere.
The lesson here is about the powerful influence of family legacy and history on individual lives.
It suggests that while respecting and maintaining family traditions can be valuable, it can also be limiting if it prevents personal growth and the pursuit of individual dreams.
2. The Illusion of Control and the Reality of Change
Throughout the story, the narrator and Irene exert great effort to maintain control over their environment, dedicating hours to cleaning and preserving their home.
However, the sudden intrusion and their subsequent loss of half the house demonstrate how quickly circumstances can change, disrupting even the most meticulously maintained order.
This theme teaches that life is inherently unpredictable and that our sense of control is often an illusion.
It encourages adaptability and resilience in the face of unexpected changes, showing that while we may strive to control our environment, we must also be prepared to adapt when things beyond our control occur.
3. Isolation and the Human Need for Connection
The narrator and Irene, isolated in their large family home, develop a routine that revolves around simple tasks and hobbies, with little interaction with the outside world.
Their self-imposed isolation is a response to their attachment to the house and their past.
However, this isolation leads to a lack of meaningful connections and experiences outside their immediate environment. The story underscores the importance of human connections and the risks of isolation.
It serves as a reminder that while solitude can be comforting, human beings inherently need interaction and engagement with others to lead fulfilling lives.
The siblings’ situation illustrates how isolation can limit perspectives and opportunities, emphasizing the value of balancing personal space with external social interactions.
This story here eflects on how physical spaces can become integral to one’s identity and how sudden changes can disrupt the very core of our existence. The characters’ deep connection to their home and their subsequent loss of it is a poignant commentary on the impermanence of life and the inevitability of change.
In the end, House Taken Over is a story that is both a melancholic ode to nostalgia and a stark reminder of life’s unpredictability.