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In one of his most anth0logized stories, “Bestiary,” a tiger is free to roam throughout a mansion while all the humans who must also inhabit the grounds are protected only by updates on the tiger’s current location. While many critics have tried to situate the tiger as a specific symbol, the preferred interpretation of the author is that the tiger be seen as symbol of every individual person’s own specific fears and phobias which they try to avoid as they circumvent through the necessary requirements of daily life. Like those in the story, they too are made aware of where the centerpiece of their fear lies so that they can try to avoid it as best they can.
One of the strangest stories in a canon overrun with strange stories is Cortazar’s “The Night Face Up.” In this story, a seriously disturbed young man goes against his better instincts to take up a professional young woman ‘s offer to use her apartment. He then proceeds to uncontrollably throw up rabbits. As in he vomits and the result is rabbits. The symbolism of such a monumentally filthy and unhealthy reaction inside an apartment that is the very picture of self-control, tidiness and order could not be more clear: those are bunnies of rebellion.
The title character in “The Axoltotl” is a walking fish. A bottom dweller that stands very low on the ladder of evolution from the big muddy below to the man who visits a captured specimen on display in an aquarium and into which he transforms. The narrative takes the reader back and forth between the perspective of the man as human and the man as primitive sea creature. Thus, the Axolotl is an intensely symbolic figure that represents sheer base instinct; the creature is the primitive drive buried far beneath the consciousness of the individual.
Another very powerful symbol are the flowers in Cortazar’s story “Omnibus.” As the only people aboard a bus who are now in possession of flowers, a young girl and the stranger sitting next to her are first looked upon with suspicion and then finally physically assaulted. Only after they have managed to buy their own flowers are they are viewed as part of the collective. The flowers are thus powerful symbols of the consequences of differing from the norm under certain circumstances.
One of the most symbolic of all Cortazar’s fictions is “End of the Game” in which a make-believe world is a symbolic representation of a great many things. Central to the game, however, is the mysterious visitor named Ariel. To signify him as a mysterious visitor is apt; his mystery is ineffable. Since he cannot ever truly be known, Ariel is the perfect symbol of all the mysterious of the outside world that the young girls playing the game will never know until they mature and experience it for themselves.
The New Yorker, April 22, 1967 P. 49
A juxtaposition of reality and dream sequences begin when the protagonist is hospitalized after a motorcycle accident. Asleep after surgery, he dreams that he is in flight from the Aztecs in a ritual war and must stay on a trail known only to the Motecas. He wakes, thirsty and feverish, to find his arm in a plaster cast. He eats and sleeps once more, dreaming this time that he is off the trail. He grasps his amulet and prays, but is captured. Awake again in the hospital, he thinks of the strange, almost infinite, loss of consciousness he had experienced after his accident. Dozing, he awakens this time pinned to the ground by ropes. His amulet is gone. He knows he will be sacrificed and the priests carry him away. He awakens one last time, but this reality quickly merges with the dream. The priest is coming toward him with the stone knife, and he realizes that he is not going to awaken; that he is awake, and that it is the other consciousness which was a dream.