I Am Prisoner in the Body of an Axolotl: Human Isolation in Julio Cortázar’s Axolotl

(This is Part 1- research- and Part 2- analysis- combined of my CI project about Julio Cortázar’s “Axolotl”)

The short story “Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar uses the quiet, isolated and confusing behavior of the underwater salamander to mirror the narrator’s own loneliness and inability to fit in with a world that doesn’t understand him. The narrator’s predicament is apparent, however the truth of his words is something that under the circumstances of his questionable sanity is up to interpretation.


The narrator of Axolotl is a potentially imbalanced child which brings question to the truthfulness of any of what is written in the story. In the very beginning of the story, the narrator declares “I am an axolotl,” (Cortázar) which, considering the narrator is a human boy can either be taken as a blatant lie, something the narrator has convinced himself of, or actually is the truth. It can be assumed that the narrator has not had much chance for human contact during his life because this is not just a chance visit to the zoo, or his first. He assures the reader that he “was friend of the lions and panthers,” (Cortázar) in order to make the rest of the story seem like a normal occurrence. However this just emphasizes the fact that this boy is probably very lonely, only making friends with the animals. Later in the story, after he’s become entranced by the Axolotls, he does mention his contact with the guard at the zoo who “likely thought [he] was a little cracked.” (Cortázar) The way that the narrator says this, makes it seem as if he finds this idea to be absurd, after he’s already told the reader he is friends with these animals that apparently aren’t animals. He constantly contradicts himself, so why should his instance give us any reason to think differently? The narrator is obviously not all there, so any fact he affirms, should be considered but not instantly believed.

In this short story, the narrator’s own loneliness and isolation are emphasized through his interactions with and similarities to the Axolotl. Cortázar was greatly inspired by Sartre’s writings on existentialism so it is possible that the short story “Axolotl” is a way to show the narrator “discovering the Sartrean notion of existence” (Harris 7) in order to present it to an audience. “Cortázar’s short stories could be considered generally existentialist in terms of their protagonist’s experiences.” (Harris 5) The narrator of this story in particular is completely motivated by his free will and acknowledgment of his own existence as is seen in existentialist works. However, this potentially makes him an unreliable narrator. His awareness of himself, something that at a first glance could sound informed, instead becomes more of a crazed rant developed as a result of this narrator’s lack of human interaction. In the scholarly article by Mark D. Harris about this short story, Harris brings forth the idea that the narrator can be seen as deceitful in numerous ways. The fact that the Axolotls “disguise their very existence,” (Harris 12) by existing through a majority of their life as larvae, is important in showing that the narrator is not altogether truthful in his writings. He is very close to these creatures, even sharing qualities with them, because he does not fit in with human society. As the story progresses he shares more and more of these qualities, and as he appears to become aware of his own true existence, he’s actually losing sight of who he was.

The scholarly article written by Maurice J. Bennett also focuses on change over time of the character; looking at the narrator’s “effort of vision” (Bennett 59) as in his mind’s power of “rejection of scientific knowledge.” (Bennett 59) There is a main focus on how the Axolotl influences the narrator. A person who does not experience proper human social interaction is likely to succumb to changes and manipulation. The article even agrees with Harris when it realizes that the narrator’s change is “antecedent to human awareness.” (Bennett 61) He delves into a heightened sense of reality as the story progresses, and it becomes apparent that the Axolotls have a strong affect on his mind. These solitary creatures act as a mirror image of the narrator, and the reader can watch idly by as the mirror begins to blur the line between reality. It becomes less obvious who is observing whom and by the end of it either the narrator has gone completely mad from his isolation, his obsession has left him and embodied itself as an Axolotl, or he really does become an Axolotl. This ambiguity is important in underscoring the narrator’s potential deceitfulness, and in making the author question what they believe as the story progresses.

The narrator as viewed by Doris T. Wight is completely insane with no doubt about it. She notes that we as the reader “cling to contradiction, we insist on deception,” (Wight 59) and “from the very beginning we know the narrator is insane.” (Wight 59) It becomes obvious that the narrator may not be all there in the story because he continues to contradict himself throughout it. He will say things like “the eyes of the axolotls spoke to me,” (Cortázar) or “it was they devouring my slowly with their eyes,” (Cortazar) only to assure the reader that he is not crazy and that “there was nothing strange.” (Cortázar) It is as if he thinks by assuring us over and over again this is regular behavior, then we will believe it but it becomes less believable because he appears to even be trying to convince himself. Ironically, “we never believe a liar more than when he tells us bluntly that he is lying,” (Wight 60) which leads Wight to believe that by trying so hard to make the reader question the narrator’s facts there could be some truth there. It is very backwards and a reader could drive themselves in circles about the truths or falsities of this story. The reader can at least understand that at some point the narrator was sane, because directly after the first paragraph the things he says are obviously reasonable and logical. This enhances the assumption that he was merely a lonely, albeit not completely normal boy, who was slowly driven mad over the course of his time with the strange creatures.

The “Axolotl” explores “boundaries both physical and psychological” (Bruno 110) that creates a fantastical and magical element to the story which in turn can help the reader understand the narrator’s meaning better. During this whole story, things that seem false or convoluted can be reevaluated and possibly seen as “magical realism.” (Bruno 110) It is hard to judge, however, when the narrator is explaining a fantastical event or when he is just lost in his own crazed fantasies. The Axolotls are protected, or in this case trapped, behind “a glass barrier” (Bruno 111) which in this story serves as a literal boundary. Paula M. Bruno finds intent behind barriers in stories as divisions of even obvious things like gender. Here in this story, it is the boundary between reality and fantasy, or maybe sanity and insanity. Out in the human world, the narrator lives a dreary life that is normal, boring, and doesn’t seem to fit with his own wants. Inside the Axolotl’s enclosure, the creatures seem to “abolish space and time with an indifferent immobility” (Cortázar) as the narrator puts it. Though this is just an assumption, it is actually something that delves into truth. Water creates the illusion of timelessness or a slowed down perception of time. In this story, it is completely possible that the Axolotl’s stretch out the narrator’s own time until he loses the its linear movement and becomes locked in a near purgatory. He is trapped by their very lack of acting on him, and it is understandable then that he would remain longer hours than intended, and eventually lose himself to their grasp. This, or he is truly insane.

A story like the “Axolotl,” is a unique chance for the reader to realize that what is said in a story is not always the truth. People often trust what they read when it sounds reasonable and stop believing it once it goes past realism into fantasy. It should also be understood that readers are sometimes too skeptical about a story when they think it is written by a lunatic, and may choose to not believe something that is in fact an implausible but true story. This short story blurs that line and makes it difficult to tell if we are being lied to or if we are choosing to not trust someone who actually lived through a unique and captivating experience. The ambiguity of the story consistently confuses the reader but is expertly used to make them reevaluate themselves, and the meaning of their own existence just as the narrator does. In the way that there is a boundary between the human world and the aquarium, there is also a divide between the real world and the written. This parallel can make one lose oneself in the story, and make it even harder to distinguish from truth and lies.




Scholarly Articles:

Bennett, Maurice J. A Dialogue of Gazes: Metamorphosis and Epiphany in Julio Cortázar’s “Axolotl” 23.1 (1986): 57-63. Web.

Bruno, Paula M. “Yin/Yang, Axolotl/Salamander: Merce Rodoreda and Julio Cortazar’s Amphibians.” Confluentia 21.1 (2005): 110-22. Jstor.org. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.

Harris, Mark D. “Existence, Nothingness, and the Quest for Being: Sartrean Existentialism and Julio Cortázar’s Early Short Fiction.” Latin American Literary Review 37.74 (2009): 5-25. Astor.org. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.

Wight, Doris T. “Cortázar’s Axolotl.” The Explicator 45.2 (1987): 59-63. Web.

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My Time in an Art School: A Semi-fictional Autobiography

(This is part 3 of my CI project and the writing style is supposed to be based off of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe)

Having seen movies and television shows about art schools, I came to my highschool believing that it would be similar to this televised experience. Because of course, art schools are all fun and games. It’s a little difficult however to be part of the Visual Arts Cluster against the three Performing Arts- Theater, Music, and Dance. It’s the odd cluster out and as a result no one really knew what to do with us or how to treat us. We tended to keep to our own because there was an obvious divide between us and them.

In my first year, we had a principal who later left for a better paying job but during that time, I remained happily ignorant, safe with my sister’s group of senior friends. But during my next year I began to notice a sort of separation and stereotyping that I never thought I’d encounter. There were little annoying things like people assuming that if I was a Visual then I must do drugs, but there were also more cruel things like people claiming that we did not put in the same work as the other clusters. On the otherhand we put in a great amount of work- just at home where we did individual pieces and not like the performers putting on their group shows.The Performing Clusters had trouble understanding us and didn’t always respect the work we did, but that was never as much if an attack as when our new principal came into power.

He was secretly an aspiring Performing Arts principal but obviously he would take what he could get even if Visuals were in thw mix. I remember an incident where we first became alarmed. During a public speech as our new principal discussed to a large audience what he intended for the school he listed off the clusters and completely forgot to mention the Visual cluster- or chose to forget. One of the first hits was an infamous event- something that would occur multiple times in the year called Paul Baker day. It had an innocent disguise.

He said the intention was to integrate the clusters; for us to build a mutual appreciation for one another. However, we understood its true purpose when it succeeded in making a complete mockery of our cluster in two aspects. One, we were forced to perform in some way, which many of us just did not have the skill or confidence to do, and the performing clusters were told they were doing visual art by making them play with crayons and construction paper. It strategically missed the point by making us look like a group of unprofessional fools.

I was somewhat consoled by the fact that the Visual Arts teachers were for the most part on our side. One of my most memorable experiences was in Ceramics because my teacher there acted as a friend to us. On the otherhand, her very relaxed and unconventional style of teaching intimidated our principal. He began to personally sit in on our classes and wait for her to slip up on anything- letting someone work on other classwork during class, allowing a very colloquial style of talking, or even leaving the room for too long. He constantly marked her down in teacher surveys. It became a game of being ourselves until he stepped into the room and, until he left, being perfect robotic angels.

This led to junior year where we were first enlisted to help our teachers in the ongoing battle to get the respect we deserved. With a new figurehead, many people in the other clusters outwardly fely comfortable rejecting us. The biggest problem was that the Theater Cluster was the largest, most recognized cluster, with much better funding, but they wanted more. I remember when I had created my network of Theatre friends, I was told that one of their teachers had said, “Get rid of the Visual Cluster.” They wanted our funding and our room space to successfully dominate the school.

We could not strike back without jeopardizing our place in the school so during my junior year training, we were taught very specific and special opperation tactics that were pur into play during late junior year through senior year. We did subtle things. Part of it, and I’m not proud of this, did end up being sucking up to our Principal whenever we saw him and telling him all about what “inspired us to do this piece” or “what this subject represents” etcetra, etcetra. The fun part was offensive instead of being so defensive.

We did little things like hanging up our work everywhere, feeding rumors into the other clusters, and throwing massive Visual Arts Guild events with enough food to attract half the school, then we watched our work unfold. Every Visual senior is part of a senior show and mine was the most controversial. I will not spoil every little detail but one of our group was denied the right to be in our senior show after our Principal decided that her work was too mature. This was what he said but it actually had to do with his problem with her as one of the strongest Visual rebels. We could not fight his decision so instead most of us in that show helped paint a massive tribute to her and hung it up right in the middle of the show.

Behind our back, some of our Principal’s teacher pets, like the Drawing teacher, must have been acting as a double agent in all of this because, after less than a year of the fight, the biggest hit to our cluster came when the “All school” Musical, Hair, was put on by the school. It included dancing numbers, singing numbers, fabulous acting, but once again they never knew what to do with us. I remember them saying, “Oh it’s okay, I’m sure you can audition for te performing parts.” A few problems here. We don’t perform and those of us that did and auditioned didn’t have the training to be good enough to get the parts.

Of course there were places we could have helped. I came to the show and the entire set was covered in graffiti. Apparently the Theater kids were forced to do all that painting and even struggled with it, but I was told that the Theater Cluster’s coordinator actually said, “Don’t let the Visuals help.” It was a wreck to our reputation and our egos, while also excluding us completely from the rest of the school’s work. As much as I desire to know how the fight continued, I graduated. This was not a story of our Cluster only but also my part in it, and here after we hit rock bottom, my part ended.

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I Am Prisoner in the Body of an Axolotl: Human Isolation in Julio Cortázar’s Axolotl (abstract)

Scholarly Articles: Wight, Doris T. “Cortázar’s Axolotl.” The Explicator 45.2 (1987): 59-63. Web.

Bennett, Maurice J. A Dialogue of Gazes: Metamorphosis and Epiphany in Julio Cortázar’s “Axolotl” 23.1 (1986): 57-63. Web.

The short story “Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar uses the quiet, isolated behavior of the underwater salamander to mirror the narrator’s own loneliness and inability to fit in with a world that doesn’t understand him. The reader can learn a great deal about the narrator’s predicament from the first person perspective and mental dissection of his thought processes.
The narrator is potentially imbalanced as is seen in some of the things he says. An example would be his declaration of being an axolotl at the beginning of the essay, so it can be assumed that the narrator is unreliable.
He is this way because of a lack of human interaction. “I was friend of the lions and panthers.” “I hit it off with the axolotls.” He stays with them for hours with nothing better to do and chooses to be with the quiet and solitary animals.
We also see this solitude engulf him as he transforms during the passage. It is ambiguous what the real meaning is, but the reader can see the narrator as he gives into his solitude.

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The House of The Spirits


In Isabel Allende’s The House of The Spirits, there are many passages that symbolize something more for the story as a whole. It delves deep into relations of the family and how every single action can cause drastic changes, by a mere compilation of related scenes throughout the characters’ lifetimes.

One of the most explicit examples of this is the scene that starts on page 146, however this was only the end result of something that had been developing for a long time throughout the book. The scene is founded on a misconception when Esteban walks in on his sister, Férula, sleeping in bed with his wife. Over the course of months, he’d been seeing her drift closer to Clara and becoming more irate with her stealing the woman’s affections from him.

This progression is strong evidence of Esteban’s jealousy complex and how his anger can spin out of control when “he pulled her from the bed, dragged her down the hall, pushed her down the stairs, and thrust her into the library.” (147) Esteban has no control over himself and acts on a rash whim at all times. This event is a way to show that Clara’s mere presence cannot change how Esteban truly is. Clara is strong but Esteban has confidence, stubbornness, and physical power- as seen in many of the men in this story.

The scene is also important in deciding the future of the characters. Had Esteban not reacted in this way and “forbade her to come near his wife and children” (147) then things would have worked out very differently for each character. The act of removing someone from a property seems simple enough but even small actions can have great effect. This turning point in the beginning of the story leads to Férula’s eventual death, Esteban’s continued frustration and eternal guilt, and eventually Clara’s development from a child into a woman in her late years. This is no doubt the most significant. Clara had been treated like a child for so long but with all her caretakers out of the picture she had to quickly become someone much more self sufficient if she was going to raise a family and help at Esteban’s hacienda in his time of need.

What seems like a simple argumentative scene leads to the strongest character development in the book by far.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth is a very mysterious and confusing mix of fairy tales and harsh reality. It shows a brutal and unforgiving world, the one that Ofelia lives in. It is a fascist society and one that becomes more unbearable when Ofelia is forced to move to the country into an unfamiliar home with a hateful new father. This home is like her prison.

In the movie, the labyrinth and fairies and other mystical entities, are a way for her to escape from the harsh reality of life. It is a glimmer of hope for a better life that she holds onto so that she can move forward and never give up. These magical elements are never said to be real or fake. When Ofelia is meeting one last time with the Faun in the film, her stepfather only sees her talking to empty space, but it is very possible that these creatures are real to her, and that her belief makes them real.98a1a4d37b1d3d0c4461bdab3a35db27.jpg

Look I’m Typing!

This is a test. My title sounds like I’m 3 and learning how to use a keyboard. I promise I’ve known how for a very long time. It definitely didn’t take me an hour to type these three sentences. Do you like how I used “3” in one sentence and “three” in the other? I thought you would. Not my photo!!!!

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