Places: Hopscotch

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Rayuela, 1963 (English translation, 1966)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Parable

Time of work: 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. HopscotchFrance’s capital city is Oliveira’s residence during the 1950’s. Julio Cortázar’s depiction of Paris focuses on the indolent, mostly nocturnal lives of a group of expatriate intellectuals and artists who call themselves the Serpent Club. They meet at the apartment of La Maga, Horacio’s lover, to drink, listen to jazz, and discuss philosophy and the arts. Within this cramped set of rooms, Horacio confronts the incongruity between his friends’ esoteric musings and harsh physical reality in the sudden death of Rocamodour, La Maga’s neglected infant son. Despite the group’s emotional intensity, Horacio regards his relationships with its members as transitory and contingent, as exemplified by his games of chance encounter with La Maga in the Parisian streets.

For Horacio, “Paris is one big metaphor,” which he tries to decipher as a means of attaining a new kind of clarity, the “heaven” associated with the novel’s recurrent game of hopscotch motif. Despite his efforts to focus single-mindedly on his existential project, the city sometimes throws random encounters in his path that force him to acknowledge his bond to humanity; for example, both the old man run down in the street and the pathetic pianist Berthe Trépat draw him out of his solipsism temporarily.

*Buenos Aires

*Buenos Aires. Argentina’s capital is Horacio’s native city, to which he returns after deciding that Paris cannot provide the answers he seeks. In Buenos Aires, Horacio continues his quest for an authentic life, which is aided and complicated by his renewed relationship with his childhood friend, known as Traveler. Although Horacio reacts to his homeland with a mixture of love and European condescension, Talita, Traveler’s wife, discerns that “for Oliveira being in Buenos Aires was exactly the same as if he had been in Bucharest.” More and more, Horacio withdraws into a cerebral solitude, devising complex word games and outlandish schemes, such as the bridge of boards that he and Traveler construct between their apartment windows, which face each other across a street. Talita is literally suspended between the two men, and her presence in Horacio’s life acts both as a source of tension with Traveler and a reminder of Horacio’s failure to love and comfort La Maga, whose apparition he begins to see frequently.

Circus

Circus. In contrast to his situation in Paris, Horacio is forced to devote more of his time to working, first in the circus as an odd-job man. While the circus provides an appropriately absurd venue for Horacio’s considerations of life, it also gives him an inkling of transcendence; he gazes up to the hole in the top of the main tent and sees it as “an image of consummation.” This symbol is put in opposition to the madhouse bought by the circus owner.

Madhouse

Madhouse. Subterranean and infernal morgue in which Horacio, Traveler, and Talita all go to work. In this last consistent setting in the novel, Horacio feels perfectly comfortable, finding in the inmates representatives of humanity who are free from the prison of reason. At the same time, however, Horacio’s own sanity gradually collapses, to a point at which his paranoid fear compels him to erect an elaborate and ridiculous system of defense in his room against the violent invasion that he believes Traveler plans to make. After this crescendo of madness, the text disintegrates into a number of “expendable chapters,” jumping from location to location and idea to idea.

BibliographyAlazraki, Jaime, and Ivar Ivask, eds. The Final Island: The Fiction of Julio Cortázar. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978. Insightful reading of Cortázar’s novels and short stories in the context of the “boom” period in Latin American literature. Contains a bibliography.Boldy, Steven. The Novels of Julio Cortázar. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Offers an in-depth reading of Cortázar’s major novels, examining the author’s stylistic experimentation as a living process. Contains a bibliography.Garfield, Evelyn Picon. Julio Cortázar. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1975. An excellent introduction to the major works of Cortázar. Contains biographical information on the author as well as a discussion of parody in his work.Peavler, Terry J. Julio Cortázar. Boston: Twayne, 1990. In this thought-provoking overview and comprehensive treatment of Cortázar’s short stories and novels, the author places Cortázar’s work in a literary and historical context. Contains a chronology and bibliography.Yovanovich, Gordana. Julio Cortázar’s Character Mosaic. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Excellent study of characterization in Cortázar’s longer fiction. Discusses the lack of traditional treatment of character in Hopscotch. Also includes a bibliography.
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