Two ways of reading “La noche boca arriba”

Not long ago, I was reading through a book of short stories by Julio Cortázar and I encounter a really interesting, though-provoking story entitled, “La noche boca arriba.” Like all Cortázar stories it’s impossible to grasp all the meaning and astounding skill by simply re-telling the story. I highly recommend you read the story for yourself.

Somehow, over the course of my formal Spanish education, I managed to bypass any required reading of “La noche boca arriba.” I’d read “Axolotl,” “Autopista del sur,” and “Isla al mediodía” among others, but I think most of my Spanish professors took it for granted that I’d read “La noche boca arriba.” However, last semester a friend of mine told me about the story and recommended it. So, began my interesting journey with one of Cortázar’s unique stories.

I believe it possible to analyze Cortázar’s writing through two principle methods: one from a historical or political standpoint, and the other from a literary or aesthetic standpoint. “La noche boca arriba” immediately draws a connection with the political and historical theme. The motorcyclist (the protagonist of the story) suffers an accident and begins to have lapses or dreams in which he’s a warrior in the famous Flower War. This lapse indicates in many ways a relapse of Latin American culture into their deep roots. The injured motorcyclist feels comfortable in his modern, western culture just as the Latin American world itself is decorated with the trappings of western civilization. However, Latin America has a dual heritage, one native and the other foreign. The motorcyclist experiences both of these influences and heritages combat for his consciousness. Ultimately the most forceful and powerful bloodline wins him over.

From the literary or aesthetic standpoint the story uses Cortázar’s trademark games of perception in order to make the story even more memorable. After my first reading of the story, it reminded me of the short story “El sur” by Jorge Luis Borges. In much the same way, each story recounts the plight of an injured man as he lives in to separate worlds: the world of consciousness and the world of “dreams.” However, “La noche boca arriba” is much more sinister than “El sur” is, for in “El sur” the protagonist chooses his own romantic end. Whereas, in “La noche boca arriba” the more terrifying end is thrust upon the motorcyclist, as the dream world becomes the real world and the real world fades into a dream.

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