End of the Game (Final del Juego) by Julio Cortázar, 1956

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END OF THE GAME (Final del juego)
by Julio Cortázar, 1956

Along with Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, José Donoso, and others, the Argentine Julio Cortázar made possible the "boom" in Latin American fiction. Famous for both his novels and short stories, Cortázar contributed significantly to the modern short story by stretching it in a number of different directions. He excelled in stories of the fantastic and metempsychosis with works such as "The Night Face Up" ("La noche boca arriba") and "Axolotl." He wrote excellent psychological stories that are often open-ended, such as "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris" ("Carta a una señorita en Paris"), and, at the same time, he wrote fine examples of what is usually called realism. As a translator and theorist of the short story, he made significant contributions. In "Some Aspects of the Short Story" ("Algunos aspectos del cuento"), he observed that the novel was like a movie and the short story like a photograph.

Cortázar is often credited with being a master at depicting the psychology of children and adolescents. A number of his stories, among them "Siesta," "Poisons" ("Los venenos"), and "Nurse Cora" ("La señorita Cora"), present very serious themes filtered through the perspectives of young people. "End of the Game" ("Final del juego"), the title story of a 1956 collection, is such a story. Like "Siesta," it is an example of cross-gender writing, in this case of a male author describing the emotions of a female protagonist.

"End of the Game" involves three girls: Leticia, Holanda, and the narrator. These cousins in their early teens create their imaginary "kingdom," a place of escape where they play a game called "statues and attitudes." Located near their home in Palermo, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the "kingdom" is a grove of willows near a railroad track. There they have a daily audience on the 2:08 commuter train for whom they pose as either attitudes (envy, shame, fear, jealousy) or statues (Venus, for example). The game, which has been going on for more than a year, allows the girls to escape the ordinary world of the kitchen chores and the authority of their mother and aunt.

The game turns serious when a series of notes are thrown from the train by a young man named Ariel B. In one of the notes, Ariel declares that the prettiest is also the laziest, and the girls know that he is referring to Leticia. Ariel's final note says that he will visit the girls the next day. Leticia suffers from an unspecific disease, but one that is clearly paralytic and crippling, and she chooses not to meet Ariel; instead she writes a letter to him that Holanda delivers.

The climax of the game and story occurs the following day, when Leticia secretly takes both her mother's and aunt's jewelry, adorns herself for her final and most impressive statue, and Ariel leans out the window to look at her. The narrator and Holanda run to catch her and see the tears streaming down her face. The next day Leticia is ill, and Holanda and the narrator return to watch the train pass. As they imagine that Ariel is seated on the other side of the train looking at the river, they realize that the game has ended.

This poignant story reveals the confusion and despair that the girls feel when they must face reality in their make-believe kingdom. Although the reader sympathizes with and hurts for Leticia, the main focus finally falls on the narrator, who undergoes a process of growth or initiation. Because of Cortázar's imagination and talent, the reader sees the world from the viewpoint of the young girl, whose innocence and limitations give the story its flavor. At first, the narrator is jealous of Leticia because of the favors that are granted to her by the watchful mother and aunt. But, as she witnesses Leticia's reaction to Ariel's overtures, she slowly begins to realize the enormous burden that Leticia must bear permanently.

Cortázar enriches the story by choosing the name Ariel. Although not uncommon in Argentina, the name clearly is an allusion to José Enrique Rodó's Ariel, a work exhorting the young people of Latin America to eschew materialism in favor of idealism. Ariel is an ironic intertext for the story, for all of its optimism and hope for the future seems contrary to the unspoken loss of dreams that the girls suffer when they realize what the future holds for Leticia.

Hemingway's famous "iceberg principle" from Death in the Afternoon is particularly suitable for this story. Because the reader must rely on the young narrator for all of the information in the story, there are obvious details that are missing. For example, the reader is not told what Leticia said in the letter nor what disease she has. Still, Cortázar does a splendid job of cross-gender writing through his revelation of the mind and emotions of the young narrator. The story has been recognized as a fine study of juvenile psychology.

—Wendell M. Aycock