'House Taken Over' is a compelling short story written by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar (1914-1984). Set in Buenos Aires, the narrative follows a brother and sister living in a grand ancestral house who gradually sense that their home is being invaded by unknown entities. Eventually, they reach a decision to abandon the house, feeling compelled to escape the encroaching presence.
The story is narrated by a man who shares the inherited house with his sister, Irene. Passed down through generations, the siblings reside in the spacious residence originally meant for eight occupants. Both in their forties and unmarried, they have settled into a solitary life together within the confines of their ancestral home.
Typically, they spend their mornings cleaning the house and devote the rest of their time to their individual hobbies—Irene knits while the narrator indulges in reading, particularly French literature. Financially secure due to income from nearby farms, they lead a comfortable life devoid of monetary concerns.
The narrator reveals that they occupy only a portion of the vast house and rarely venture into the other sections, except for cleaning purposes.
One evening, while the narrator is heading to the kitchen to make tea, he hears a noise emanating from one of the unexplored rooms. Alarmed, he informs Irene that 'they' have seized control of the back part of the house. To maintain their separation from these enigmatic intruders, they decide to confine themselves to the other section of the house.
The initial days prove challenging as some of their possessions, including the narrator's books, remain in the usurped area. However, the reduced living space makes cleaning more manageable. Irene resumes her knitting while the narrator laments the loss of his beloved books. To occupy his time, he occupies himself with reorganizing their late father's stamp collection.
Gradually, the narrator notes that both he and Irene have ceased to think actively, but he believes that one can exist without constant contemplation. They share a bed, with Irene occasionally talking in her sleep, and the narrator unknowingly disturbing her with his restless arm movements that shake off the blankets.
However, one night, the noises originating from other parts of the house intensify. Filled with fear, the brother and sister flee through the door and into the vestibule. 'They,' the elusive intruders, have now seized the final section of the house. As they make their escape, Irene's knitting gets caught in the door, and she abandons it as they retreat.
Left with only the clothes they are wearing, the narrator realizes that his money is still in the wardrobe in their bedroom. As they venture out onto the street, the narrator locks the front door and throws the key down the drain, preventing anyone from accessing it and attempting to rob the house. Given that the house has been taken over, such an act would be ill-advised.
'House Taken Over' delves into the mysterious intrusion that gradually engulfs the lives of the brother and sister. Cortázar masterfully builds tension and a sense of unease, leaving readers to ponder the nature of the intruders and the ultimate fate of the house and its inhabitants.
Analysis of 'House Taken Over'
'House Taken Over,' written by Julio Cortázar, offers a rich tapestry of interpretations. It is crucial to consider the story's original context: Cortázar penned it in the mid-1940s, during the reign of Juan and Eva Perón in Argentina. This historical backdrop sheds light on possible metaphorical interpretations, with the "house" symbolizing the middle-class Argentinian home of that era.
Within this framework, the story can be seen as a representation of the perceived threat felt by the comfortable bourgeoisie as they feared the encroachment of the "other" — the poor, the masses, or those of mixed race. In a time when the working classes revered the Peróns, the narrator of 'House Taken Over' and his sister likely experienced a sense of unease and vulnerability, akin to the mysterious forces gradually infiltrating their house.
However, the story's scope extends beyond its specific political context. It can also be analyzed through the lens of 'the uncanny,' a concept elucidated by Sigmund Freud. In 'House Taken Over,' the familiar and the unfamiliar coexist uneasily. The unnamed "they" who allegedly take over parts of the house become both recognizable and strange. The mere pronoun serves as a marker for their presence, implying that the brother and sister have already identified their unwanted intruders. Yet, the story remains ambiguous, as the precise identity of these interlopers is never revealed.
Alternatively, it is plausible that the perceived intruders do not exist at all. The noises heard by the narrator and his sister could be attributed to the natural sounds of an old house—creaking floorboards or scuttling mice. Moreover, the confined lives of the siblings and their lack of mental stimulation raise the possibility of an unreliable narrator. The story may be colored by the narrator's unstable mental state, influenced by prolonged isolation within the house and a diminishing supply of intellectual nourishment.
'House Taken Over' played a pivotal role in establishing Cortázar's prominence in the Argentinian literary landscape. The story was published by Jorge Luis Borges, a renowned Argentine fiction writer and editor, contributing to Cortázar's growing recognition.