Continuity of Parks-theme mid term

Rebecca Young
Mid-term Exam
Question 2: Theme development
Manipulative imagery and suggestive conflict pack a thematic punch in Cortàzar’s
short story “A Continuity of Parks:” literature as a construct reveals instead its nature as a
seductive pulse linking reader to character, fiction to life.
Establishing the initial conflict of his story as that of the reader within it, Cortàzar
blends the boundaries of reality and fiction, intimating that our experience as readers is
purposefully disconnected from our authentic lives. The unnamed “he” of the piece returns to a
novel only after “some urgent business conferences” but is kept from its pleasure by a legal
matter—giving his power of attorney—as well as a discussion with the manager of his estate
who is attending to its “joint ownership” (187). Further commentary on the reader’s delay is
unnecessary because we—Cortàzar’s readers—identify with the obligation to deal with life
before rewarding ourselves with literature. Because of this, we miss the tip: as a character in
the story he’s reading, this business man’s financial and legal preoccupations foreshadow the
motive for his murder. Presumably the scheming characters are his wife and her lover, but
we—like this protagonist—do not yet realize his part in the construct.
More importantly, we are blind to theme in our eagerness to escape with the reader to
his study. The narrator calls us out with his direct reference to writing as a construct, as
manipulated fiction. The protagonist’s growing interest “in the plot” and “characterizations” of
the novel run parallel to his disengagement in his own life, and presumably his own marriage.
That the protagonist “permits himself” the read suggests its allure: a gift to himself of a retreat
to be treasured. Although we don’t realize it yet, the consequence for this illusion of distance
will be severe. After allowing finances and legal paperwork to keep him from the novel, the
protagonist becomes so immersed in getting back to the characters’ passion that he is oblivious
to his own real conflicts. His position—“back to the door”—suggests a conscious refusal to
actively participate in his own life and marriage. Do we suspect ourselves in this construct yet?
Our business man’s retreat, a study graciously offering the “tranquility” to read, to
escape from real life into fiction, appropriately juxtaposes the raw energy of the lovers’ scheme.
“Sprawl[ed] in his favorite armchair,” the protagonist “caress[es] repeatedly the green velvet
upholstery” and settles in to the final chapters of a novel. Peaceful imagery permeates the scene
inside and out just as he becomes “witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin;” so
relaxed is our reader there isn’t even a thought to “the possibility of an intrusion” as he
“effortlessly” recalls his place in the story, ironically remembering the “names and his mental
picture of the characters.” Produced by words on a page, any coincidence to his reality is
comforted away. The narrator affirms the effect: “the novel spread its glamour over him almost
at once.” Cortàzar’s reader should pick up on the cue, as our conflicts slip away with his
character’s, but we are also too conditioned, too comforted in our separation of literature as
fiction and our lives as real. Instead we too “taste the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging
[our self] line by line” in the comfort of our own “green velvet chair.” The businessman might
just as well be stroking his money, we our priority. Thematically, this is problematic because
our realities (even undeserving priorities) become intentionally isolated from our perceived
escapes: fiction is “glamour,” our lives “intrusion.” Cortàzar is no longer insinuating: this dual
relationship cannot be sustained. Unhealthy and damning, it requires that one choose between
actual living and the often more satisfying life of fiction, its “ceremonies of a secret passion.” If
we allow ourselves to feel alive only within the haven of our characters’ pages, what authentic
experiences—joys and sorrows alike—are we sacrificing?
The reader’s absorption in the “sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine” of the novel
reveals the implication. “Word by word” he is entranced, finally becoming observer of his
wife’s affair, thus not her “hero.” As her “caresses…writhed about [her] lover’s body,” the
protagonist is lost in the construct—the “panting dialogue [racing] down the pages like a
rivulet of snakes”(188)—oblivious to having lost her. Consequently, he remains unaware of his
own disengagement as well as to the danger of his wife’s renewal in another. As a result, he
misses that his is “that other body it was necessary to destroy.” The “liberty” that “pound[s]” in
the lover’s chest signals our protagonist’s demise. So deserving seems our protagonist of this
consequence that all variables support the task: “the dogs were not supposed to bark, they did
not bark…the estate manager would not be there at this hour, and he was not there.” As setting
details are revealed the reader in the “green chair, its back to the door” is linked to his wife’s
lover through the “thudding of blood in [their] ears.” The lover traverses the house, intent on
the kill, on a freedom that seemed to have “been decided from eternity.” Again the construct
distracts our protagonist from fear and the familiarity of the lover’s path to his study. What is
important here is that we miss it too. We miss it and it takes the combination of Cortàzar’s
thematic symbols—“the light from the great windows” and “the high back of an armchair
covered in green velvet”—to announce to us the death of our protagonist. The green life of the
forest passion forces its way into the purchased green comfort of his retreat as character
overtakes reader.
We cannot ignore this message: death “of the man in the chair reading a novel” is most
certainly the symbolic death of the readers of this short story. As the setting of our lives
“begin[s] to get dark” we, like Cortàzar’s protagonist, seek shelter in constructs—in worlds of
fiction over reality where we prefer indulging in characters’ conflicts rather than facing our
own. Like him we retreat from authentic emotion and experience to the security and
“tranquility” of our own quiet rooms. We read on. Perhaps “a continuity of parks” refers to our
personal safe havens—insignificant priorities, complacencies, half-hearted relationships—all
that we habitually return to as escape from the messy world of true passion. Cortàzar’s
challenge is to abandon our safe parks, to stop watching from “the great windows” of our
constructed lives and run toward “the afternoon air” that “danc[es] under the oak trees.”