Hopscotch (Julio Cortázar novel)

Hopscotch (Julio Cortázar novel)

Infobox Book
name = Hopscotch
title_orig = Rayuela
translator = Gregory Rabassa

image_caption = 1987 Pantheon edition cover
author = Julio Cortázar
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = France
language = Spanish
series =
subject =
genre = Novel
publisher = Pantheon
pub_date = 1963
english_pub_date = 1966
media_type = Print (paperback)
pages = 576 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-394-75284-8
oclc =

"Hopscotch" ( _es. Rayuela) is a novel by Argentine author Julio Cortázar. It was written in Paris and published in Spanish in 1963 and in English in 1966. The English translation by Gregory Rabassa won the 1967 U.S. National Book Award.


Highly influenced by Henry Miller’s reckless and relentless search for truth in post-decadent Paris and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki’s modal teachings on Zen Buddhism, Hopscotch is an introspective stream-of-consciousness where characters fluctuate and play with the subjective mind of the reader.


Since Julio Cortázar’s death in 1984, there has been a great deal of ambiguity regarding the classification of the book which in turn became a ‘novel without genre’ and to that we are now cooling as with ‘Cosmopolitan Revival’ from ‘The Ticket that Exploded’ in 1962. Cortázar's employment of interior monologue, punning, slang, and his use of different languages is reminiscent of Modernist writers like Joyce, although his main influences were Surrealism and the French New Novel, as well as the "riffing" aesthetic of jazz. According to Emir Rodríguez Monegal, the influence of H. Bustos Domecq (pseudonym of Adolfo Bioy Casares and Jorge Luis Borges) was also felt in the use of fictional language and slang.Cite web
author = Rodríguez Monegal, Emir
year = 1968
title = "Nota sobre Biorges"
language = Spanish
work = Emir Rodríguez Monegal website
pages = (from "Mundo Nuevo" 22, April 1968, p. 89–92)
publisher = Archivo de Prensa.edu.uy
url = http://www.archivodeprensa.edu.uy/r_monegal/bibliografia/prensa/artpren/mundo/mundo_22.htm
archiveurl = http://web.archive.org/web/20071017042912/http://www.archivodeprensa.edu.uy/r_monegal/bibliografia/prensa/artpren/mundo/mundo_22.htm
archivedate = 2007-10-17
quote = Allí Borges y Bioy crean literalmente un escritor compuesto, que podría bautizarse "Biorges" y en el que predomina [...] un placer por jugar con el lenguaje por explorar sus posibilidades paródicas, por romper y recrear sus estructuras orales, que convierten a los casi inexistentes Bustos Domecq, o Suárez Lynch, o Biorges, en uno de los más importantes prosistas argentinos de su época. Un prosista sin el cual no es posible explicar [...] a Cortázar, sobre todo, en "Rayuela", cuando se larga a hablar en un rioplatense inventado. "Biorges estuvo aquí", habría que inscribir en muchas páginas de la más ingeniosa e inventiva literatura rioplatense de estos últimos treinta años.


Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel has 155 chapters, the last 99 being designated as "expendable." The book can be read either in direct sequence from chapter 1 to 56, which, Cortázar writes, the reader can do “with a clean conscience”, or by hopscotching through the entire set of 155 chapters--except chapter 55--according to a table provided by the author that leaves the reader, finally, in an infinite loop between the last two chapters in the sequence. There are several other ways to read the novel, such as reading only the odd or even pages, or choosing chapters in completely random order. Some of the "expendable" chapters fill in gaps in the main story, while others add information about the characters or record the aesthetic and literary speculations of a writer named Morelli (possibly a stand-in for the author) who makes a brief appearance in the narrative. The novel is also considered to belong in the genre of Latin American magical realism and is an example of multiple endings.

Narration is an important part of the structure of the book. In part one, From the Other Side, it seems clear that Horacio is the narrator and the ‘writer’ of the story, especially since it is repeatedly implied that La Maga is his muse and eventual literary salvation. However, in part two, From This Side, the introduction of Morelli as a character seems to hint that he is the true ‘writer’ of the story. Especially in the ‘Morelliana’ of the expendable chapters, Cortázar makes clear that Morelli is the talented writer, and the one who could achieve success if only he could escape the cages of his life. Morelli as author also makes more sense since the chapters seem to randomly switch back and forth between first person for Horacio, third person limited for any number of characters, and occasionally third person omniscient. This novel is often referred to as a contranovela.

“Surpass the subjective clauses of objectivity to reach the human soul in its purest state of nakedness.”

Plot (Book I)

As the book opens, Horacio Oliveira, the narrator, is wandering the bridges of Paris alone one afternoon. He observes the various happenings around him and considers how different Paris is from his native Argentina. That evening he meets up with his lover, Lucía La Maga, and the two of them wander Paris together. That evening they meet up with their friends, a group affectionately referred to as ‘The Serpent Club,’ as they do almost every night. The Club passes the time taking drugs, dissecting literature and philosophy, and listening to jazz records.

During their late-night discussions, they meander their way from subject to subject with ease. Though Horacio is the newest addition to the group, he is easily the most well-versed in literature and in philosophy, surpassing even the arrogant Gregorovius Ossip. All the members have their strengths and weaknesses, generally based on their various nationalities. However, unlike Horacio and the other members of the Club, La Maga is neither well-read nor articulate, and she often needs the others to explain concepts to her. Her insistence on staying in the realm of reality while the others deal primarily with abstracts distances her from the group and foreshadows her eventual disappearance.

After Horacio and La Maga have been living together in their Paris flat for several months, La Maga’s son, Rocamador, is sent from the children’s hospital in Belgium because La Maga cannot pay his bills. Though La Maga is initially interested in seeing her son again, his treatment is so complex and time-consuming that she becomes a very disaffected mother and only tends to him when his crying cannot be ignored. Only when he becomes deathly ill does she even allow him to sleep in the flat’s only bed, rather than on a cot on the floor.

Horacio does not enjoy having Rocamador in his and La Maga’s flat, since he is reminded of La Maga’s previous affairs by her son’s presence. One afternoon, Horacio decides that because Ossip so frequently explains his philosophical quandaries to La Maga, the two of them must be having an affair. He decides that since La Maga is cheating on him, he can begin seeing an old girlfriend of his, a woman named Pola who lives in northern Paris. When La Maga finds out about Horacio’s affair with Pola, she crafts a voodoo doll out of wax and sticks pins through the chest, hoping Pola will have a heart attack and die. Instead, Pola develops breast cancer.

Horacio goes to see Pola and comes back to find Ossip in the flat with La Maga. Though La Maga did not sleep with Ossip, she expects Horacio to be angry with her. Instead, Horacio and Ossip begin a deep discussion of Rousseau. Soon after, Ronald, Babs and Étienne arrive at the flat with news that Wong had a bad reaction to the drugs he was doing and had to go to the hospital. Horacio greets the news with his typical stoicism and offers mate to the Club to calm down. During this discussion, Horacio finds out that Rocamador has died, but does nothing about it. After a while, La Maga finds that the kid has died and becomes hysterical, and Babs tries to calm her down while Horacio nonchalantly leaves the flat. Babs tells the men that they should all leave, seeing as they will have to call the police and they are fairly inebriated. La Maga holds a funeral for Rocamadour. All the members of the Club except Horacio attend the funeral. By the time Horacio stumbles back to the flat, several days have gone by and he finds that La Maga is gone and Ossip is in control of the flat. Ossip suspects that La Maga might have returned to Montevideo, but Horacio doubts that she has enough money to do so. Horacio is angry, in his disaffected literary sort of way, and tells an insipid Ossip, “I hate stupidity.”

Horacio suspects that La Maga may have killed herself, and goes to look for her at the park. There he finds a 'clochard' (a homeless woman), and has a conversation with her about "La Maga". He then has sex with her in the park, a point at which he is arrested by the police.

Plot (Book II)

Horacio goes back to Buenos Aires, and his friend Traveler (who hasn't traveled much) goes to pick him up. Traveler and his wife Talita work as administrators for the circus, and when Horacio’s work as a fabric seller falls through Traveler arranges for his friend to begin work at the circus. Soon after, however, the owner of the circus kills the counting cat and sells the entire operation to a Brazilian businessman. Traveler and Horacio decide to go work at the mental institution. Since La Maga left, she has become an icon for him, a memory entirely lionized and separated from reality.

Because Horacio feels incapable of being open with Traveler – he considers the man to be far below himself in life experience – he begins to relate almost exclusively to Morelli and wonders if he too is going slowly insane. He tries to ask his superior about symptoms of mental illness, but the doctor either refuses to or does not hear him. When Talita begins working at the institution as well, Horacio begins to associate her with La Maga, so much so that he twice calls her Lucía and begins to tell himself that the two women look very much alike.

One night when Traveler is asleep, Horacio watches Talita wander out to the street and play hopscotch with a pebble. Horacio invents a story of La Maga doing the same thing. When he tells Talita the story, she grows angry, thinking that he is trying to steal her away from Traveler. Quickly, however, she realizes that Horacio can no longer distinguish between her and La Maga in his mind. She attempts to tell Traveler about this, but he simply chalks it up to the mate.

A few days later, Horacio notices Traveler walking with La Maga (Talita) down the avenue. Angry that Traveler has been keeping the secret of La Maga from him, he shouts down to him and the two angrily discuss their similarities, differences, and various levels of sanity. Suddenly Horacio notices that La Maga (Talita) has stopped in the third square, just as happened in his (possibly) false memory.


The main character, Horacio Oliveira, is a well-read and loquacious bohemian. He is a spectator and spends most of his time philosophizing. At first it seems Horacio is content merely to exist but really he is desperately searching for a purpose to his life.

For lack of an alternative, La Maga becomes Horacio's life-purpose. She is a beguiling, profound, and improvisational woman. La Maga develops into a muse and a lens for Horacio--inspiring him to examine himself and Paris more thoroughly. She is a point of origin for Horacio and the novel itself.

When Horacio returns to Argentina he is greeted by his old friend Traveler. Traveler holds a steady job and is happily married. He has chosen to participate in society where Horacio feels contempt. Though friends, Traveler and Horacio are foils. Horacio even refers to Traveler as his "doppelgänger."

Other major characters include Talita, Traveler's wife; Rocamadour, La Maga's son; Pola, Horacio's lover; and the members of the Serpent Club: Ossip, Wong, Ronald, Babs and Étienne.

Main themes

*Order vs. Chaos: Horacio says of himself, "I imposed the false order that hides the chaos, pretending that I was dedicated to a profound existence while all the time it was the one that barely dipped its toe into the terrible waters" (end of Chapter 21). Horacio's life follows this description as he switches countries, jobs, and lovers. The novel also attempts to resemble order while ultimately consisting of chaos. The book possesses a beginning and an end but traveling from one to the other seems to be a practically random process. Horacio's fate is just as vague to the reader as it is to Horacio himself. The same idea is perfectly expressed in improvisational jazz. Over several measures, melodies are randomly constructed by following loose musical rules. Cortázar does the same by using a loose form of prose, rich in metaphor and slang, to describe life.

*Horacio vs. Society: Horacio drifts from city to city, job to job, love to love, life to life, yet even in his nomadic existence he tries to find a sense of order in the world’s chaos. He is always isolated: when he is with La Maga, he cannot relate to her; when he is with the Club, he is superior; when he is with Traveler and Talita, he fights their way of life. Even when with Morelli, the character he relates to most, there exists barriers of patient and orderly. Order versus chaos also exists in the structure of the novel, as in Morelli’s statement, "You can read my book any way you want to” (556).

*Isolation and loneliness: Cortázar uses a quick, succinct, vignette chapter style that paints brief images for the reader without relying too much on plot. At one point in the novel Horacio witnesses a car accident. It is said of the victim that "he doesn't have any family, he's a writer." Horacio is stunned by the way violence brings the community together. Medics rush to the scene in an ambulance and speak "friendly, comforting words to him." Violence and conflict continually bring characters together in "Hopscotch." For instance, Talita's crossing of the bridge and Horacio's stunt at the conclusion of the novel.

*The conundrum of consciousness (99): One of the biggest arguments between Horacio and Ossip, one that threatens to put a rift in the club, is what Horacio deems “the conundrum of consciousness.” Does art prove consciousness? Or is it simply a continuation of instinctual leanings toward the collective brain? Talita argues a similar point in her seesaw-questions game with Horacio, who believes that only when one lives in the abstract and lets go of biological history can one achieve true consciousness.

*The definition of failure. Horacio’s life seems hopeless because he has deemed himself a failure. La Maga’s life seems hopeless because she has never worked to resolve the issues of rape and abuse in her childhood. Traveler’s life seems hopeless because he has never done what he wanted to do, and even the name he’s adopted teases at this irony. But none of these people are considered by outward society to be failures. They are stuck where they are because of their own self-defeating ideas.


Short chapters also express the idea that there is no penetrating purpose to the novel and life in general. For Horacio, life is a series of artistic flashes where he perceives the world in a profound way but still remains unable to create anything of value. Other major themes include obsession, madness, life-as-a-circus, the nature and meaning of sex, and self-knowledge.


External links

* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxqwaJfDMxM Julio Cortázar on Charlie Parker, Art and Dylan Thomas (Circa 1958-63)]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDfYG0BIsjA Julio Cortázar talks about Paris (Circa 1963-67)]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X09XmRqIjPw Julio Cortázar Interview Regarding Hopscotch (Circa 1967-77)]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR547ALtbAY Lost in Paris with Julio and Carole (Circa 1977-82)]

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