Narrative Point of ViewThe story shifts between the First Person Narrator, Michel, and Michel talking about himself in the Third Person. It's clear that it is Michel who is telling the story, that first person narration is the dominant mode and that the third person narration is embedded within the first person narration.
The intriguing question is why Michel tells part of his story in the third person. I would suggest that it is a way to simulate a divided consciousness, a person under mental stress, which is what is revealed by the end of the story.
PlotThe plot is Michel's telling of his experience of taking a photograph of a couple in a park, his subsequent studying a blow-up of the photo, and his discovery of what was really going on. A detective plot in which Michel gradually figures out what was going on in the park, which leads to a traumatic climax. The reader is also in the detective position trying to figure out the meaning of Michel's convoluted and difficult telling of his experience.
- The main setting is Michel's room in Paris where he is looking at the blow-up on the wall as he's writing the story of his experience on a typewriter. The time is the now of the writing of the story.
- The secondary setting is the park area when Michel took the photograph of the woman and the boy. The time is in the past. A Sunday Nov. 7 about a month before the present time of the telling.
CharactersMichel is the central character; the others exist only in the past story he is telling us. The story focuses on what is going on inside Michel. His story of taking the photo in the park and then the subsequent experience with the blow-up reveals in the end that he's had a traumatic experience. We know at the beginning of the story that the narrator is upset and is trying to find a way to tell the story. By the end when he reveals his hallucinatory experience with the blow-up, we see that it has caused him some kind of mental breakdown. His experience of taking the photo of what he thought was a simple seduction scene, and then discovering by studying the blow-up that it was a homosexual seduction by the man in the car becomes for him a overwhelming experience of evil which causes a psychotic break.
At the end we understand that the clouds passing by which he has been seeing from the beginning of his story are the projections of his mind onto the blow-up. At the end he no longer sees the boy and the woman in the photo, but projects an innocent scene from nature onto a blank blow-up in which there are only clouds and birds passing by in the film. This projection indicates his traumatic rejection of what he had seen in the photo.
- Clouds and pigeons.
The reader assumes that the clouds and pigeons are real, that Michel is looking out a window because he constantly interrupts his story to tell us that they are going by. At the end, the clouds and pigeons turn out to be his hallucinations about what he sees in the film he's projecting onto the blow-up on the wall. What were details of what he remembered about the clouds and pigeons that were in the park that day, become, in the present moment of his telling of his story, projections of his mind onto the blow-up.
- Las babas del diablo (The Devil's Drool)
The original title of the story is symbolic of the experience in the park both for the boy in the photo and for Michel. Michel thinks he saved the boy from the Devil. The boy had a close shave with the Devil--almost seduced. So close that he could feel the wetness of the Devil's drool on him. Michel himself has the same experience. He projects himself entering into a movie in which he confronts the Man and is standing almost in the Devil's mouth. He escapes his hallucination by shutting his eyes as the man comes so close that he fills his camera lens. The boy presumably escapes, but does Michel? The suggestion is that this experience of the Devil's drool causes a psychotic break.
- The blow-up.
The blow-up becomes the instrument of revelation. The blow-up reveals that what he thought he saw was in fact something else.
LanguageThe most interesting aspect of the language is the simulation of the consciousness of a psychotic. The form of the story, Michel's difficulty in telling it, some of the non-sense phrases at the beginning, are all ways of simulating a derranged mind.
Michel's language is quite poetic. A number of graceful phrases about the meaning of taking photographs and "seeing."
ThemeIt's easy to become fascinated with Cortazar's tour-de-force in creating the consciousness of a psychotic mind and miss the fact that the major theme is about "seeing," about understanding what one sees.
One can read the story as an initiation story. At the beginning of his story, Michel has great confidence in his own powers of observation--his ability to see and understand what he sees. After all, he's a photographer--his business is capturing the truth--of revealing what's going on--breaking through sterotypes and cliches of sight--to some true vision.
In the park he thinks he sees what's going on--a woman seducing a boy. He's confident in his insight and he decides to capture it with his camera. He is pleased with himself when his act of taking the picture scares the boy off and thus prevents the abuse of the boy by the woman. But later when he looks carefully at the blow-up of the incident, he gradually sees that he had completely misunderstood what was going on--he was blind to the truth of what he had seen. The blow-up reveals to him that it was a homosexual seduction.
It's important to note that Michel creates the film of him watching the film of the boy and the man, and then his own entrance into that film, which once again allows the boy to escape, purely out of his imagination. The details of the blow-up only suggest what was really going to happen. But it didn't because Michel took his photograph. The film is his imaginative story construction out of what was implied in the details of the blow-up.
This insight into his own ignorance and blindness is overwhelming to him and causes him to reject the sight and to retreat into his own psychic projections. He completely erases the contents of the photo from his mind and projects clean peaceful scenes from nature onto the blow-up.
At the beginning of his venture on Sunday Nov. 7, he tells us: "I think I know how to look...." At the end of his traumatic projection of the film in which the man is engulfing him, he screams and says, "I didn't want to see anymore. I shut my eyes."
His confidence in seeing causes him to take the picture. The blow-up sucks him into a reality that shatters his seeing and makes him see something that he didn't want to see.
The issue of why seeing a homosexual seduction (which he prevents) is so traumatic for Michel as to cause a psychotic break is not really answered in the story. It's tempting to t suggest it's a rejection of his latent homosexuality or his fear of such. But the story just doesn't give enough details about Michel to warrant an explanation of why the event was so traumatic. The story seems more interested in presenting the irony of the movement from confidence in seeing to a rejection of seeing. More interested in the ironies of photography and the difficulties of interpreting and understanding the visual.