Julio Cortazar Short Stories
The Distinction Between Wishing and Wanting: “The Island at Noon”
“The Island At Noon” by Julio Cortazar follows main character Marini, who works as a flight attendant flying over the Aegean sea and wishes to travel to an island he observes out the window. However, when he makes it to the island, while he finds it as beautiful as he thought it would be, the story ends with his ambiguously set death. This uncertainty and the reader not being allowed to experience it fully through Marini’s eyes leads them to question what happened. Did Marini die on the plane or the island? Did the plane crash? What happens to the mind after death? To elaborate on the previous question, what would happen if one dies while dreaming? To explore this idea, Cortazar wrote the story solely from Marini’s point of view, preventing the readers from gaining outside knowledge of the situation. He limits the written dialogue to the very beginning, before the idea of playing with reality is brought up at all, and ends with what he thinks would happen if one is unable to differentiate between truth and fiction. Cortazar wrote from Marini’s perspective to limit the reader’s ability to accurately differentiate between reality and fantasy and to show the danger of being stuck in a dream and forgetting to live.
Cortazar only shows the reader Marini’s perspective to keep them in the dark to what exactly is going on. One of the last piece of dialogue is said by a stewardess to our main character: “It won’t last five years… Hurry up if you’re thinking of going, the hordes will be there any moment now. Genghis Cook is watching” (91-92). This snippet of a conversation does not provide the reader with new information that would not have been provided later on and only speeds up the realization that Marini desires to go to the island. Dialogue is often crucial for providing insight on side characters or, more importantly for this story, main characters. Cortazar’s decision to exclude further conversations mentioned in the story confines the reader from then on to Marini’s point of view and his perception of the world, be it through a lens of fantasy or the cold truth of reality. Even the previous conversation remained mostly factual as Marini attempts to figure out which island, in particular, he keeps noticing at noon: “All those islands look alike. I’ve been doing this route for years, and I don’t care a fig about them. Yes, show it to me next time” (91). Once again, this information could have been derived from the fact that only Marini took predetermined time out of his work for sightseeing and that none of the others ever paused to pay attention to Horos or Xiros, or any of the other islands. Furthermore, on the island itself, there is only one word explicitly spoken, “Kalimera” (meaning good day), keeping the island and the people as unknown as possible. The reader does not know what Klaios thinks of Marini, what words Ionas is teaching Marini. Because of this lack of conversation, one only knows Marini’s perspective and can’t compare to other characters’ and therefore is not able to differentiate between reality and fantasy. On the last page, the reader receives the last piece of dialogue in the story; a woman saying “Close his eyes” after following Klaios and his sons to spot a dead body on the beach. In this moment, both the reality of death and the fantasy of the island have created a new reality of being dead on the island. Because Marini is dead, he has no more fantasies. He only has his reality, signified by the woman speaking.
Marini’s limited point of view prevents readers from recognizing the shift from reality towards the imagination of the main character. That is, until details from reality jar them from the idyllic island scene. When Marini reached the island, “they [Klaios and his sons] left him alone to go load the small boat, and after tearing off his traveling clothes and putting on bathing trunks and sandals, he set out for a walk on the island” (95). Through the quote and Marini’s actions, the reader is led to believe that our main character has managed to get to the island. Additional information from Marini’s point of view, such as “the iodine of the wind” (95) and a “green spot… where the smell of thyme and sage were one with the fire of the sun and the sea breeze” (97) only add on to the evidence that this is reality, that Marini was able to fulfill his dreams of being on the island at noon. However, as he laid on his back, “and looked vertically at the sky, far away he could hear the hum of an engine” (97). From such a distance, even if Marini had been capable of hearing the rumble of a plane, the quiet hum of an engine would have been overpowered by the propellers it ran. This detail allows the reader to begin to finally realize that the entirety of what Marini thought happened on the island did not occur in real life. In fact, Marini has never set foot on the island.
Cortazar explores the idea of what happens if one gets trapped in his/her dream, remaining in it for far longer than they should. Just as the bloody body seems to die and Klaios’ sons run out and gather around it in the sand, Marini seems to disappear from the story, as if he was never there: “As always, they were alone on the island, and the open-eyed corpse was all that was new between them and the sea” (98). Klaios and his sons being alone on the island, further proves that Marini had imagined his exploration of the island and learning new words with Ionas if the reader had not realized that already. The story leaving the corpse with its eyes still open points to the idea of realization, of finally understanding that Marini’s death transpired without him ever genuinely visiting the island. Because Marini finally understands what is reality and what is not, due to his still open eyes, so do we, as no further mention of Marini is made once Klaios, his sons and the other women rush to the plane wreck.
In keeping the reader’s point of view limited to Marini’s experiences, Cortazar limited his/her ability to differentiate between truth and fantasy. This allows him to show that if one remains stuck in what they want to do rather in what they have, their life would become more and more difficult to bring back to its original quality. He keeps dialogue to a minimum, in order to prevent insight into Marini’s thoughts. However, he leaves clues for where fantasy ended and the real world began at the very end, so that it would be difficult to find the moment when Marini began to imagine things and when he didn’t. Lastly, Cortazar was able to use the development to explore what would happen if the reality of death clashed with the falseness of a dream. Moreover, what happens when anything with an inaccurate facade meets the brutal truth? It collapses; as Cortazar explains, wishes do not make reality.