A Yellow Flower by Julio Cortazar: A Take on Continuity of Life and Existential Angst

Julio Cortazar, the renowned Argentinean writer has written many a famous short stories and novels. Known for his surreal style and fantasy laced tales; Julio Cortazar’s stories have a recurring dark theme of continuity of life, alternate surreal reality and existential angst.  The characters of his novel often get trapped in the tales they themselves weave thus creating an illusionary alternate reality. The narration itself is so absorbing that readers tend to get a feel of both real and the surreal alternate world everyone is trapped in. There is no escape from existential angst in either worlds. Many a tales of Cortazar have been adapted into films by renowned film makers like Michelangelo Antonioni and Godard. There is a universal cinematic appeal since most of his characters and tales are spun out of everyday common life  occurrences.

Cortazar’s short story ‘A Yellow Flower’, in his book Blow-up and Other Stories has a unique take on continuity of life and existential angst. The protagonist of the tale perpetually ponders upon mortality, immortality, reincarnation and death through his own surreal experience. The tale begins in a bar where a man narrates how he had met his own future self, a thirteen year old boy who resembled him on a bus one day. The man obsessively follows the boy everyday and finds the boy leading a similar life and going through similar phases, injuries, diseases like he had when he was young. Convinced that he was actually seeing his own next life, the man tries to intervene and stop the boy from slipping into similar repetitive futile meaningless life and realizes that there was no real escape from meaningless mundane life. There would be someone else after this boy reliving the same repeated failed life. The continuity of life was nothing but repeated futile existence from which there is no escape.

The actual surreal twist happens when he sees his future self die. The man finds himself happy that the recurring futile chain of his existence now is terminated. That’s when he comes across a beautiful yellow flower and suddenly realizes that meaning of death was not mortality or immortality or reincarnation. The true meaning of death was nothingness. The world would exist even after he ceases to exist. There will be no beautiful yellow flowers only for him after his death.  He  once again frantically re embarks on buses to search once again for lives resembling his own stupid imbecilic abortive life as if seeking to get a hold of the chain of life again.

There can be no better tale or narration about existential angst and death. We all are in a way condemned to live a stupid repetitive life resembling to lives of many people around us. There may not be anything unique or worthwhile to uphold except for the occasional yellow flower, a connectedness to the beauty which lies buried in all the ugliness.


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  • http://akismet.com/ Mae Gillispie

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  • Martin Gregus

    This summary, unlike others, reflect my own feelings I got from the novel. The most important part, when a yellow flower appears is often understood as a moment of relief and happiness however I view it as the summit of existential angst a confrontation with a life which will come to an end and nothing will substitute it. And while this life itself is miserable is the only place where we can be confronted with a simple and pure beauty which, while present can ease our pain and when it is about to be gone, it strikes us with even more powerful desperate melancholy

    • becca

      a yellow zinnia can mean “daily remembrance” in Argentina. There are different meanings for different flowers of course, but i think that fits pretty well, don’t ya think?