Magical Realism

Magical realism is a term used in literature to describe a literary mode, rather than a specific genre. Magical realism is distinguished by a paradox of a union of opposites and conflicting perspectives. Magical realism, although assumed to be dominated by Latin American writers, has broadened into an international forum comprising a range of writers.

Examples of opposites that are brought into play in magical realism include subjects such as life and death or precolonial and postcolonial existences. The rational and supernatural are placed together in the literary work, giving different perspectives of reality. Historical and imaginary realities may coexist in the fiction.

Unlike fantasy, magical realism occurs in the realm of a normal world inhabited by real people. When fantastical writing is included, it indicates a contrast between a magical or primeval mentality in contradistinction to what is considered European rationality. Fantasy is included not as "other," but it is presented most often as something accepted and everyday. This complex interrelationship between what is simple and what is complicated appears in magical realist writing.

The term magical realism was created by the German art critic Franz Roh. He considered magical realism to be a system of representation of reality and a response to it through pictorial means. Magical realism became prominent in the 1940s in Latin America, with the creation of a new autonomous literary style, as well as an expressive mode of depicting American reality.

Magical realism comprises a set of characteristics particular to the style. These include hybridity, irony regarding the author's perspective, authorial reticence and the supernatural and natural.

Hybridity refers to a technique used by magical realist writers and is also associated with postcolonialism. Opposites, such as differences between Western and indigenous cultures and urban and rural settings are set up against each other. The purpose of the style of writing is to display reality in a way that expresses a deeper reality than appears in a traditional realist style.

In magical realism, writers place themselves at an ironic perspective from the world view according to a magical orientation while simultaneously respecting the magical world. The distance created ensures that the writer is writing about but not necessarily representing the group or culture.

The notion of authorial reticence implies that the author is not claiming to have a clear and accurate opinion or account of events, nor are the characters guaranteed to be absolutely credible. This method of writing allows a greater acceptance to be achieved with regard to the magical realism presented.

The supernatural and natural interact in magical realism in an integrated fashion. The supernatural is a given and is part of the perceptive realities of the fictive narrator and characters. Thus, although it is understood by the readers of magical realism that the rational and irrational are polarized opposites, there is an interweaving of these realities within the text.

There are certain recurring themes in magical realist fiction. Police, soldiers and sadists play a prominent role in the portrayal of terror and torture. The notion of nonlinear time occurs as the timing of events is seen to be cyclical, happening over and over.

Carnival and the carnivalesque are themes focusing on the body and its senses, as well as human relationships. Locations for carnival are centered around the Caribbean, Europe and North and South America. There is a feeling of festivity with dancing and music. Cultural dress and language features in the carnivalesque display. A brighter positive affirmation of life may be seen in the carnivalesque writing of Latin American magical realist authors.

The social and political aspirations of characters in magical realism exist in an ironic and paradoxical way, with the realization of an improved life rarely occurring. South America is home to political struggles and the striving toward an ideal in magical realist novels. Revolution and political upheaval are dominant themes.

Cultural diversity is respected in the treatment of subject matter that pans many indigenous terrains. References to Western traditions are included, alongside African, Eastern and indigenous American cultures.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ben Okri are two of the most well-known magical realist authors. Other prominent writers of this style are Isabel Allende, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Alejo Carpentier, Syl Cheney-Coker, Kojo Laing, and Toni Morrison. Mario Vargas Llosa, although sometimes described as a magical realist writer, has been classified by critics more as a social-political commentator. He also denies that he is a magical realist.

Marquez, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, displays supernatural motifs, grotesque carnival imagery and paradoxical opposites that characterize magical realist writing. The Famished Road, Okri's magical realist text, incorporates hybridity and ironic distance as techniques. Themes of political struggle and ensuing corruption and notions of power form part of this work.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Lies That Tell the Truth: Magic Realism Seen through Contemporary Fiction from Britain
Anne C. Hegerfeldt.
Rodopi, 2005
Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye
Brenda Cooper.
Routledge, 1998
From Modernism to Postmodernism: Concepts and Strategies of Postmodern American Fiction
Gerhard Hoffmann.
Rodopi, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of magical realism begins on p. 239
Magical Realism: A Narrative of Celebration or Disillusionment? South African Literature in the Transition Period
Grzeda, Paulina.
ARIEL, Vol. 44, No. 1, January 2013
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Defining Magical Realism in Children's Literature: Voices in Contemporary Fugue, Texts That Speak from the Margins
Hammer, Yvonne.
Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, Vol. 16, No. 2, December 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
More Real Than Reality: The Fantastic in Irish Literature and the Arts
Donald E. Morse; Csilla Bertha.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of magical realism begins on p. 214
Latin America, Its Problems and Its Promise: A Multidisciplinary Introduction
Jan Knippers Black.
Westview Press, 1998 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Fantasy and Magical Realism; Experimental Theater" begins on p. 116
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "From Realism to Magic Realism: The Meticulous Modernist Fictions of García Márquez" begins on p. 227
Postethnic Narrative Criticism: Magicorealism in Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, Ana Castillo, Julie Dash, Hanif Kureishi, and Salman Rushdie
Frederick Luis Aldama.
University of Texas Press, 2003
Magical Realism and the Mississippi Delta
Taylor, Art.
The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3, Summer 2004
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Magical Realism and the Legacy of German Idealism
Warnes, Christopher.
The Modern Language Review, Vol. 101, No. 2, April 2006
Margaret Atwood's Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics
Sharon Rose Wilson.
University Press of Mississippi, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Cat's Eye Vision 'Rapunzel' and 'The Snow Queen'"
Conflicting Ideologies in Three Magical Realist Children's Novels by Isabel Allende
Hammer, Yvonne.
Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, Vol. 18, No. 2, December 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Willa Cather and the American Southwest
John N. Swift; Joseph R. Urgo.
University of Nebraska Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of magical realism begins on p. 125
Freeing the Feminine Identity: The Egg as Transformative Image in the Magical Realism of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood
Keating, Christine C.
Making Connections, Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall 2013
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Show and Tell: Identity as Performance in U.S. Latina/o Fiction
Karen Christian.
University of New Mexico Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The 'Boom' in U.S. Latina/o Fiction: Performing Magical Realism in The Love Queen of the Amazon and So Far From God"
Is Magical Realism Dead?
Margolis, Mac.
Newsweek International, May 6, 2002
Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies
John C. Hawley.
Greenwood Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "Magical Realism" begins on p. 283
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