Study Guide

Magic Realism

Magic Realism Essay - Magic Realism

Magic Realism

Introduction

Magic Realism

Magic realism refers to literature in which elements of the marvelous, mythical, or dreamlike are injected into an otherwise realistic story without breaking the narrative flow. The term is descended from the German phrase magischer realismus, introduced by Franz Roh in his book Nach-Expressionismus (Magischer Realismus): Probleme der neuesten Europaischen Malerei, published in 1925, to describe a school of painting. Later, Latin-American writer Alejo Carpentier coined the term real maravilloso, which built on the idea of magischer realismus and added elements of surrealism. Today there is much discussion and disagreement about what exactly defines magic realism, but most critics agree about the importance of differentiating between magic realism and other genres that employ the marvelous, such as fables and fairy tales. Unlike those genres, magic-realist texts generally feature the fantastic in a way that does not distinguish between realistic and nonrealistic events in the story and does not result in a break in the narrator's or characters' consciousnesses. Magic realism is used by writers around the world, but it is most strongly concentrated in the work of Latin-American writers. Many critics speculate that magic realism appears most often in the literature of countries with long histories of both mythological stories and sociopolitical turmoil, such as those in Central and South America. Still others question the validity of the term at all, maintaining that it is used irresponsibly to describe any work that is not ultra-realistic and that this usage leads to the stereotyping of minority writers. Finally, some critics maintain that the term magic realism is irrelevant given the newer category of postmodernism, in which the narrative stream typically continues uninterrupted despite elements similar to those that appear in magic realism. Regardless, magic realism continues to be employed by writers as diverse as Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Salman Rushdie, and W. P. Kinsella, each of whom brings a variety of personal, social, and political concerns to the genre.

Representative Works

Isabel Allende
La casa de los espíritus [The House of the Spirits] (novel) 1982
Los cuentos de Eva Luna [The Stories of Eva Luna] (short stories) 1990
El plan infinito (novel) 1991

Jorge Luis Borges
Ficciones (short stories) 1962
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (short stories and essays) 1964

Alejo Carpentier
The Lost Steps (novel) 1953
El reino de esté mundo [The Kingdom of This World] (novel) 1949

Leonora Carrington
Le Cornet acoustique [The Hearing Trumpet] (novel) 1974
The Stone Door (novel) 1978

Angela Carter
Shadow Dance (novel) 1966; also published as Honeybuzzard 1967
The Magic Toyshop (novel) 1968
Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (short stories) 1974; also published as Fireworks: Nine Stories in Various Guises, 1981
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (short stories) 1980

Julio Cortázar
Final del juego (short stories) 1956

Mia Couto
Voices Made Night (novel) 1986

José de la Cuadra
Los Sangurimas (novel) 1934

Laura Esquivel
Like Water for Chocolate (novel) 1989

Timothy Findley
Not Wanted on the Voyage (novel) 1984
The Telling of Lies (novel) 1986

Carlos Fuentes
Terra Nostra (novel) 1975

Gabriel García Márquez
Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude] (novel) 1970
The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother (novella) 1984

David Grossman
See Under: Love (novel) 1986

Jack Hodgins
Spit Delaney's Island (short stories) 1976
The Invention of the World (novel) 1977

Alice Hoffman
Property Of (novel) 1977
Illumination Night (novel) 1987
At Risk (novel) 1988
Seventh Heaven (novel) 1990
Turtle Moon (novel) 1993
Second Nature (novel) 1994
Practical Magic (novel) 1995

Susan Kerslake
Middlewatch (novel) 1976

Maxine Hong Kingston
China Men (novel) 1980

W. P. Kinsella
Shoeless Joe (novel) 1983
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (novel) 1986

Robert Kroetsch
What the Crow Said (novel) 1983

Ann-Marie MacDonald
Fall on Your Knees (novel) 1996

Gwendolyn MacEwen
Noman (short stories) 1972

Steven Millhauser
Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer (novel) 1972
Portrait of a Romantic (novel) 1977
In the Penny Arcade (short stories) 1986
The Barnum Museum (short stories) 1990

Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon (novel) 1977
Beloved (novel) 1988

Gloria Naylor
Mama Day (novel) 1988

Ben Okri
The Famished Road (novel) 1991

Michael Ondaatje
Running in the Family (novel) 1982

Salman Rushdie
Midnight's Children (novel) 1981

André Schwarz-Bart
Le dernier des Justes [The Last of the Just] (novel) 1959

Ntozake Shange
Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (novel) 1982

Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony (novel) 1977

D. M. Thomas
The White Hotel (novel) 1981

Mario Vargas Llosa
The Green House (novel) 1966

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

Scott Simpkins (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Magical Strategies: The Supplement of Realism,” in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 140-54.

[In the following essay, Simpkins attempts to define magic realism and argues that the genre is hindered by linguistic limitations.]

Magic realism seems plagued by a distinct dilemma, a problem arising primarily from its use of supplementation to “improve” upon the realistic text. The source of this nagging difficulty can be attributed to the faulty linguistic medium that all texts employ, and even though the magic realist text appears to overcome the “limits” of realism, it can succeed only partially because of the frustrating...

(The entire section is 6055 words.)

Liam Connell (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: “Discarding Magic Realism: Modernism, Anthropology, and Critical Practice,” in ARIEL, Vol. 29, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 95-110.

[In the following essay, Connell argues against the use of the term “magic realism,” maintaining that it serves to stereotype the works of certain writers as primitive and “Third World.”;]

The formal characteristics of a literature described as Magic Realist are hard to distinguish from the formal characteristics of early-twentieth-century Modernism; to that end, attempts to keep these movements distinct through the categorization of one sort of literature as modern and another as magical, as well the...

(The entire section is 5733 words.)