Explain magical realism in literature, relating the genre to Jean Giono's writing.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Magical realism was created in the 1930s as a change from the surreal movement in literature. This surreal period of fiction told the stories as fantasies with no true relation to reality.

In magical realism, there is a "transformation of the common and everyday" into the same world but with miracles, timelessness, and unreal reality.

Definition of Magical Realism

The writer confronts the problems of the story which are found in reality but based in fantasy.  The mysterious events are based in the real world and evolve around man and his circumstances.  The plot of the story circulates around a miracle or oddity; but whatever the problem is has no psychological or logical explanation.  The story will contain fantastical elements, but they are found in the landscape of reality.

Example of Magical Realism

An excellent example of magical realism is “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  An old, dirty man with huge wings is found in the back yard of a poor couple.  He is barely alive.  The doctor examines the man and discovers that the wings are real.  The couple place the old man in a chicken coop where they profit by allowing people who pay to see and touch the angel.  The magical realism expresses the real life situation but with the miracle of the angel. The point of the story is the ill treatment of something so valuable as an angel.

In this type of story, the writer faces the mysterious act or miracle and tries to understand it and its purpose in the real world. He must be careful not to take away the supernatural part of the story which is the controlling element in the story. In these stories, the individual usually has a close relationship with religion or the church. 

The story’s characters will have an admiration for the magic.  Everything involved in the miracle will have a deeper meaning.  Throughout the story, the mysterious being will seem to threaten the tranquility or calmness of the life of the characters. 

The reader will recognize the world as mundane and its appearance is normal. Then, the characters emerge into a different world with a different vision.  Nothing is really as it should be.  The fantasy world is alien to the realistic world.  The metaphoric world aides the magic of the fantastical element as it is found in the realistic landscape.

This type of story has been used primarily by European and Latin American writers. Jean Giono, a French writer, was one of the first to use the style.  He created characters that are rooted in the folklore of rural France. In his story “That My Joy Remain,” a farming couple find that their lives have become dull.  A stranger comes into their lives and helps them understand how to revamp their lives.  The stranger tells them:

Youth is neither strength, nor a supple body, nor even youth as you conceive of it.  Rather, youth is the passion for the impractical or the useless.

With this information the couple invites friends and neighbors into their lives.  Their happiness becomes contagious and their lives become happy again. They plant fields of flowers, a meadow of grain just for the birds, and they set their horses free.

Giono’s beautiful story of magic and a passion for the earth becomes to man “the laws of nature.”

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