In Ana Castillo's So Far From God, where does the author use "Magic Realism?"

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In So Far From God, author Ana Castillo employs a fast-paced blend of Mexican American and Native American tradition, storytelling, and telenovela drama to relate the struggles of Sofia and her four daughters. Castillo's novel immerses readers in a Chicana feminist sensibility and explores themes such as religious faith, careers, relationships, and encounters with mainstream Anglo culture. Magical realism and its dream-like imagery give readers an expanded way to examine and experience these issues.

A memorable scene that employs a sense of magical realism is the treatment that La Loca receives for HIV. An isolated and sometimes revered person (due to her death and resurrection at age three), La Loca avoids human contact, allowing only her mother and sisters near her. Therefore, how she contracts HIV is unknown and cannot be explained.

La Loca doesn't want to go to the hospital due to the terrible treatments her sister Fe received for cancer; she believes that hospitals are where people go to die. Sofia then calls on Dr. Tolentino, the elderly country doctor and family physician. After an examination, the doctor and his wife diagnose Loca with HIV.

Although he is a Northwestern University educated MD, Dr. Tolentino wants to use a folk tradition to heal Loca. He asks Sofia to have faith in the Holy Spirit (which perhaps they did not have during Fe's treatments, ironically enough). "We are now in the age of Spirit," Dr. Tolentino tells Sofia. He continues, "If we do not have faith altogether, there is no hope for any of us—es decir, en todo el mundo."

After an opening prayer, Dr. Tolentino performs psychic surgery on La Loca: he appears to place his hand into her stomach and extracts a "bloody coagulation" along with a tumor, which he drops into a nearby bowl. Despite his willingness to use this unorthodox method, Dr. Tolentino states he may not be able to cure La Loca because AIDS is a mystery both in its origin and its cure.

The disease is so mysterious and overwhelming that even Doña Felicia, the confident, experienced curandera, admits she may not be able to find a remedy. Dr. Tolentino's psychic surgery might prolong La Loca's life, but he understands that death is inevitable. Loca's situation mirrors the fear and frustration felt by patients and doctors during the height of the AIDS crisis, when its origins were still a theory and a cure did not seem apparent. La Loca's story relates that at that time and place, the illness had to be dealt with through faith.

Yet the doctor's psychic surgery and the other folk remedies the characters employ seem to have some positive effect. When the time does come for Loca to pass, she does so in peace. Despite their struggles and tragedies, the ways Sofia and her daughters deal with the unusual in their lives (and their efforts to find answers centered in folk tradition and in women's power) ultimately lift them from the ordinary to become heroines: dynamic representations of Xicanisma.

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"Magical realism" is not a device that is employed discretely in one part of a novel and not in another. Rather, it is a holistic perspective towards reality that dictates the use of tropes, themes, and literary diction. From the magical realist perspective, life itself is as saturated with magic throughout while being fully real. The mere names of the protagonists of Ana Castillo's novel (Sofia and her daughters Fe, Esperanza, Caridad, and La Loca) alert the reader to the fact that the fictive world of the novel is magical. Sofia means "wisdom; "Fe" means "faith;" Esperanza means "hope;" Caridad means "charity;" and La Loca means, roughly, "the crazy." The novel begins with the death of "the crazy." Even the title of the first chapter is framed in wondrous, magical terms; we are told, for example, that we will hear of an "astonishing occurrence" and that Sofia's daughters are "fated." Astonishment and fate are the products and signs of the magical realist imagination.

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Castillo employs many areas where Magical Realism is experienced.  One example of this would be in the death of Caridad.  Castillo writes that death itself can be seen as an example of magical realism:  "...the end of Caridad and her beloved Emerald, which we nevertheless will refrain from calling tragic."   Caridad's death is one that transcends mortal being, and Magical Realism in the means through which her death is not tragic.  When she dies, there are no remains of her body and the body of her lover, Esmeralda.  Both women jump from a mesa believed to be imbued with divine powers.  In this instance, Castillo has used magical realism to communicate a power beyond death.  The ability for Caridad's death to embrace magical realism helps to explain how she has been able to transcend the brutality and savagery of mortal life. It is through Magical Realism that Caridad is able to establish connection to another world, a spiritual realm that is her pursuit when she is violated and disfigured. Magical realism is evident in how Caridad is able to assume a condition where she is not "so far from God." Magical realism is the way in which Castillo can ensure that characters like Caridad, women who have suffered so much in their time on earth, can find a realm apart from it.  In articulating her death and the conditions that envelop it, Castillo is able to use Magical Realism as a way to provide liberation for characters like Caridad, enabling them to approach a transcendent realm that is so far from them in mortal being.  Through this, Castillo is able to employ Magical Realism as a way of enhancing the novel's characterizations.

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