Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

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Aura by Carlos Fuentes is a short, experimental novel published in 1862. In 1965, Aura, like many of Fuentes's works, was translated into English. The themes include magical realism and identity. The novel uses the second person mode of narration, which further enhances the reader's propulsion into the novel's fantasy world.

Magical Realism

Magical realism became popular in the mid-twentieth century. Its major exponents include Colombian Gabriel García Márquez and Argentine Jorge Luis Borges. Magic realism takes its name from the characteristic of these novels to exhibit realistic settings but simultaneously feature magical phenomena (often unexpectedly). In Aura, the protagonist, Felipe Montero, replies to an advertisement in the newspaper looking for a young historian who knows French. Felipe feels as though this applies to him (as he had been a fellow at the Sorbonne). Only after several days does he visit the address posted with the advertisement. Felipe's circumstances and surroundings (down to the number of steps required for him to approach the house) are punctuated by unusual elements (such as when he wakes in the morning to see a group of cats chained together and on fire). He stays at the home of one Doña Consuelo, a very old woman who wants Felipe to curate his collection of her late husband's belongings for a memoir.

Later, Felipe sees Aura (Doña Consuelo's young niece whom Felipe finds beautiful, remarking on her green eyes) mercilessly and without expression beheading a goat. Felipe also notices that Aura seems to age appreciably during his brief stay at their home. The end of the novella finds Felipe experiencing a spirit that controls his movements to the extent that Felipe is eventually not able to control his own body. He makes love with Doña Consuelo, whom he recognizes as Aura.

Identity

The theme of identity is addressed by means of the second person narration, which invites the reader precipitously into the novel's events. Also, Felipe only slowly realizes that Aura is a young Doña Consuelo, and he is a young version of the woman's late husband. The mechanisms by which he recognizes this include descriptions in the man's letters of his wife's green eyes and dress (which Felipe notices as trademarks of the young niece, Aura). He recognizes the likeness of himself in an old photograph of the husband. The focus on identity featured within this magical realist setting prompts the audience to examine and account for its own identity.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

There are several levels of meaning in the novel. On one level, it is a love story in which the desires of youth and beauty triumph over the reality of old age and death. In a basic sense, this is a story of the power of pure desire to overcome the limitations of external reality. On the unconscious level, it is an archetypal parable about the male who is seduced into the loss of the ego, which enables him to enter completely into the world of the woman, for it is indeed the imaginative reality of the female which constitutes both erotic and supernatural transcendence over the external world. Culturally, the story suggests a theme that Fuentes has explored in other works, the simultaneous existence of the old Mexico superimposed upon the new. In fact, “superimposition” is probably the key word for all of these themes, as, gradually, Aura is superimposed on Consuelo and Montero is superimposed on Consuelo’s dead husband.

The novel is narrated in the second person, in the present tense, as if Montero were recounting the events as they occur. For example, as he looks into the eyes of Aura for the first time, he sees them surge and change: “You look into them and tell yourself it isn’t true. . . . But you can’t deceive yourself: those eyes do surge, do change, as if offering you a landscape that only you can see and desire.” This unusual narrative strategy not only creates a sense of gradually engulfing mystery, much like that in a detective novel, but also effectively eradicates Montero’s own personal past and creates a sense of the presentness of the past. Moreover, the second-person narrative stance emphasizes both the concrete detail of Montero’s experience and his growing sense of being lost in a dream reality. As he becomes engulfed in the eerie atmosphere of the old house, the reader becomes absorbed in the eerie tone of the novel itself.

As a historian, accustomed to studying the past as it is preserved in documents—a past, that is, kept at a certain distance—Montero finds himself drawn into a past that is maintained in the present by the imaginative creation of the old Consuelo—a past that is not preserved in historical texts but which lives in the mind and the reality of the other. Although he desires to take Aura outside the occult and hermetically sealed world of the old woman, the imagination and the realm of the sacred prove more powerful than external, profane reality.

The action of the novel hovers uneasily between reality and fantasy, as both Montero and the reader search futilely for realistic explanations for the mystery of Aura and the old Consuelo. Just as Montero is caught up in an increasingly occult reality, so also is the reader, who finally must accept the magical nature of the events and the ultimate reality of the imagination. The sense that the novel has of existing somewhere in between the real world and the world of the imagination is emphasized not only by the gothic house, the occult Aura, and the old Consuelo, but also by Montero’s being caught up in obsessive dreams which become so blended with the fantastic nature of his actual experience that the two realms cannot be distinguished.

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