Magic Realism

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How does magical realism express controversial ideology?

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In his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech, Gabriel Garcia Marquez listed a series of ludicrous, preposterous events that occurred in Latin American history.  He maintained that these nonfictional events were no stranger than his magic realism.  Magic realism, in fact, is easier to believe than history.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, we see how magic realism is a precursor to the more tragic and more realistic events in the novel.  For instance, in the early days of Macondo, the citizens suffer from the Insomnia Plague.  One of the major side effects of this plague is that no one can remember anything.  They can't even remember the names of the most common animals or objects.  This comic magical incident has a much more tragic parallel in the Banana Company's massacre of the striking workers.  In this part of the novel, based on a true event, thousands of strikers are killed while others disappear in the middle of the night.  No one, though, seems to remember the incident or have any knowledge of it.  It is as if it never happened. In this way, Garcia Marquez is criticizing Colombian politics, the censorship of its history, and the exploitation of Latin American workers.

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In response to this big question you might like to focus on the link between magic realism as a distinct literary style and movement and how authors used it to comment upon the history and present social ills of their respective nations. There is definitely a political flavour to all magic realism, as the work of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes clear. Focusing on South America alone for one moment, many of the novels of noted proponents of magic relaism focus on the past history of conquest and the present attempts to govern through military dictatorships that result in repetitive cycles of exploitation, torture and abuse of freedoms. Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits is a prime example, as the military dictatorship that seizes power is explored in all of its horror, resulting in a crippling civil war noted for its savagery.

In addition, some magic realist works do not only look to the past and to a country's own problems in the present, but are also harshly critical of Western powers and their exploitation of the developing world. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is in A Hundred Years of Solitude, when workers demonstrating against the conditions that are being imposed upon them by Western companies are killed and thrown into the sea. Such sharply critical messages could be argued to represent a more socialist ideology that stands against the rampant commercialism and globalisation that have allowed so many to profit by taking from those that have little to give in the first place. The way in which magic realism as a literary style thus focuses on blending truth and fantasy forces us to re-examine our own assumptions and world view, giving space for other perspectives to emerge.

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