How is magical realism used in Shoeless Joe?

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Magical realism is the use of supernatural elements in an otherwise normal and ordered world. In Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (the novel that was the basis of the film Field of Dreams), the main character, Ray Kinsella, hears a voice that tells him to build a baseball field. The voice, that of a ballpark announcer, says "If you build it, he will come" (page 3). Ray immediately envisions the field he is instructed to build, including the speakers and lights, in a form of magical realism. As the narrator says, "that is all the instruction I ever received" (page 4). He somehow magically knows how to build the field.

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Magical realism is the use of supernatural elements in an otherwise normal and ordered world. In Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (the novel that was the basis of the film Field of Dreams ), the main character, Ray Kinsella, hears a voice that tells him to build a baseball field....

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The voice, that of a ballpark announcer, says "If you build it, he will come" (page 3). Ray immediately envisions the field he is instructed to build, including the speakers and lights, in a form of magical realism. As the narrator says, "that is all the instruction I ever received" (page 4). He somehow magically knows how to build the field. His construction of the field is another example of magical realism, as supernatural events can occur without reason or explanation. 

The field becomes the home of ghosts from baseball's past. Ray has always been interested in the stories of his father, a baseball fan who loved "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, a player on the 1919 Chicago White Sox team that allegedly threw the World Series when bribed by gangsters. Shoeless Joe was banned from playing baseball as a result of this scandal. Joe and other baseball players materialize on the field, against the backdrop of normal events at the farm. The combination of supernatural events occurring along with everyday events is the hallmark of magical realism. In Shoeless Joe, these events also serve as wish fulfillment, as tourism at the magical baseball games allows Ray to keep his farm, which has been threatened with foreclosure. 

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What are some examples of how magical realism is used in the book Shoeless Joe?

Magical realism (also called magic realism) is a literary movement often associated with Latin-American authors. Magical realism attempts to establish a realistic setting in which fantastic or paranormal events are accepted as part of the natural world order. Characters who encounter "magic" in their world accept it as a real, concrete event, which serves to draw the reader into the author's creation. 

W.P. Kinsella develops magical realism in Shoeless Joe by allowing his characters to discover that their dreams can be realized as long as they are willing to suspend their skepticism and embrace their imagination. 

I would argue there are three seminal moments of magical realism in Shoeless Joe.

  1. After Ray and Salinger talk with the elderly Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, Ray encounters a reincarnation of the younger Graham and decides to help him achieve his dream to play baseball with Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  2. As fans flock to Ray's field to watch the other reincarnated players, Salinger accepts the ballplayers' offer to join them as they disappear into the cornfield.
  3. Ray has a game of catch with his father's younger self, which allows Ray to bury the resentments of his past.

Characters within Kinsella's world accept these events as real, which seems to strengthen the emotional impact of the magical realism in the novel.  

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How is the novel Shoeless Joe an example of the magical realism genre?  

W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe is more widely known in its film adaptation, Field of Dreams. This novel fits the magical realism genre because fantasy elements are presented in a realistic way. Magic meets the mundane setting of an Iowa farm.

To briefly summarize the plot, baseball enthusiast Ray Kinsella hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field on his farm—the famous, “If you build it, he will come” invitation. Ray’s father’s hero, the scandalized late baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson, magically appears to play on the field, along with other dead players. The novel explains neither the mysterious voice nor the fantastic appearance of the players, a common feature of magic realist literature.

A subplot involves Ray seeking out the reclusive writer J.D. Salinger after the mysterious voice tells him, “Ease his pain.” Salinger too has received an elusive message from a possibly supernatural source: “Fulfill the dream.” The novel again asks readers to suspend their disbelief when Salinger and Ray travel to Minnesota to find out information about the deceased Archie “Moonlight” Graham. Ray fantastically encounters 75-year-old Graham, finding himself magically transported to 1955. The next day, Salinger and Ray pick up a young hitchhiker in a baseball uniform who introduces himself as Archie Graham. Again, these magical elements are not explained and coexist with the realism of the mundane world. The reader must accept on faith these detours into dreamlike fantasy. In the sentimental ending of the novel, this magic realism allows Ray to reunite with his deceased father, granting him a redemptive moment to make peace with the past.

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