The term is frequently misunderstood and abused.
realism" is the artful interweaving of unlikely, even impossible events
with recognizably real experiences and situations; the techniques is
not solely the
brainchild of Garcia Marquez. Both the term and the practice have a long if
scattered history dating back to early twentieth-century literature, art, and
criticism. The Colombian's accomplishment consists in his having taken a
tangential, uncertain tradition, absorbing it, and giving it a strong profile
and a key presence in his work. Among the precedents he most often cites is
Kafka's The Metamorphosis (with its
apparent discrepancy between narrative tone and the extraordinary events being
magical realism is different from fantasy, the tall tale, and surrealism. First,
it should he distinguished from
"fantastic literature," a genre that reached a kind of classic status
in the short fiction of Borges and Cortazar, both Argentines. In the specific
case of "the fantastic,” unreal happenings intrude upon daily life and
unsettle the reader, who hesitates as to how to interpret such strange, uncanny
doings and indeed may wonder whether they’ve happened at all.
In addition, Garcia
Marquez's magic-making is different from the formulaic, escapist "sci-fi
fantasy” that we typically associate with cheap, bright-colored paperbacks
stocked on resolving racks in megastores. Garcia Marquez personally dislikes
fantasy: he balks at the facile label "fantastical writer” and defines
himself above all as a realist in his art. The term "magical realism"
quite obviously juxtaposes two distinct, indeed mutually contradictory strands.
What is crucial to Garcia Marquez's art is their deft and vivid fusion in his
clearly eschews the documentary approach of realist fiction and instead gives
expression to the world-view of a rural people living in remote isolation from
the modern developed world. However, the magical realism does not imply that
Latin American reality is somehow inherently magical. The narrator presents
events, not as they actually occurred but as they were perceived and interpreted
by the local people.
Magical realism depends on the intermingling of real and fantastic worlds, and it provides the potential for as many various interpretations as does the work of Kafka. For some readers, the technique leads to allegory; for others, it recounts the destructive, alienating influence on Latin American society; for others, it depicts essential human loneliness and the failure to communicate--even in love; for still others, it is a "total fiction" peculiarly valid for intricate repetitive patterns that refer to folklore and real life but finally create only a fictional universe. Each interpretation draws on the blurring of real and unreal worlds, so that realistic facts become the basis for fiction and fictional manipulation liberates our perspective on reality--a typically modernist method of using the imagination to encourage historical change.
Our first impression
of Marquez’s work is that it functions very close to allegory—specific
elements in the stories seem to be functioning in the upper case--while at the
same time it retains some qualities of the tall tale. Though both of these
elements are certainly present, the story's method is in no way easy to
describe. Magical realism provokes something that all good fiction provokes, a
recognition of the infinite suggestibility of language, but does so in
particularly observable and enchanting ways. Marquez has said that everything he
writes has its source in something that actually happened and that fiction is
"reality represented through a secret code." One of the most
observable tendencies of his magical realism is the use of the "secret
code" of his language to lead the reader--within a sentence, from sentence
to sentence, from paragraph to paragraph--to places that no reader could have
expected to be. He has said that his "real inclination is to be a
conjuror," and indeed, the effect of his writing is to levitate the reader,
to lift the reader out of the world of prior expectations and let him or her
float giddily for a moment before finding ground again.
Magical realism, in
the hands of Garcia Marquez, is a wonderfully supple kind of writing. It
penetrates objective reality to reveal the mysterious and poetic qualities that
underlie the daily lives of the people and communities it describes. His
characters have an aura of woeful futility combined with a wonderful innocence
that lends them much of their essential charm and virtue as fictional creations.
Throughout OneHundred, magic and reality reinforce, support, and depend on each other. Remedios, the Beauty, rises to heaven while saying good-bye, clinging to the treasured monogrammed sheets of the comically snobbish Fernanda (who proceeds to rave about her lost family linens). The rainstorm that lasts five years is blamed on the banana company and is thus only the latest if biggest outrage in a lengthy socioeconomic conflict. In these and many other such instances, magical events are recounted with a calm objectivity, "with a straight face" (one might say), as if what is being reported were merely one more item in what is an ongoing and endless series.
Other sources of
Garcia Marquez's magical-realist imagination are of a local nature and thus are
less known to non-Hispanic readers. Among such materials, one must mention the
rich, popular culture of his native, Caribbean-coastal Colombia, a fascinating
amalgam of African, indigenous, and Spanish-Galician lore. About its folk
legends, home remedies, and far-flung superstitions the author wrote lovingly
and frequently during his days as a greenhorn journalist.