The turn of the century saw the popularization in Latin American literature a prominent style of narration now known as magical realism. Authors Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel have become household names in this genre. The style however owes its beginnings in Germany’s visual arts back in the 1920s. It was only introduced in the Americas 20 years after and by 1950s, Latin American fiction writing has characterized the use of fantasy in realistic mode (“History”).
German art historian and critic Franz Roh (1890-1965) first referred as “magischer realismus” the images of life behind reality seen in Weimar Republic paintings (1919-33). When Swiss-born Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier (1904-80) published his novel El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of this World) in 1949, its literary style was associated with the use of “lo real maravilloso” (marvelous realism) as it depicted Latin American history and culture with fantasy in realistic touch (“History”).
Ocasio mentioned that such literary style made a wave of following in the works of so-called Boom writers between 1960s and 1970s which included Colombian Gabriel García Márquez (born 1927), Argentinean Julio Cortázar (1914-84), Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa (born 1936), Mexican Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) and Manuel Zapata Olivella (1920-2004) (33). Women authors also made a wave in employing magical realism that included Chilean Isabel Allende (born 1942), Mexican Laura Esquivel (born 1950), Puerto Rican Rosario Ferré (born 1938) and Argentinean Luisa Valenzuela (born 1938).
Today, “realismo mágico” or magical realism refers to any works of fiction with elements of magical events narrated in a very realist and overpowering way that the imaginary becomes accepted as real and as ordinary occurrence embedded in the lives of people (“History”). Myth is being presented as a core truth. There are no strict rules in writing fiction in magical realism style but a common denominator in its structure is the mixed presence of fantasy and facts. Specifically, two worlds meet, coexist and intermarry: the actual world (authentic events, people, time and space) and the magical (imaginary, superstitious, dream or aspiration).
Life cycle, journey and love are common themes in magical realism while the plot revolves in discovery, disillusionment, death or rebirth. Meanwhile, characters in the story live in both worlds being unconscious of the differences between them. They tend to twist conventions of usual concepts of what is normal and what is not. Certain characters maybe confused in their own entanglements but do not act in confused state. Readers may be entangled in the process and this is a natural effect intended by the story or the writer. It must be noted that magical realism while being universal is also culture-specific and that its metaphors and allusions can be best appreciated when studying the conditions implied in the story and applying proper contexts. The writings also offer another view points in history and culture of a people as new images, characters, venues and ideas are presented. This challenges beliefs, spirituality and philosophies in life. Psychologically, the status quo in the particular setting of the story is being put to question.
Gabriel García Márquez, a 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature Awardee, is well-admired for his masterpieces especially the One Hundred Days of Solitude (1967) or Cien años de soledad. Here, Macondo is presented as a fictionalized town of Colombia. Chronicling the lives of seven generations of the Buendía family, it weaves the tragedies and challenges experienced by a people under Spanish colonization and imperial dictatorship. From the adventure of the patriarch José Arcadio Buendía to the last in the bloodline Aureliano (III) and behind historical accounts as well as traditional mystics possessed by the characters, magical realism is highly evident in the novel (Ocasio 45).
First, José Arcadio Buendía saw Macondo as a town of mirrors in a dream reflective of the ideals of Latin American countries in finding their own territories. The first character’s ambition however is paralleled with the conquest of Spain in the Americas. Real events such as the so-called Thousand Days War (1899-1902), the establishment of railway system and the massacre of United Fruit Company striking workers are portrayed in a fantastical manner. Meanwhile, individual errors such as incest, love conflicts and unfounded beliefs in repetitive cycle push the characters in a kind of seclusion that is disturbing and which only leads to self-destruction. In the end, the search for identity and solitude is a constant endeavor. The novel concluded though in the hope of finally rebuilding a town undaunted by the ghosts of its dark past (Ocasio 45).
Likewise, characters in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits or La casa de los espíritus (1982) are haunted by past mistakes and mishaps of four generations of the Trueba family. The main character Clara del Valle Trueba is portrayed to possess supernatural powers such as predicting the future and communicating with ghosts. She plays tarot cards and conducts fortune-telling in a circle of poets and intelligent people giving an impression of being pure and reputable. Meanwhile, narrator Esteban Trueba is a self-made and self-conceited male protagonist who only learned to reconcile with the circumstances of his actions in his last days. His aggressive ways only complicated the turn of events in his life as well as of the people closest to him such as his children and grandchild. Historical experiences in Chile are also embedded in the novel such as mass unrest, military violence, rape of peasants and torture. These are illustrated in all mystery that readers can only fully understand by carefully following hints, images and signs especially when Clara decided to never speak again out of trauma and in protest to Esteban’s actions (Ocasio 46).
Another example of literature featuring magical realism is Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate or Como agua para chocolate (1989). It highlights the undying love of Tita for Pedro who can only show her affection through cooking because in her family tradition and domestic life in Mexico, the youngest daughter is forbidden to marry while her mother is still alive. Pedro was forced to marry Tita’s sister if only to remain close to her.
Tita developed a supernatural power manifested in her cooking. Her emotions overflow in the food that she cooks which eventually affects the feelings of those who partake in her preparations like the sense of lust, insecurity and longing. Every recipe that she made was spiced with her strong feelings. Despite the complications, the story ended with Tita and Pedro finally married. They made love at the kitchen but Pedro shortly died. Tita took a stance of their union by taking in matches that provoked fire in the whole kitchen and the ranch (Ocasio 47).
Magical realism as an art movement and genre of literature did not only exist in Latin America. However, writers from this region have established a period of boom in devising this in fiction writing and contributed to its development in world literature.
Ocasio, Rafael. Literature of Latin America (Literature as Windows to World Cultures). USA:
Greenwood, 2004. Print.
“History”. Magical Realism Info. n.p. n.d. Web. 11 April 2013.