Discussand analyze how and to what ends fantasy and reality are intertwined in storiesyou have studied. In this essay, we will discuss how magical realismuses elements of real and of magic to create the literary style. At first, wewill try to give a background of what magic realism, where it comes from, andhow a story can be labelled as such. Alejo Carpentier’s “Viaje a la semilla” and Julio Cortazar’s “La noche bocaarriba” will be our focus.
The analysisof the two stories will attempt to generalize what elements of real andfantastic are in most, if not all of “lo real maravilloso.”Before we analyse how magical and real elements areused in short stories, we first need to point out the definition of thisliterary style. Magical realism was first coined by German Franz Roh in 1925 torefer to a style of painting. Later, Alejo Carpentier took the term andexpanded on it thanks to his early influences of surrealism.
Carpentier was infact was not satisfied by his poor contribution to surrealism, so he took ideasfrom the literary approach. The South American termed the new literary style as”lo real maravilloso.”Even up to now, there is still no agreement on a cleardefinition of what exactly defines a story as magical realism. However, thereis common agreement on the distinction between it and purely fictional stylessuch as fairy tales and fables. Unlike them, magical realism has mythical ordreamlike elements injected in realistic stories. Just like fables and fairytales, magical elements do not disrupt the narrative flow by presenting them asexternal and out of the ordinary. The difference is that if the magicalelements were to be taken off, the story would simply seem like a realisticone.
With magical realism, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the magicalbecomes commonplace.There might not be a definite classificatory measurefor distinguishing whether a story is magical realism or not, however, theseoften share in common specific elements. First, as to be expected from storiesthat incorporate both realism and fantastic elements, the story most likelydefies logic or common sense. For example, authors might employ the use ofmyths and legends, or play around with temporal sequences. Second, the mainsetting of these short stories are set in realistic contexts. Particularly inLatin American “real maravilloso,” historic settings and societal concernsoften fill the role for the realistic settings. Third, as explained before,since the magical elements do not interfere with the real ones, the charactersin the short stories do not question the surreal situations.Alejo Carpentier’s “Viaje a la semilla,” or “journeyback to the source,” begins with an old black Cuban man staring at a house inphase of demolition.
When the workers leave for the day, the man is alone andmumbles a spell onto the house. Then, the house magically begins to fix itself.Ruined walls and statues regain their ancient splendour. The old man thenenters the house and into a room where there are people around a bed, mourningthe death of what was at one time the owner of the house.
The dead, DonMarcial, then opens his eyes and wakes up from his eternal slumber, so peopleleave the room. However, as he is now back to life, he worries about thesolicitors who want him to sell the residence. He also mourns the death of hiswife, who later, just like Marcial, comes back from the dead. The two thereforeenjoy their lives together, and so decide to get unmarried.
Thereafter, the twopart ways to live as bachelors once again. Not only the house, but those whohave been in it regain their youth as time passes, in fact Don Marcial decidesto go back to university, but he notices that as he keeps getting younger andyounger physically, so does his mentality. He progressively acts moreimmaturely, things around the house begin to grow taller, while his stature andmental capabilities revert to that of a child, up to a point where he no longeris capable of learning anything at school. One day, in fact, he feels thestrong urge of playing with his childhood toys and is no longer able to talk orstand, so he begins to walk on four like an infant. He and all the elements ofthe house have gone back to how they used to be. The construction of the house,went back to the forest, the statues turned into stones, and Don Marcialentered back into his mother’s womb (hence the title “journey back to thesource.
“)In this story, Carpentier distorts time by narratingDon Marcial’s life milestones backwards. The story is told in a chronologicalorder that follows normal timeline (i.e.
the story is not told backwards likerewinding a video). The story itself still follows normal timeline because atthe end of the story, when the workers come back, they find out that the house disappearedwhile they were gone. The house and those who lived in it were real in thecontext of the story. The black Cuban man represent the link between thereality and the fantastic in this short story.
He and his voodoo embody theinjection of magical elements in a story that would have totally been realistic.Next, we have Cortazar’s “la noche boca arriba” or “thenight face up” in English. The story starts with a man riding his motorbikethrough an urban area. He is very relaxed, perhaps unrealistically relaxed,almost in a magical way. Because of this exaggerated undisturbed state, he doesnot pay enough attention to the road and almost hits a passant, avoiding her bysheer luck.
Therefore, in the attempt to avoid her, he crashes and hismotorbike ends on top of him, which then results in him being hospitalized. In thehospital, the doctors sedate him, so he slowly falls asleep and enters the dreamworld. He has an unusual dream, he is taking part in a flower war and he is manof the Moteca tribe on the run from the Aztecs who want to capture him and usehim as human sacrifice.
He is in the forest trying to not be spotted, so herestlessly lays with his head facing up, hence the title. In the dream, afterhe has laid down, his eyes close and he wakes up back in the hospital. The man isshocked by how vividly terrifying the experience was. However, in the hospital,he falls asleep a few other times, and each time he’s running away in the hopeof not being captured. One last time, after falling asleep in the hospital, hewakes up in the jungle, and the Aztecs have finally caught up on him to the sacrificialaltar.
There, the man is presented in from of the Aztec priest who is wieldinga stone knife. He desperately hopes to wake up in the hospital in vain, so heunderstands that the priest will end him with the knife.The story is a prime example of magic realism. It incorporateselements of reality and magic with the use of dreams. In fact, throughout thetext, the short story seems to be divided into two parallel narrations.
Nevertheless,towards the end, Cortazar uses the climax of the story to reveal which one isthe timeline of reality and which one that of dreams. The first glimpse ofmagic comes from the man’s initial relaxation. He explains that the experienceseems almost unreal and the accident brought him back to reality. Thereafter,the “past” experience takes over the “modern” through a description of realitythat is much more accurate. For instance, the man himself wonders how he could “smellwar” in his dream. Cortazar depictsreality in the dream through a detailed, almost cinematic manner. Ironically, the author uses parallelisms in the story,such as the Aztec priest ending the man’s life, while on the other side; thedoctor was giving him medical attention.
The desperation of the narrator is thereality, while the serenity of the hospital is the magical escapism fromreality. In effect, the distinction between reality and magic is all happeningwithin the narrator’s mind. Just like the reader, the man is to believe thatthe modern world, is reality, while the dream, or better the nightmare was onlyfiction.At first sight, the two stories might seem very different,but in reality they share many similarities. They both have elements which wetalked about earlier in the essay. For instance, both texts play around withthe normal continuation of time.
On one hand, Carpentier’s Don Marcial movesbackwards, as if his death was his birth, while his birth was his death, as ifgoing full circle. On the other hand, Cortazar’s Moteca believed to be a man ofthe twentieth century living a past life, and then realizing that he in factwas a pre-Columbian man dreaming about being a modern man. In this case also,the story almost seems to move in a circular manner, especially since, untilthe end, the reader is guided to move back and forth between the timelines.Next element found in both short stories, and possiblyin all magical realistic stories is the fact that both protagonist are aware ofthe surreal and still do not question it too much. Don Marcial was aware thathe was getting younger and more immature, yet the story continued as if theextraordinary was normal. In contrast, the Moteca was also aware that thedreams were odd, yet at the end he just accepted it.
Third, both stories incorporated some hybriditybetween realism and mythology and legends. “Viaje a la semilla” had voodoo, and “La noche bocaarriba” had Aztec religiosity. Magic derivedfrom the folklore, and superstition from which the main “real story” timelinecame from. In conclusion, real elements are the basis for magicrealism, while the fantastic is a hyperbole of this reality.
However, just likein fable and fairy tales, characters and narrations are not distracted from thenatural flow of the story, as the fantastic is incorporated as commonplace.