Magical Realism

2 February 2017

Two of the most widely recognized major contributors to Latin American Literature are Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Isabel Allende’s Eva Luna. Both are written in the genre of magical realism, a literary form that describes fantasy and imaginary events in such a way that it becomes believable and real to the reader. Specifically, these books describe the geopolitical turmoil of Latin America during the early twentieth century and the mid twentieth century; respectively, dealing with war, suffering and death.

Although the authors are of different genders, both of these books are written from a feminist perspective and merge fantasy with reality by introducing the reader to myths, prophecies, and legends that coexist with technology and modernity. In these two books, figurative language is used to address some of the most difficult and meaningful themes, such as: magical realism, fortitude and feminism, and time. Both books use magical realism to portray the harsh truth of everyday reality in an oppressive Latin American environment.

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In order for Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende to express their opinions and move for social change, they intertwined myth and magic into reality in order to make it difficult to distinguish the boundary between reality and fiction. Marquez uses magical realism to catch your attention from its very first pages. One Hundred Years of Solitude takes place in a mythical Latin American town called Macondo and tells the story of its founders Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula Iguaran, who are first cousins.

Due to previous inbreeding between Ursula’s aunt and Jose’s uncle that produced a pig-tailed boy, Ursula wore a chastity belt for the first eighteen months of marriage. Macondo started as a rigid, dirty town but became modernized in only a few short years with the help of Jose Arcadio Buendia when the town became acquainted with the gypsies and was influenced by their technology. Melquiades, the main gypsy, sold Jose Arcadio Buendia many of his products, including a telescope in which he proclaimed, “In a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his house” (Marquez p. ). Jose Arcadio Buendia became completely absorbed by Melquiades’ products and so convinced that he spent Ursula’s gold coins “that her father had put together over an entire life…” (Marquez p. 3). Melquiades reportedly, “had survived pellagara in Persia, scurvy in the Malayan archipelago, leprosy in Alexandria, beri beri in Japan, bubonic plaque in Madagascar, an earthquake in Sicily, and a disastrous shipwreck in the Strait of Magellan” (Marquez p. 5). It was at this point that Macondo changed not for the better, but for the worse. Modernity entered the town with devastating effects and concluded the town’s destruction.

Throughout the remainder of the book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez exaggerates every event with fantasy to gain a sense of reality. The fantasies range from literally extraordinary and not possible, to the extremes of physically unlikely. Examples of the first include the whole village contracting the insomnia plaque, the ability of Jose Arcadio Buendia to be chained to an oak tree for years in implement weather with little food or drink, reproduction of farm animals on a daily basis, and Melquiades written epigraphs on parchments detailing Macondo’s fate over the next one hundred years.

Some other instances of this type include when Colonel Aureliano Buendia shot himself in the chest and the bullet exits through his back without injuring a single vital organ and when Ursula Iguaran determined the rotation of the sun by the shadows it casted, even though she was blind. The next level of unreality is the use of hyperboles to exaggerate things in order to create a strong impression. The exaggeration in this book is almost always numerically specific, for instance, when Ursula Iguaran took over the headship of the family for over one hundred years, when “it rained for four years, eleven months, and two days” (Marquez p. 15), and “an ancient vagabond who was almost two hundred years old…” (Marquez p. 50). On the other hand, there were events that were truly magical, such as Father Nicanor Reyna’s levitation powers and flying carpets. As previously stated, these incidents make it difficult for the reader to distinguish the boundary between reality and fiction. Like One Hundred Years of Solitude, Eva Luna uses magical realism in an oppressed Latin American environment as a means of social change. The book starts out as a myth beginning with its title and character name.

Eva’s name is symbolic itself. Eva, which means “life” and Luna, which is Spanish for “moon” is a symbol of the matriarchal power that women possess. The opening of the book places us in a world of magic to displace us from reality. “The mission was a small oasis in the heart of an expanse of voluptuous vegetation writhing and twisting from the banks of the river to the feet of the monumental geologic towers that rose toward the firmament like one of God’s mistakes” (Allende p. 2). In addition to Eva’s name being symbolic, her conception was brought about by magical realism.

Eva was conceived as her Indian father lay dying from a venomous snake bite. Consuelo, Eva’s mother, became aware that notwithstanding pain, fear of death, and shortness of breath, the gardener responded with ardent enthusiasm when she rubbed his body…that unexpected erection so moved her mature virgin’s heart…. ” (Allende p. 18). Against the odds, he began to improve. Without realizing it, Consuelo discovered “an antidote for poisonous snakebites, and continued to administer it with tenderness and enthusiasm as often as requested, until the patient was once again on his feet” (Allende p. 9). Throughout Eva Luna, Isabel Allende continues to use vivid imagery and evocative language, creating the basis for magical realism in depicting Eva’s everyday life. Her language actually allows the reader to hear, taste, see, and smell the world just as the characters do. Since her miraculous conception, Eva goes on a journey of discovery undergoing many magical transformations from an orphan, to a servant, to a liberator, rescuing her love, Rolf Carle, saving lives and living to tell about it.

When she tells her stories about the past, “the room filled with light; the walls dissolved to reveal incredible landscapes, palaces crowded with unimaginable objects”…she was reduced “to the size of an ant so I could experience the universe from that smallness; she gave me wings to see it from the heavens; she gave me the tail of a fish so I would know the depths of the sea” (Allende p. 22). A second theme that transcends both of these books is fortitude and feminism. In Eva Luna, the most obvious example of fortitude is Eva Luna herself.

Born to an unmarried servant through a miraculous conception, Eva spends most of her life working to live and helping those around her since the death of her mom at age six. Despite her young age and lack of experience, she stood up for herself when necessary. One specific instance was when Eva “had snatched the dona bald-headed. ” The “entire mass of brittle hair lay in my hands like a dying fox” (Allende p. 61). This trait made it almost impossible for her to fail in achieving her dreams. She overcomes many obstacles in her life but never questions them, she simply does what she has to do and leaves it at that.

It is this attitude towards life that gives her strength and guides her. Other characters that exhibited fortitude in the book were Mimi, formally known as Melesio, Rolf Carle, and Halabi. Melesio left behind his home and vicious father to teach Italian in the capital and to work in the cabaret. The turning point in his life was when he was arrested and spent many years in Santa Maria Prison being abused by other inmates. Realizing that performing is what he loves, Melesio transformed himself into Mimi once he was released from prison and eventually achieved great fame and found someone that loves him for who is truly is.

Rolf Carle shows great fortitude when he leaves the hands of his abuser father and travels to South America to live with his uncle and aunt. Although the abuse from his father initially portrays Rolf as being weak, it actually makes him stronger and gives him the ability to triumph and pursue his dreams. It showed Rolf that the weak can overcome the strong if there is enough will and courage. Halabi, who was born with the curse of a cleft lip, creates his life and overcomes adversity through his line of work in sales.

He displays fortitude by approaching and seeking people out instead of avoiding them because of his deformity. The prominent figures representing fortitude in One Hundred Years of Solitude are Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran, the founders of Macondo who remained its most important citizens. Jose oversaw the village’s creation and decided how life was going to be lived there. He was a curious man with unending endurance and flair for exploration and of sciences who saw the gypsies’ inventions as a way to make money and modernize the town, despite constant humiliation from the townspeople and arguments from Ursula.

His obsessions with progress affected the whole village. His constant quest eventually causes him to lose his mind and to be tied to a tree for the remainder of his life. Jose’s strengths and weaknesses are displayed throughout the remainder of the book through the Buendia male lineage, starting with his sons Jose Arcadio and Aureliano Buendia. In contrast to her husband, Ursula Iguaran was practical and possessed with commonsense. She became the matriarch for over one hundred years after Jose lost his senses, spending her entire life looking after the family.

Despite the civil war and the banana massacre, she remained tenaciousness and spent her entire life trying to maintain the morals, values, and beliefs within their culture. Ursula constantly struggled to maintain order despite chaos. One additional character also displayed fortitude, Aureliano Buendia. He inherits his father’s strength and strong ethical sense, becoming one of the greatest and most notorious rebels in the country, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, starting thirty-two revolutions and surviving them all.

The town remained linked to the outside world because of the fame of Colonel Aureliano Buendia. Feminism was already strong in the beginning of both books. The books’ female characters, Ursula Iguaran in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Eva Luna from Eva Luna emerge as protagonists in their own right. For example, Ursula attains power through her roles as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, rather than by means of violence. Her dominance extended beyond the home and she used it as a way to contend in the patriarchal society, gaining influence and power.

Besides Eva Luna’s name representing matriarchal power, she adopts different identities of being a mother, daughter, and sister on her quest to be equivalent to men in order to restore balance, defeat death, and rid gender imbalance in a patriarchal society. The roles and behaviors of their characters are symbolic of female solidarity in a Latin American society. The final theme that is apparent in both books is time. Although the same theme is displayed, this is what contrasts and distinguishes one from the other.

There are two types of time: linear and cyclical. Marquez’s title of One Hundred Years of Solitude implies a cycle of time, which sees the future by remembering the past. The future of Macondo takes its shape based on the actions of the past. This book tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of this mythical town through the history of the Buendia family, who experiences never-ending repetitions of tragedy, just as history repeats itself. Macondo evolved and was destroyed by a self-fulfilling prophecy of breeding a pig-tailed child.

This prediction not only foretold the future of Macondo, but actually affected it. Marquez uses the power of magical realism of the five years of rain after the Banana Massacre to culminate the beginning of the end of this prophecy, which washed away all traces of technology or modernity. This power is last seen when Aureliano has a pig tailed child and deciphers the foretold prophecies of the family’s destruction in the parchment papers written by Melquiades, reducing the town to its original barren, uninhabited form of filth.

Eva Luna on the other hand takes us through Eva Luna’s life journeys in a more linear fashion during the political turmoil in Latin America. Despite war and political and social change, the towns continue to thrive and exist within their environment. In conclusion, the major themes in Eva Luna and One Hundred Years of Solitude are evident through the structure and language of the narrative, characterization, contrasting elements of time and change of the environment and society politically with the use of storytelling.

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Magical Realism. (2017, Feb 27). Retrieved November 18, 2019, from https://newyorkessays.com/essay-magical-realism-3/
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