What is Magical Realism?
In Magical Realism, everyday reality, that means ordinary settings and activities, are infused with magical, mysterious or supernatural events and elements. Therefore the concept of Magical Realism is often described as a “heightened reality”. A technical term for the mixture of reality and fiction is amalgamation (also fusion).
Some critics state that on the one hand the reality represents the European rationality, on the other hand the supernatural stands for the Indian mentality.
The difference between Magical Realism and Fantasy is that the previous one deals with ordinary people living in a normal or rather existing world whereas Fantasy is concerned with creatures that don’t exist and live in an invented world.
Opposites such as life and death or pre-colonial and post-colonial life (for India e.g.) figure prominently in Magical Realism. The science concerning these opposites is called dichotomy.
Furthermore Magical Realism consists of a symbolic and metaphoric structure which enforces the amalgamation of fiction and reality.
The most significant elements of a text written in Magical Realism
Opposites For example light and dark, angel and devil...
Simile Comparison of one thing with another; the words “as/like” are often used -> “He fought like a lion.”
Metaphor Nearly the same as simile, but the comparing word (as/like) is omitted -> “The ballerina floated across the stage.”
Symbol 1. A sign standing for s.th. else -> the cross for the Christian religion
2. An object or action with a deeper meaning; the symbol goes one step further than the metaphor
-> “A lion escaped from the city zoo on the night the revolution broke out.”
Allegory 1. An extended action without sense but which represents other objects or people -> “Britannia, holding her tride and olive branches, guards the shores of Britain.”
2. An extension of the second meaning of a symbol: A story with a meaning in itself which at the same time represents something else symbolically
Motives Subjects or allusions to these subjects which come up again and again in the text, e.g. ‘mutation’ in Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”
Intertextuality Allusions to events, places, people or literal and other types of artworks which are connected to the story in a deeper sense. They’re often very hidden in the text. -> twenty-nine thousand and two feet as an allusion to the Mount Everest, of which the height is 29,002 ft.
Time-switch Switches between past, present and future; time-amalgamations are possible as well
Metafiction A metafiction places the story one level above fiction. As an illustration, a story’s action can suddenly switch from the main character’s adventure to an invented conversation between the author and the reader (of course invented by the author).
Examples from the texts we read at school
Salman Rushdie: “Midnight’s Children – Methwold’s Game”
In the text, one of the main characters, the Briton Mr.Methwold, mentions not only that he wants to play some “games” before leaving India but also that he has “a very Indian lust for allegory”. In fact, by talking of a “game” he uses an allegory, because on the one hand he intends to get all the new inhabitants of his estate accustomed to British habits and culture (And finally they adjust to gas cookers, ceiling fans, cocktail hours, pets and so on). But on the other hand and in a much wider sense Methwold suggests that all Britons, though moving back to Britain, leave so many ordinary things and values belonging to their culture in India, that finally all Indian people will “transform” and get used to the modern, British way of life.
This allegory evinces Magical Realism, which is intensified by the fact that even one of the characters seems to know about the author’s stylistic devices because it (the fact) creates an amalgamation of prosaic reality and prosaic supernatural.
Additionally, the text passage consists of a juxtaposition of several dialogues. At first there is only a switch between two of them, one the one hand Ahmed Sinai talking to Mr.Methwold, on the other hand Ahmed Sinai consoling his wife Amina Sinai. But later on the dialogues between all the estate’s new inhabitants jump from one to another. Interestingly, the more the conversations are mixed up, the more the inhabitants seem to be confused by the British customs until the finally acquire them. Once again, the characters seem to be influenced by the author’s diction, which is an indication for Magical Realism.
Salman Rushdie: “The Satanic Verses” – first chapter
The novel opens with the two main characters, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, falling to earth because the plane they have been flying has been blown up by the terrorists who have hijacked it.
1) Amalgamation of reality and fiction:
Saladin’s lips suddenly turn “redwhiteblue” -> red, white and blue are the colours of the British flag; therefore it is shown that Saladin is an immigrant
Here a metafictional dialogue between author and reader -as previously described- occurs:
“Mutation? (the reader’s question)
Yessir but not random. Up there in air-space, in the soft, imperceptible field which had been made possible by the century...(the author’s answer)”
The passage is full of motives, such as fall, wonderland, mutation and reincarnation...
4) Intertextual notes
p.3: “[...] fell from a great height, twenty-nine thousand and two feet, [...]”
-> 29,002 feet is the height of the Mount Everest, which finally comes up on page 4:
“While at Himalayan height, a brief and premature sun burst into the powdery January air [...] descending from the Everest of the catastrophe to the milky paleness of the sea.”