Magical Realism: Definition, Authors & Examples

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  • 0:30 Definition of Magical Realism
  • 0:40 Authors: Latin America
  • 2:30 Authors: Beyond Latin America
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

Expert Contributor
Kaitlyn Danahy

Kate has a bachelor's degree in literature & creative writing from Gordon College. She taught high school literature in India and tutored in the US.

In this lesson, we will learn about magical realism. We will explore the definition and characteristics of this literary genre and learn about a few famous authors who wrote in the genre, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Definition of Magical Realism

If you were to just see the phrase 'magical realism,' you might think, 'that seems contradictory.' After all, how can something be both magical and real? Magic isn't real - or is it? In Latin America, from which the genre of magical realism originated, there is an attitude among certain portions of the population that anything can happen. In this way, magical realism is closely connected to the Catholic religion, which believes in miracles and other spontaneous and indescribable phenomena. The genre of magical realism is defined as a literary genre in which fantastical things are treated not just as possible, but also as realistic.

Authors and Examples: Latin America

There are numerous Latin American writers whose works falls into the magical realism genre. Here are just a few famous examples:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was an incredibly popular author from Colombia. He wrote the famous novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is an example of magical realism. In the novel, which takes place over many generations, fantastical things are always happening. For example, a woman experiences her own personal Rapture, being sucked up to Heaven; another woman is visited by Death and told that she will die when she finishes the shawl she is working on; and finally, a baby is devoured by ants. These events, although miraculous, are treated as matter-of-fact, like they could (and do) happen every day.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez also wrote numerous short stories, including 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,' which is about a winged man (possibly an angel) who is discovered by two villagers and made into a spectacle in their backyard, and 'Light Is Like Water,' about a pair of boys who drown when they turn all the lights on in their house and light pours out of the fixtures, as if it was water. Marquez won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Isabel Allende is a Chilean author who wrote The House of the Spirits, among other magical realism novels. She has won many awards, including Chile's National Literature Prize in 2010. Her work is a perfect example of the magical realism genre, because it blends magical elements (such as myths) with natural elements (like history and personal experience). One of the characters in The House of the Spirits is clairvoyant, or someone who can perceive beyond the five senses. The knowledge of the events outside of the normal human understanding is another recurring theme in magical realism.

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Additional Activities

Magical Reality:

In this lesson, you learned about the genre of magical realism, which incorporates elements of magic into everyday reality and treats the extraordinary as ordinary. In this exercise, you will think deeper about what a writer might gain from incorporating magic into the "reality" of their fictional world. You will also create an element of magical realism for a story of your own.

To begin with, let's look at Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. The plot of Midnight's Children revolves around 1,001 children who are born between the hours of 12am and 1am on the day India earns its independence from Britain. All of these children have magical abilities that embody different aspects of India's culture. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, a man founds a town where he is able to decide what the reality is. The story follows seven generations as they struggle with the town's inhabitants and relationships with the outside world. How does the magic of these stories reflect the reality in which they are written?

Then, think of your early childhood, or the childhood of someone you know. Many children believe in monsters under the bed, imaginary friends, and magical creatures. What would life be like if one of those things actually existed and was considered normal? How would it be the same as reality? How would it be different from reality? What would be a benefit and what would be a drawback? Write a short story (500-1000 words) about a world in which one of these things is real.

Lastly, examine how your story reflects your reality. For example, in a world where people have real "imaginary" friends, can they be lonely?

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