Magical Realism in Short Fiction: Definition, Writers & Examples

Instructor: Sudha Aravindan

Sudha has a Doctor of Education Degree and is currently working as a Information Technology Specialist.

In this lesson we will learn about magical realism used in literature, where extraordinary things happen in a real life environment. We'll differentiate it from other forms, and also see several authors and stories that employ magical realism.

Magical Realism

Imagine someone having never seen a rainbow, experiencing one for the first time. To most people, a rainbow is just an element of nature, but to someone seeing it for the very first time, there is something almost magical to it, yet it fits perfectly into their life and landscape. That is like magical realism - experiencing something from a unique and almost mystical perspective, right in everyday life.

Magical Realism is all about introducing elements of fantasy into the otherwise down to earth, ordinary everyday happenings. In literature, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez from Columbia is credited for introducing this concept. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

One of the common threads in all of Marquez's work is how reality of everyday life is interwoven with extraordinary events and spiritual realms - this style came to be known as magical realism.

Differentiating Magical Realism

Magical Realism is different from the paranormal in the sense that the paranormal is about events that are beyond normal experience and not easily explainable by science. The characters experiencing the paranormal react to it, are often scared by it, while magical realism is treated as a part of normal, everyday life.

Magical Realism is also different from mythology, fairy tales, and fantasy because in those styles, it's understood that the surroundings and events are not reality to begin with. Magical realism outlines events that are plausible and fit right into daily life.

There are some common elements in magical realism. The background is a real life setting - the borders of magic and real life is blurred, and characters are ordinary people. The uncommon elements are the magical elements themselves, which can include ghosts, gun-toting black cats, psychic ability, and about anything else you can think of, but appearing as if it is normal to see them in real life.

Another unique characteristic is the fluidity of time, meaning time does not necessarily follow a linear pattern. In ''The Curious Case of Benjamin Button '' by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the main character is born as an old man and dies as a baby, following the sequence of time in backward motion. The past, present and future times all merge into one another as the past is ever present and the future is almost like it has happened already.

Authors and Stories With Magical Realism

''The Turn of the Screw'' by Henry James is a an example of magical realism in a short story where ghostly sightings are accepted as normal where no one reacts in shock or disbelief. The governess sees ghostly appearances of a man and a woman dressed in black who she senses is her dead predecessor.

In ''Death Constant Beyond Love'' Gabriel Garcia Marquez creates a mystical blending of illusion and reality where it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between real and imaginary. It's a story within a story. One scene describes: ''Senator Onesimo Sanchez was placid and weatherless inside the air-conditioned car, but as soon as he opened the door he was shaken by a gust of fire and his shirt of pure silk was soaked in a kind of light-colored soup and he felt many years older and more alone than ever.'' The reader gets the picture of the weather having a bit of a life all its own.

Another short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is ''Eyes of a Blue Dog'' where he cleverly combines mystical elements into an otherwise realistic, fictional story. The story is about two lovers that never meet in the real world, but only in their dreams. It explores the loneliness of the unconscious mind as the reader is transported to an almost real world of longings experienced by the characters.

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