|magical realism: "an unexpected
alteration of reality [. . .] an unaccustomed insight that is singularly favored by the
unexpected richness of reality or an amplification of the scale and categories of
reality" (Alejo Carpentier)
More specifically, magical realism achieves its particular power by
weaving together elements we tend to associate with European realism and elements we
associate with the fabulous, and these two worlds undergo a "closeness or
According to Wendy Faris this takes two forms:
- an epistemological one, where "the nuances stem
from an observers visions"
- an ontological one, "in which America is
considered to be itself marvelous"
In other words, magical realism can achieve its effects by either
making marvelous a certain character's perceptions and/or by making the setting itself
Characteristics of magical realism include five primary traits:
- An "irreducible" magic which cannot be explained by typical
notions of natural law.
- A realist description that stresses normal, common, every-day
phenomena, which is then revised or "refelt" by the marvelous. Extreme or
amplified states of mind or setting are often used to accomplish this. (This distinguishes
the genre from pure myth or fantasy.)
- It causes the reader to be drawn between the two views of reality.
- These two visions or realms nearly merge or intersect.
- Time is both history and the timeless; space is often challenged;
identity is broken down at times.
Secondary characteristics often included are:
- The work is often metafictional or self-referential.
- The text may employ a "verbal magic" where metaphors are
treated as reality.
- Phenomenological states may include the primitive or childless that
seem to dislocate our initial perceptions/understandings.
- Repetition, as well as mirror reversals, are employed.
- Metamorphoses take place.
- Magic often is used against the established order.
- "Ancient systems of belief and local lore often underlie the
text."This results in a respect (however complicated) for local faith.
- Collective symbols and myths rather than individual ones haunt the
- The fiction in form and language often embraces the carnivalesque.
Magical realism, then, calls on certain reading strategies:
- Magical realism has a tendency to defamiliarize the
scene for readers; readers learn that they have not come entirely ready to understand the
situation, that what we thought we knew is found to be strange, for it has something
entirely unexpected to teach us.
- Magical realisms readers learn "border
skipping" because they must move between fabulism and European realism
- Magical realism in some forms can be understood as a
post-colonial move that seeks to resist European notions of naturalism or
realism. At times, it calls for a deep hybridity of cultures and
[Much of this material is taken from Zamora, Lois Parkinson
and Wendy B. Faris. Ed. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Durham: Duke