Magical Realism

Karen Tei Yamashtia’s Tropic of Orange seems to serve as the perfect example of magical realism, as it is defined in The Bedford Glossary of Critical & Literary Terms. I had actually read the list of literary examples at the end of the definition in BG and was expecting to see the novel among them, as it meets each criteria that the definition names. To my understand, magical realism is a literary mode or genre which combines the realistic elements of everyday life and the fantastic elements of fantasy. The writer asks the reader to step into a redefined reality and to believe those fantastic elements to be true.

An interesting part of the BG’s definition is the “often said to be” prototypical exemplary text of magical realism. The definition quotes the first line of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” Reading this line, I know that the writer is asking me to understand that they’re taking me into a parallel reality using dreamy language and abstraction. I found this so interesting because Yamashtia happens to do the very same “asking” in the opening lines of Tropic of Orange: “Gentle reader, what follows may not be about the future, but it is perhaps about the recent past; a past that, even as you imagine it, happens.” Yamashtia, here, asks the reader to disregard the idea of time and reality, letting us know that this will be a magical realism text.

Being the Stephen King fan that I am, I walked directly over to my bookshelf and pulled the first novel of his that I saw, Carrie. Sure enough, King introduces the fantastical elements of the novel with a fictional newspaper excerpt reporting on a mysterious weather event which occurred where stones had seemed to be falling from the sky. The newspaper excerpt is not a part of the narrative, but it serves as that prompt for the reader to step into his/her new understanding of reality.

So maybe this could be another dominant characteristic of magical realism, this invitation/warning to the reader of his/her new reality. Just something I thought may be interesting.

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