Discuss will discuss how magical realism uses elements









and analyze how and to what ends fantasy and reality are intertwined in stories
you have studied.









In this essay, we will discuss how magical realism
uses elements of real and of magic to create the literary style. At first, we
will try to give a background of what magic realism, where it comes from, and
how a story can be labelled as such. Alejo Carpentier’s “Viaje a la semilla” and Julio Cortazar’s “La noche boca
arriba” will be our focus. The analysis
of the two stories will attempt to generalize what elements of real and
fantastic are in most, if not all of “lo real maravilloso.”

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Before we analyse how magical and real elements are
used in short stories, we first need to point out the definition of this
literary style. Magical realism was first coined by German Franz Roh in 1925 to
refer to a style of painting. Later, Alejo Carpentier took the term and
expanded on it thanks to his early influences of surrealism. Carpentier was in
fact was not satisfied by his poor contribution to surrealism, so he took ideas
from the literary approach. The South American termed the new literary style as
“lo real maravilloso.”

Even up to now, there is still no agreement on a clear
definition of what exactly defines a story as magical realism. However, there
is common agreement on the distinction between it and purely fictional styles
such as fairy tales and fables. Unlike them, magical realism has mythical or
dreamlike elements injected in realistic stories. Just like fables and fairy
tales, magical elements do not disrupt the narrative flow by presenting them as
external and out of the ordinary. The difference is that if the magical
elements were to be taken off, the story would simply seem like a realistic
one. With magical realism, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the magical
becomes commonplace.

There might not be a definite classificatory measure
for distinguishing whether a story is magical realism or not, however, these
often share in common specific elements. First, as to be expected from stories
that incorporate both realism and fantastic elements, the story most likely
defies logic or common sense. For example, authors might employ the use of
myths and legends, or play around with temporal sequences. Second, the main
setting of these short stories are set in realistic contexts. Particularly in
Latin American “real maravilloso,” historic settings and societal concerns
often fill the role for the realistic settings. Third, as explained before,
since the magical elements do not interfere with the real ones, the characters
in the short stories do not question the surreal situations.

Alejo Carpentier’s “Viaje a la semilla,” or “journey
back to the source,” begins with an old black Cuban man staring at a house in
phase of demolition. When the workers leave for the day, the man is alone and
mumbles a spell onto the house. Then, the house magically begins to fix itself.
Ruined walls and statues regain their ancient splendour. The old man then
enters the house and into a room where there are people around a bed, mourning
the death of what was at one time the owner of the house. The dead, Don
Marcial, then opens his eyes and wakes up from his eternal slumber, so people
leave the room. However, as he is now back to life, he worries about the
solicitors who want him to sell the residence. He also mourns the death of his
wife, who later, just like Marcial, comes back from the dead. The two therefore
enjoy their lives together, and so decide to get unmarried. Thereafter, the two
part ways to live as bachelors once again. Not only the house, but those who
have been in it regain their youth as time passes, in fact Don Marcial decides
to go back to university, but he notices that as he keeps getting younger and
younger physically, so does his mentality. He progressively acts more
immaturely, things around the house begin to grow taller, while his stature and
mental capabilities revert to that of a child, up to a point where he no longer
is capable of learning anything at school. One day, in fact, he feels the
strong urge of playing with his childhood toys and is no longer able to talk or
stand, so he begins to walk on four like an infant. He and all the elements of
the house have gone back to how they used to be. The construction of the house,
went back to the forest, the statues turned into stones, and Don Marcial
entered back into his mother’s womb (hence the title “journey back to the

In this story, Carpentier distorts time by narrating
Don Marcial’s life milestones backwards. The story is told in a chronological
order that follows normal timeline (i.e. the story is not told backwards like
rewinding a video). The story itself still follows normal timeline because at
the end of the story, when the workers come back, they find out that the house disappeared
while they were gone. The house and those who lived in it were real in the
context of the story. The black Cuban man represent the link between the
reality and the fantastic in this short story. He and his voodoo embody the
injection of magical elements in a story that would have totally been realistic.

Next, we have Cortazar’s “la noche boca arriba” or “the
night face up” in English. The story starts with a man riding his motorbike
through an urban area. He is very relaxed, perhaps unrealistically relaxed,
almost in a magical way. Because of this exaggerated undisturbed state, he does
not pay enough attention to the road and almost hits a passant, avoiding her by
sheer luck. Therefore, in the attempt to avoid her, he crashes and his
motorbike ends on top of him, which then results in him being hospitalized. In the
hospital, the doctors sedate him, so he slowly falls asleep and enters the dream
world. He has an unusual dream, he is taking part in a flower war and he is man
of the Moteca tribe on the run from the Aztecs who want to capture him and use
him as human sacrifice. He is in the forest trying to not be spotted, so he
restlessly lays with his head facing up, hence the title. In the dream, after
he has laid down, his eyes close and he wakes up back in the hospital. The man is
shocked by how vividly terrifying the experience was. However, in the hospital,
he falls asleep a few other times, and each time he’s running away in the hope
of not being captured. One last time, after falling asleep in the hospital, he
wakes up in the jungle, and the Aztecs have finally caught up on him to the sacrificial
altar. There, the man is presented in from of the Aztec priest who is wielding
a stone knife. He desperately hopes to wake up in the hospital in vain, so he
understands that the priest will end him with the knife.

The story is a prime example of magic realism. It incorporates
elements of reality and magic with the use of dreams. In fact, throughout the
text, the short story seems to be divided into two parallel narrations. Nevertheless,
towards the end, Cortazar uses the climax of the story to reveal which one is
the timeline of reality and which one that of dreams. The first glimpse of
magic comes from the man’s initial relaxation. He explains that the experience
seems almost unreal and the accident brought him back to reality. Thereafter,
the “past” experience takes over the “modern” through a description of reality
that is much more accurate. For instance, the man himself wonders how he could “smell
war” in his dream.  Cortazar depicts
reality in the dream through a detailed, almost cinematic manner.

Ironically, the author uses parallelisms in the story,
such as the Aztec priest ending the man’s life, while on the other side; the
doctor was giving him medical attention. The desperation of the narrator is the
reality, while the serenity of the hospital is the magical escapism from
reality. In effect, the distinction between reality and magic is all happening
within the narrator’s mind. Just like the reader, the man is to believe that
the modern world, is reality, while the dream, or better the nightmare was only

At first sight, the two stories might seem very different,
but in reality they share many similarities. They both have elements which we
talked about earlier in the essay. For instance, both texts play around with
the normal continuation of time. On one hand, Carpentier’s Don Marcial moves
backwards, as if his death was his birth, while his birth was his death, as if
going full circle. On the other hand, Cortazar’s Moteca believed to be a man of
the twentieth century living a past life, and then realizing that he in fact
was a pre-Columbian man dreaming about being a modern man. In this case also,
the story almost seems to move in a circular manner, especially since, until
the end, the reader is guided to move back and forth between the timelines.

Next element found in both short stories, and possibly
in all magical realistic stories is the fact that both protagonist are aware of
the surreal and still do not question it too much. Don Marcial was aware that
he was getting younger and more immature, yet the story continued as if the
extraordinary was normal. In contrast, the Moteca was also aware that the
dreams were odd, yet at the end he just accepted it.

Third, both stories incorporated some hybridity
between realism and mythology and legends. “Viaje a la semilla” had voodoo, and “La noche boca
arriba” had Aztec religiosity. Magic derived
from the folklore, and superstition from which the main “real story” timeline
came from.

In conclusion, real elements are the basis for magic
realism, while the fantastic is a hyperbole of this reality. However, just like
in fable and fairy tales, characters and narrations are not distracted from the
natural flow of the story, as the fantastic is incorporated as commonplace.