Study Guide

Magic Realism

Magic Realism Introduction

Um, is it just us, or are "magic" and "realism" two things that don't seem like they should go together?

Well, okay, maybe that seems like a strange combination, but strange combinations are just what make Magic Realist writers tick. They love to depict the mundane, everyday world we know all too well—but then they inject it with some fantasy as if fantasy were the most normal thing in the world.

Open up a Magic Realist novel, for example, and sure, you'll find lots of descriptions of regular people just like you and me doing everyday, regular things like washing the dishes, setting the snooze button the alarm, and Shmooping Magic Realism. But turn the page, and these same people are likely to grow wings and fly, or turn into an animal, or move between the world of the living and between the world of the dead.

Magic Realism is defined by contradiction. On the one hand, it draws on the Realist tradition in literature, which was all about depicting the world as we see it, with all its everyday details and all its many problems. But on the other hand, Magic Realism fills this Realist world with the fantastic, the extraordinary, and the supernatural. It's a literary movement that jumbles together the fantastic and the mundane, and by doing so, it shows how life, even at its most trivial, can get pretty fantastic pretty quickly.

After all, life can be pretty weird now and then, right? Sometimes just acknowledging that weirdness is more realistic than pretending it doesn't exist.

While Magic Realism has its roots in older literary movements like Realism, it only really exploded on a global scale beginning in the 1960s, when a number of Latin American writers began pushing the envelope by challenging the bounds of what we consider to be reality—often with political as well as artistic aims. Don't think fantasy can be political? Read on to find out how these magicians did it.

What is Magic Realism About and Why Should I Care?

Come on, admit it: there's a tiny part of you that believes in magic, are we right? Hey, we're not gonna judge, and neither are our Magic Realist writers. One of the points of Magic Realism is to remind us that when you get right down to it, there's a lot in life that's just plain irrational. Life is full of the fantastic and the unknown; we just get wrapped up in our everyday lives that we often miss this.

As a literary movement, Magic Realism embraces this irrational dimension of life. Hey, they say, who's to tell us that ghosts don't exist? Or that there aren't people who can fly? After all, anything's possible, right? The fact that humans evolved out of a tiny single cell billions of years ago is itself pretty magical. So who knows what else can happen?

Magic Realism Resources

Websites

Magical Realism
Emory University's got a nifty little introduction to Magic Realism, including a breakdown of its key characteristics.

Writers' History Literature Portal: Magical Realism
Want to know more about individual Magic Realist writers? Look no further!