Magic realism is a technique which combines the real and the imaginary to create a fantastical, yet believable story. In the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, author Garcia Marquez uses magic realism as a tool to draw the reader in.
In addition he uses it as a representation of the Columbian culture which strongly influences the culture of the people living in the mystical village of Macondo. More specifically, the magic realism used in this novel serves two main purposes. It introduces the Columbian culture which the story revolves around and also forces us to question the absurdity of our everyday lives.
Colombian culture is made up of many old traditions and superstitions. In 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez ties in both aspects in order to represent the culture of this era. However, his approach to magic realism is somewhat unconventional as he uses exaggeration to create fantasy.
This method gives the culture a mystical aura which is an accurate representation of actual Columbian culture. In the town of Macondo, the people are unfazed by the supernatural as they encounter it in their daily lives. This nonchalant reaction makes it easy for the reader to also accept the bizarre incidents that the people of Macondo call reality.
Incest also plays a large role in this novel and when the main character Ursula expresses her fears about marrying her cousin, Jose Arcadio Buendia, one learns of an old family story that fuels Ursula’s fears.
“An aunt of Ursula’s, married to and uncle of Jose Arcadio Buendia, had a son who went through life wearing loose, baggy trousers and who bled to death after having lived forty-two years in the purest state of virginity, for he had been born and had grown up with a cartilaginous tail in the shape of a corkscrew and with a small tuft of hair on the tip,” (Marquez, 20)
This incestuous marriage resulted in Ursula and Jose having a child with a pigtail. This “curse” fills Ursula with fear as she firmly believes that this will be the outcome of her incestuous marriage as well. Consequently, through Ursula’s firm belief, Marquez convinces the reader that the possibility of a child being born with a pig’s tail is not as ridiculous as it sounds.
In addition, the people of Macondo treat the magical and supernatural as normal. “This time, along with many artifices, they brought a flying carpet. But they did not offer it as a fundamental contribution to the development of transport, rather as an object of recreation. The people at once dug up their last old pieces to take advantage of a quick flight over the houses of the village.” (31)
When gypsies present the people of Macondo with the phenomenon of a flying carpet they are amused but not amazed. The fantastical and magical aspect of the flying carpet is lost as the author is more concerned about how it could be used to develop the village. Thus, Marquez once again allows the reader to skip over the absurdity of this event as it entwined into a realistic, everyday problem.
This also reflects the Columbian culture as in those times they discovered and invented many things for both work and entertainment and everything seemed to have a magical element to them. The flying carpet can be viewed as an exaggeration of these discoveries that the Columbians of this era discovered.
When the priest of the town, Father Nicanor shows the town another magical trick, the people of the town justify the miraculous event through God. “The boy who had helped him with the mass brought him a cup of thick and steaming chocolate, which he stank without pausing to breathe.
Then he wiped his lips with a handkerchief that he drew from his sleeve, extended his arms, and closed his eyes. Thereupon Father Nicanor rose six inches above the level of the ground. It was a convincing measure….No one doubted the divine origin of the demonstration.” (82) The levitation of the priest is another magical occurrence in the novel. In this case, however, Marquez combines magic and religion.
In Latin American culture, many things were explained through religion when humans could find no scientific or logical explanation. Thus, Father Nicanor leads the townspeople to believe that his trick is possible because of the hot chocolate that he drinks before each performance combined with some kind of divine intervention. From a western perspective, the possibility of this trick and the logic behind it seems absurd. However, because the levitation is explained by religion, it is less difficult for the reader to accept as this has become a habit of humanity to explain the unknown through a higher being.
Marquez’s approach to magic realism also includes using many numerical facts. This addition gives imaginary events a more authentic and realistic description. However, in making these fantastical events believable, it provokes one to question the absurdity of our everyday lives, as the situations which Marquez presents us with are the only exaggeration of what we face in our daily lives. At one point in the story, “It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.
There were periods of drizzle during which everyone put on his full dress and a convalescent look to celebrate the clearing, but people soon grew accustomed to interpret the pauses as a sign of redoubled rain.” (315) The numerical description of the length of time contrasts the actual literal time to reduce the absurdity of this event. Thus, these descriptive details act as a distraction to the reader. In addition, by stating that the people of Macondo gradually grew accustomed to the rain, the reader finds it easier to grow accustomed to this concept as it seems normal to the people of Macondo.
Another example of numerical exaggeration is shown when Marquez describes Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s life is described. “Colonel Aureliano Buendia organized thirty-two armed uprisings and he lost them all. He had seventeen male children by seventeen women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad.” (103)
This description of Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s life can be interpreted as an exaggeration of a soldier’s life during times of war. The numerical accuracy of every aspect of his life works in two ways. It creates an unbelievable scenario. However, the numbers also add a sense of reality to it. Thus, Marquez’s use of numbers balances out the fantastical elements of the story in order to make it easier for the reader to digest.
Dates were also exaggerated and twisted in this novel to contribute to the magical aspect of it. “Fernanda carried a delicate calendar with small golden keys on which her spiritual adviser had marked in purple ink the dates of venereal abstinence. Not counting Holy Week, Sundays, holy days of obligation, first Fridays, retreats, sacrifices, and cyclical impediments, her effective year was reduced to forty-two days that were spread out through a web of purple crosses.”(209)
Fernanda’s crazy calendar seems mystical and unbelievable because of the number of restricted days that she has. However, there is a realistic element to it as many people use calendars to keep track of holy days. Her calendar is an exaggeration of the restrictions that we place on ourselves due to “religious holidays” or “holy days”.
In conclusion, Garcia Marquez uses magic realism in his novel as a tool to exaggerate the Columbian culture which has strongly influenced this novel. He amplifies the absurdity of this culture and the superstitions that it follows. However, he balances these fantastical elements with reality by presenting them in a very “normal” way.
The magical elements become overshadowed by the characters’ reactions to them. They seem oblivious to the unconventional situations that they face in their lives. Marquez also uses magic realism to exaggerate things that we take for granted in our daily lives. He uses numbers to show extremities, however, these numbers also give the story a sense of realism.
Marquez perfects this balance to show that humans today are still oblivious to their ways and the things that surround them. Thus, his technique of exaggeration of realistic elements to obtain a magical story is effective in obtaining a balance that the reader can accept and relate to.