Garcia Marquez’s use of magical realism as a literary style gave him freedom in a repressive culture…
Any appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died last week at age 87, will likely drift into a discussion of the literary style he championed throughout his long career: magical realism. Though the style is probably most strongly associated with Latin American writers (besides Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, and Carlos Fuentes are all considered predominantly magical realists) in the public mind, it has a longer history than one might think, and its primary practitioners all point at a small (and not necessarily immediately considered together) group of writers as influences on their work: Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, and Miguel de Cervantes are all cited regularly by Garcia Marquez and his fellow magic realists as influences.
Magical realism, as practiced by Garcia Marquez in his classic One Hundred Years of Solitude, allows the author to discuss the turbulent history of his native Colombia through the family history of the Buendia family. Magical elements such as five year rains (reigns), kids born with pig’s tails, and plagues causing amnesia serve as comments on civil wars, dictatorships, and government corruption.
…Marquez incorporates many supernatural motifs like levitation and flying carpets. Marquez also creates, in the tradition of the grotesque carnival and supernatural realism, the character of Melquiades, who is an overweight gypsy with supernatural powers. His novel contains powerful images of paradoxical bodily disgust and celebration, ambivalent celebration and laughter, and the reconstruction of human shapes, all of which exemplify characteristics of magical realism. In this novel and others, Marquez utilizes ironic distance. (http://postcolonialstudies.emory.edu/magical-realism/)
If you consider the surrealism of Carroll and Kafka crossed with the historical and social critiques of Faulkner and Cervantes, you begin to get an idea of what a writer like Garcia Marquez is trying to accomplish. In societies where one group is slowly crushing the life out of another for political or economic or religious reasons, perhaps the only way the oppressed can articulate their pain, anguish, and anger is through literature that reads, to the unenlightened (often those being critiqued), like fantasy – or nonsense.
It’s a literary style for dangerous times – although, as other practitioners of the form such as the above mentioned Isabel Allende or Salmon Rushdie might observe, once the critiqued catch on to the criticism, best to watch one’s back. Garcia Marquez knew this well – like many magical realists, he spent some years in exile.
Ultimately he was able to return home in triumph – and win the Nobel Prize for Literature, bringing honor to his country.
That is real magic.