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Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Magic and Realism
in the Short Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

If literature is an expression of life, it has to be magical, mysterious and mystifying. Nothing can be more shocking than reality. Mundane things, ordinary proceedings and routine activities of the urban population cannot be called the whole of the truth. Latin American literature has always resisted the so called civilized influence that results in study of alienated self, meaninglessness of life and such boring stuff. Cultures such as Indian and Latin American boldly refuse to take life at its surface. Time, past is time, present and is time, future. Latin American literature has taken the whole web of life into its fold. The pagan practices, the occult rites, and the force of the unknown and the unknowable dominate this literature.

In our anxiety to brand and classify everything, we have called the above mentioned style of writing as 'magic realism'. 'Magical Realism' is an attractive coinage that is defined as 'fiction that does not distinguish between realistic and non realistic events, fiction in which the supernatural, the mythical or the implausible are assimilated to the cognitive structure of reality without a perspective break in the narrator's characters' consciousness'. [1]

Thus in 'Magical Realism' the boundaries between the real and the unreal blur. In the context of the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, magical realism can be read in historical as well as political light. Marquez uses it as a tool of defying colonial hegemony. It becomes a tool of protest against the popular modes of writing because it establishes itself as a variation, a powerful deviant from the prevailing world view. Marquez manipulates the time factor in his short stories in an outstanding manner. We willingly suspend our belief in structured time while slipping into the world of magical realism. Joan Mellen Says, 'The plot seems to be suspended in time, the better for the grotesque and the strange, the unexplained and the mysterious, to yield larger truths. The passage of time loses all relevance.'[2]
The purpose is 'to yield larger truths'. We can see that the underlying belief here lies in the supernatural or the extra-natural phenomena of life. This type of writing is specifically suited to give voice to the personal experiences and world view of an author. It gives literature regional colour. Perception of time changes from one society to the other and so it happens with each individual. Magical Realism is an assertion of the self . It is also a revolt against oppressing social forces.

Colonial Shadow on The Mentality of Latin Americans
and Their Literature 
If we look at things in their totality, we will find that one specific mind-set works behind magical realism of the Latin American literature. It all began with the process of colonization of native Aztecls and Indians. Latin America was brutally colonized by Spain and Portugal. The process of colonization is an endless tale of oppression, exploitation, dishonour and enslavement of the native population. We as Indians can easily visualize the scene. One-sided judgments and shameless beheading of trees for the commercial benefit of Europe were some of the main practices of colonization. [3]  But the most severe aspect of this tragedy was linguistic domination. Spanish and Portuguese became the official languages. It is difficult to measure what else a nation/region loses, when it loses its love and respect for its tongue. It is a big loss. The Europeans forced unnatural hierarchy. The European born whites were given the highest strata. Then came whites born in Latin America. The actual population consisting of half-castes, the red Indians and the Negroes remained at the bottom. The system bred inferiority and later revolt. [4]

But freedom after colonization is also a mirage. Once the colonizer enters into the minds of the colonized, his presence or absence does not matter much. There is chaos after departure. Perhaps that is the reason why Churchill once commented that Indians would not be able to rule themselves and there would be utter chaos once the British leave. This statement suits more to Latin American conditions.

We can see that Latin American history gets disjointed with the initiation of colonization. People lose their 'own' sense of time or history. The parameters of civilization have been mentally forced by the colonizer. Even when the colonizer leaves, the mind-set remains and here lies the real victory of the colonizer. If an erstwhile colonized nation succeeds in re-establishing its original, unadulterated, natural consciousness even to some extent, such a nation 'really' defeats the colonizer.

Writers like Marquez help their nation in reaching backwards to its roots. This backward movement has to be adjusted and negotiated with current times. Nevertheless, the cultural and literary paradigms have to restored and re-established. Then and then alone the colonizer can be actually defeated. These writers firmly hail the 'irrational', 'illogical', 'unexplainable' native spirit. They may do it in reaction. We cannot and should not expect balanced view from writers like Marquez because they are children of the colonized, exploited and defeated lands.

Garcia Marquez's Life and His Association
with 'Willing Suspension of Disbelief'

Pagan societies and cultures nurture irrational patterns. These inherent strange patterns appear illogical to us because 'normal', 'logical' and 'standard' behavior has been strictly defined for us. We have been conditioned to think in a particular manner. Mainstream culture has a tendency to denounce any kind of deviation from the set norm.

Marquez belonged to a culture and a family that accepted and realized the occult forces of life. For example, Marquez's grandmother, Dona Tranquilla had visions. She talked to the dead. As a child, Marquez passed most of his time with the women of the family, many of whom experienced what today's mono-civilization calls 'strange'. Latin Americans lived with the supernatural. Omens, prophesies, superstitions and premonitions were part of Marquez's daily experiences.  That is why, Marquez denies anything like adopting any specific style of magic realism. He only captures the reality.

Marquez feels that realism peels off the richness of literature. Rationality and realism have not given anything to Latin American readers. [5] 

Thus, we can call magical realism a kind of protest writing. It forced dominant perception to note, accept and assimilate variation. Marquez has used this original Latin American style of writing in order to describe the pain of the Latin Americans in the hands colonial powers. Marquez does not go for straight sermons. Instead he uses techniques to bring home the cruelty of colonization. He establishes the native identity of Latin Americans as definitely different from dominant culture. He has forcefully reflected the exploitative spirit of the colonizers. One thing that strikingly resembles Indian mind-set is the jumbled time scale. In ancient India also, past was never segregated from present and future. Time was perceived as a cyclic phenomenon. Marquez firmly denounces the so called rational time frame.

Study of Some Short Stories

For example, let us note the strange title of the short story, 'Eva is Inside Her Cat.' Eva is a unique character. Eva does not experience anything supernatural; she herself is a supernatural event. Eva is a kind of invisible spirit. She has the power to enter into any living being at her will. Eva considers her body as her prison. She hates even her beauty as it is a form of painful heritage of her oppressed ancestors. But once Eva becomes a spirit, her conflicts resolve. She becomes free. She becomes invisible. She becomes the master of her destiny.
This is indeed a touching commentary on the state of Latin Americans who never actually tasted freedom. There are various twists and turns in Eva's life that hint at Latin American conditions. For example, freedom is granted to Eva only for three thousand years. She spends her time foolishly and a large chunk of her 'free' time passes. These is a clear warning for the Latin Americans in the tale that they must behave wisely and make good use of their freedom.

Another short story 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' is about one old man with wings. This old man is found in the courtyard of a house owned by Pelayo, the husband and Elisenda, the wife. Pelayo and Elisenda start taking entry free into their house by the local public that curiously comes to their house to see the old man with huge wings. The couple gets rich. They build a mansion. Suddenly the community gets bored with the old-man with wings because it finds another sensation in a woman who has become a tarantula. People throw meatballs into her mouth because this is her only means of sustenance. In the mean time, the old man with wings flies off to freedom and finds new spaces as he is no longer locked.

We can easily see the trend of prevalent consumer culture in this tale. Ours is a civilization that lives from one sensation to another. There is no sense; there is only sensation. The blind civilization needs thrill, howsoever harmful or meaningless it may be. Purposeless people crave for change, enjoyment and instant thrills. They do not think. They do not analyze. They just go about living their lives doing what others are doing.

The story 'The Sea of Lost Time' is set in a timeless frame. The people of an untouched, remote island suddenly start smelling rose-like fragrance from the ocean. Thus, this fragrance phenomenon acts as a supernatural device. As we go through the tale we realize that this sudden smell actually symbolizes Mr. Herbert's arrival in the island. Mr. Herbert is stinking rich. Slowly but surely he eats into the very spirit of the island and its people. He offers huge money to natives for receiving 'his' education and finally succeeds in corrupting all that was once pure and original. Needless to remark here that Mr. Herbert is the colonizer in this story.

Another story 'Light is Like Water' depicts the story of two young boys who demand a boat from their parents in return for their good grades. They ultimately get the boat. They break the light bulbs of the house in the night and light starts flowing like water in and around their house. They sail in that light but finally drown in that light. Boat and light in this story stand for utter materialism and greed. Good grades were not sufficient in themselves. The boys wanted into en-cash their labour with material reward. These physical rewards and pleasures kill the boys eventually.

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

There are many stories by Marquez where supernatural devices are used in order to communicate deeper meanings. We cannot say that Marquez has created these devices. He has actually borrowed these methods from oral Latin American traditions. Marquez deliberately expresses the irrational Latin American spirit. He does not write by the Western yard stick. He goes by the native modes of expression which are illogical and random.

It will not be wrong to conclude that Marquez has used magic realism as a protest against colonization. Suspension of time is one technique that strongly blends the real with the unreal. It functions as an agent of supernatural events. This device also brings mystic element in the works of Marquez. Timelessness also enables the writer to comment effortlessly on historical events spread over centuries. Time-suspension has been marked as an inherent Latin American trait. Same Karsz divided time-suspension into two modes, especially with reference to Marquez. Two general perceptions of time prevail. There are one group of people who control and dictate other people's time. The other group is one who lives time in its own rhythm. [6]

Those who try to impose time on others are naturally usurpers of the natural spirit. The colonizer all the time tries to enforce his own idea of time. The second group of people who live and feel time in their own rhythm are obviously those who have not been corrupted by alien forces.

Unfortunately, however, this state is only a dream in the works of Marquez who feels that Latin Americans cannot fully break themselves free from the dominant social mode.

Marquez avoids direct commentary. As an artist, he builds his own world. In this world, the reader is asked to suspend disbelief willingly. He does not dwell in theory of ill effects of colonization. Colonization robs a people of their tongue mode of thinking, expression, culture, tradition, everything. Marquez has directly gone on to avoid these ill effects and connect to the native spirit. It will not be wrong to call him a 'nativist' in this sense of the word. When you venture into someone else's territory, you are expected to willingly suspend yours own parameters and respect the rules of that particular place. This is exactly what the world of Marquez demands from the reader. The reader is persuaded to willingly suspend her/his sense of disbelief and skepticism and enter the Marquezean world without prejudices and simply enjoy and explore it.

The Dictionary of Twentieth Century Culture : Hispasic page 156.
2. Mellen, Joan. Magic Realism. Detroit: Gale Group. 2000. Page 1.
3. Ben G. Burnett and Kenneth F. Johnson. Political Forces in Latin America : Dimensions of the Quest for Stability. California wadsworth 1968 page 2.
4. Ibid. Page 4.
5. Mendoza, Plinio Apuleyo. The Fragrance of Guava: Conversation with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. London: Faber and Faber 1988. Pages 12 and 59.
6. H. Aguessy and Saul, Karsz. Time and the Philosophies. Paris: Unesco 1977. Page 166.


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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Views: 3787      Comments: 1

Comment I would like to thank you for this informative and immaculate article. You mentioned on the negative side of colonization and Marquez''s protest is because of stealing culture, language, ethnicity. My argument is that once we look from another paradigm that colonization brings its own perception alongside, then those alien values blends in domestic culture. Somehow new values appear. Don''t you think that has an enormous effect on Marquez''s integration and development on literature? On the hand he protests for Latin American interests but on the other hand he is also thankful for his personal interests.

Subhan Manafzade
10-Jan-2015 17:56 PM

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