Magical realism, a chiefly literary style originating in Latin America during the 1960s, is best expressed in two short stories found in the collection, Uncommon Knowledge. Both “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World: A Tale for Children” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “The Falling Girl” by Dino Buzzati illustrate beautifully the idea of magical realism in today’s modern literary works. In the strictest sense, magical realism can be explained as fiction that maintains a discourse appropriate to an objective and realistic narrative, while recounting fantastic events alongside commonplace happenings. While magical realism essentially has one main definition, it can be interpreted in various ways.
The first description of fantastical realism allows the realistic aspect of the literary term to be more concrete, the dominant of the two. In such instances, the story is based almost solely on pragmatic ideas with only a slight bit of impractical imagery. Marquez’s illustrative story, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”, is introduced in a realistic tone that is basically logical but slightly odd. “The first children saw the dark and slinky bulge approaching through the sea let themselves think it was an enemy ship. Then they saw it had no flags or mass and they thought it was a whale. But when it washed up on the beach, they removed the clumps if seaweed, the jellyfish tentacles, and the remains of fish and flotsam, and only then did they see that it was a drowned man.” (page 202), demonstrates a more realistic segment. Although it is highly unlikely that a young children would uncover a dead man on the beach and touch him, it is not an impossibility. Likewise, the beginning of Buzzati’s “The Falling Girl”, is introduced an ordinary and somewhat realistic short story with a twist. “Marta was nineteen. She looked out over the roof of the skyscraper, and seeing the city below shining in the dusk, she was overcome with dizziness.” (page 313) was commonplace enough and could even happen in one’s existence. The only thing unusual about those few sentences would be the fact that the character was actually on the top of a skyscraper alone at twilight.
Other excerpts such as, “They walked about like startled hens, pecking with the sea charms on their breasts, some interfering on one side to put a scapular of the good wind on the drowned man, some in the other side to put a wrist compass on him, and after a great deal of get away from there, woman, stay out of the way, look, you almost made me fall on top of the dead man, the men began to feel mistrust in their livers and started grumbling about why so many main-alter decorations for a stranger” and “since when has there ever been such a fuss over a drifting corpse, a drowned nobody, a piece of Wednesday meat.” (“The Handsomest Man in the World, page 205) display that the men are the voices of reason, not yet trapped in the intangible world where the women now dwell. At this point, the men are still thinking realistically and cannot seem to understand why the women are so upset about this unknown stranger. In this passage, reality far overpowers the sense of fantasy. In “The Falling Girl”, Buzzati tells one, “In a dining recess on the twenty-eighth floor a man about forty years old was having his morning coffee and reading his newspaper while his wife tidied up the room. A clock on the sideboard indicated 8:45. A shadow suddenly passed before the window” (page 316) . The beginning of this selected quotation could very easily take place in reality. But towards the ends, one is left to question who or what caused this mysterious shadow at which realism is intermingled with illusion. Despite the idea that the first sentence is set in reality, one becomes abruptly aware that Marta’s flight, the occurrence creating the shadow, represents an element of imagination and yet reality still overshadows fantasy. In this branching off of the main definition of magical realism, the idea of reality being more prominent than fantasy is explored.
Another meaning can be gathered from the basic and purposely ambiguous definition of magical realism. In this explication, both reality and fantasy play equal roles, neither being more obvious than the other. The writer mingles realistic portrayals of events and characters with elements of fantasy and myths, creating a world that is rather dreamlike in this denotation. An example of this definition can be identified in “The Handsomest Drowned Man” on page 202, “They had been playing with him, burying him in the sand and digging him up again, when someone chance to see them and spread the alarm in the village.” This shows a combination of reality and reverie, neither one being the dominant force.
The children were dwelling in a daydream but the reader is quickly transferred into the real world when the alarm is sounded. Also cited in this same tale is “As they were doing that they noticed that the vegetation on him came from faraway oceans and deep water and that his clothes were in tatters, as if he had sailed through labyrinths of coral. They noticed too that he bore his death with pride, for he did not have the lonely look of other drowned men who came out of the sea or that haggard, needy look of men who drowned in rivers.” (page 203) which greatly compliments the meaning of magical realism described. Removing impurities from a corpse before burial is customary in today’s society, but these women gave the lifeless body emotions in which he could not have in death. Also the excerpt, “Marta hopelessly leaned out over the railing and let herself go. She felt as if she were hovering in the air, but she was falling. Given the extraordinary height of the skyscraper, the streets and squares down at the bottom were very far away.” (‘The Falling Girl” page 314) beautifully intertwines the felling of a practical environment with a surreal plot. Also inclusive in this meaning of magical realism, palpability can be attached to fantasy. Marquez writes in “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” “They were wandering through the maze of fantasy.” (page 204). By choosing the word, “wandering”, the author attaches tangibly to fantasy and characterizes the people as active wanderers through this maze. One proposes that dreams are essential as a to perceive external reality. One wanders through imagined possibilities to find explanations for things that are found confusing. The characters in both stories strive to use their imaginations to guide their way through and simplify reality. The meaning of magical realism allows for numerous interpretations such as the equal amount of each aspect, neither one more important than the other.
Magical realism can be depicted as an idea placing the characters, plot, and setting in almost entirely fantasy with only a hint of the existence of reality. The adjective “magical” is used much more strongly than the noun “realism” that it modifies. In the quotation, “They thought that if that magnificent man had lived in the village, his house would have had the widest doors, and highest ceiling, and the strongest floor; his bedstead would have been made from a midship frame held together by iron bolts, and his wife would have been the happiest woman. They thought that he had so much authority that he could have drawn fish out of the sea simply by calling their names and that he would have put so much work into his land that springs would have burst forth from among the rocks so that he would have been able to plant flowers on the cliffs.” from Marquez’s anecdote (pages 203-204). This identity created around and for “Esteban” is a product of a collective consciousness, revealing the women’s desires. The women create and entity or and identity that fills a void in their lives, hoping to somehow mentally escape the world. Gabriel Garcia Marquez shows that one’s identity is what people perceive or imagine for them. “Flights of that kind (most by girls, in fact) were not rare in the skyscraper and they constituted an interesting diversion for their tenants; this was also the reason why the price of those apartments was very high.” (page 314) dictates a pragmatic world that is avoided by the creation of a surreal environment. In most instances, one might imagine that by jumping off of a building, the character would be killed. Most would assume that the people who plunged to their deaths were trying to escape reality and all the pain that it has caused. In effect, this young woman has done the same. Before Marta reaches the ground, her life is over and wasted away in midair. Fantasy dominates both passages and many sections of these stories from Uncommon Knowledge.