Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Doubts in Magic: How Marquez Makes Realism and Magic Doubtful

Note: This post discusses a reading. It is linked here for reference. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

There is a struggle to understand the concept of magical realism as a mode of literature. It is allusive and often very heard to define in terms of traditional literary terms. By reading a short story by one of the legends of magical realism, we can consider how useful this device, this troupe, this idea can be in saying something very important in terms of literature. 

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children by Gabriel Marquez brings to light the duplicity that can drawn out in magical realism. It is skepticism, belief, vision, and doubt all constantly swirling about what seems like poetry, fiction, parable, and doubt wrapped into one short story. 

As for the reader, part of what Marquez does so well is adding the possible with the impossible and allow the readers to judge those things on their own merits. In the opening lines: 

"On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that Pelayo had to cross he drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench." 

While this is a strange event, it is very possible to imagine this kind of event happening, particularly in a tropical climate. What is interesting in the idea that these are difficult times, rain, crabs, and fever all build significant tension. It is when the main character, Pelayo finds an old man with wings, face down in the yard that we begin to see how the magical and the realism meet each other, seeking nothing more than an active curiosity of the reader. Between the flood of crabs and the crashed old man in the yard, nothing is amazing, but nothing is normal either. In fact, the old man with wings is dressed "like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away any sense of grandeur he might have had." The magical becomes normalized and accepted. Every possible insight into something extraordinary is then undercut with a healthy dose of reality. When they describe his being stuck in the chicken coup, he is seen "as if [he] weren't a supernatural creature but a circus animal."

And everyone who sees the old man with wings comes to the same conclusion, that while it is different, it can't be magical. The church arrives on the Father Gonzaga realizes that he isn't an angel when he doesn't speak the language of the church (Latin) and doesn't respond to him appropriately. And he notices, "that seen up close up he was much too human: he had an unbearable smell of the outdoors, the back side of his wings was strewn with parasites and his main feathers had been mistreated by terrestrial winds, and nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels." 

This story gives us a constant measure of how we perceive things and how they hold up to the skeptic, to the church, to the reality of the world. If you think of this story as magical, then everyone is a skeptic and whatever magic is happening is merely incidental to the ways the people abuse, ignore and cast off the miraculous elements happening. If this is a story about realism, it is about finding a hoax, seeing something that is possible but likely impossible. And in the end, something that may have never happened. 

In terms of the reader, it is an opportunity. If you are a realist and skeptic, you might side with the villagers and see this convoluted creature as a mere oddity, sideshow, natural oddity. There is even skepticism in the title. It isn't "The Angel with Enormous Wings" it is titled A Very Wold Man with Enormous Wings. Yet, if you are a believer in magical possibilities, this is a better read. While you are considering the scoffers, you can consider that not all magical things are what we expect. In fact, if the angel is there to take the feverish child (in the beginning) to death, it failed. But if he has come to save the child, he has succeeded. Marquez is constantly slipping back and forth through the elements of possible and impossible, magical and realism to make each sentence a puzzle to decode. 

This is a great text to contemplate the alternative ideas that are created here. For every magical idea, there is room for doubt. And the same could be said for every moment of realism, there is hope that magical things can be slightly tarnished, dirty or just a little tawdry.  


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