Clare Robinson, Year 12 A-level student
It is easy to confuse García Márquez’s use of magical realism with surrealism. He is renowned for using magical realism as a narrative tool, rather than to blur the line between fiction and reality as an end in itself in the manner of a surrealist. By merging impossibility with reality, García Márquez achieves his trademark magical realist portrayal of life in the Latin American context. This allows a short story like María dos Prazeres (from his 1992 collection Doce cuentos peregrinos) to be grounded and relatable, whilst still encapsulating that enigmatic quality which is so appealing to the reader.
From the publication of Cien años de soledad in 1967, García Márquez became the undisputed standard-bearer for magical realism. In an interview for Atlantic in 1973 he explained why many Latin American writers combine realism and fantasy in their work: “In Mexico, surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.” However, magical realist novels lack the dream-like qualities of surrealist ones as they take place in realistic settings infused with magical elements. García Márquez considered these magical elements an integral part of the Caribbean cultures just like any other common occurrences in daily life.
It can be seen from this why he chooses to write so much in this style. His reality, and that of the Latin American population, has always been intertwined with superstitious elements and myths. His work persuades the reader to think about everyday life in Latin America from his perspective, in which fantasy and the supernatural have always had a place alongside reality.
This is as much a political statement as an explanation of his writing style. It implies that Latin America has its own cultures, fairy tales and fantasies, with identities derived from so much more than just its European colonial heritage.
The conjunction of fiction and reality, as well as important themes of life and death, are exemplified in one of García Márquez’s later short stories, María dos Prazeres. It is a story about the life and struggles of a 76 year-old prostitute who, as the result of a vision, believes she is on the verge of death. This woman, María dos Prazeres, duly devotes herself to preparing for her death: eg buying a plot and burial clothes, and training her dog to cry on her grave.
After her premonition, her perception of life changes completely. She starts living in the past and preparing for what she thinks is the inevitable future. Her abandonment of established routine marks the severance of the sole connection which kept her attached to reality: ‘María dos Prazeres tuvo la certidumbre de que el último ciclo de su vida acababa de cerrarse.’ Her conduct indicates her belief that death was to be respected rather than feared – the completion of a circle linking life and death.
Having accepted that her life will soon end, she will not be swayed from that opinion. Her waking thoughts are consumed by sombre contemplations: eg ‘el deplorable abrigo de otoño que no se le había ocurrido cambiar por estar pensando en la muerte.’ Convinced that she will not last the winter, she declines to buy a winter coat.
Ironically, María is so obsessed with her impending death that she forgets to make the most of her remaining life. Thus she wastes three years preparing for the outcome of a vision that, it transpires, she interpreted incorrectly in the first place. At the very end of the book, her premonition is refuted, and the reader is shown that all her preparations were unnecessary. The driver whom Maria mistakes for the Grim Reaper is actually a customer who provides her with a new lease of life. She exclaims in astonishment, ‘¡Dios míos, de modo que no era la Muerte!’ She is so fixated on the idea of her own death that she doesn’t see opportunity right before her eyes.
Magical realism is used throughout the story to question the boundaries between truth and imagination, life and death. For example, María trains her dog to cry real tears, which evidently shocks the salesman, who cannot believe his eyes: ‘Collons!’ he shouts ‘¡Ha llorado!’ As to her vision, it is never narrated nor described to the reader. Its legitimacy is never verified, and its intention is never revealed, perhaps to leave the story open to interpretation.
In conclusion, when the premonition is first mentioned, the reader expects the story to end with death, an assumption sustained by the text. However, at the end of the narrative it is revealed that her sense of inevitable doom had in fact been misjudged, and that the premonition foretold life and love rather than death. This perhaps acts as a gentle reminder of our inability to know the future, and the futility of fixating on the past.