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Abstract

This paper is an endeavor to present a reading of Beloved by Toni Morrison and Wise Children by Angela Carter from the perspective of magic realism. By giving examples from both of the stories, we will try to explain our approach and also try to show the aspects of magical realism in both of the stories.

Magic realism is a literary genre that blends mythical or fantastic elements with realist fiction. Although it is often associated with Latin American literature, it rapidly gained considerable attention in World literature. Many writers who are considered to be magic realist fiction writers make use of this genre to examine, or inquire about the “reality” of the “real world”. By “reality” and “real world”, we mean the status quo or the given social norms of a particular society or culture. Hence, one of the most crucial features when defining magic realism is the distinction between the ordinary, familiar world and the unconventional, unfamiliar world. But in a magic realist text, this distinction can not be made, though this distinction and its aspects can easily be followed by examining the examples in aforesaid stories. Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that “in the magical realist text, characters encounter elements of magic and fantasy with the same acceptance that they meet those settings and figures commonly associated with ‘reality’ and ‘fact’” (Murad, 2006).

We can first of all put forward that the ghost is arguably the first magical element in Beloved. One can observe this by taking a look at the first appearance of the ghost as a human: “A fully dressed woman walked out of the water. She barely gained the dry bank of the stream before she sat down and leaned against a mulberry tree. All day and all night she sat there, her head resting on the trunk in a position abandoned enough to crack the brim in her straw hat.” (Morrison, p. 50). As stated in the introduction, in magic realism, the characters treat otherwise abnormal things as if they are normal things in everyday life. Accordingly, we see the ghost being friends with Denver, or we see her violent and vengeful tendencies like slamming one of Sethe’s children to a wall, but all of these show us the magical realism aspect. Because, as distinguished from the genre of horror, the character’s reaction to the ghost is not different from an everyday acquaintance. Unlike horror, they(especially Sethe) seem to accept the fact that a ghost has haunted their house and even try to reason with her: “Perhaps a conversation, they thought, an exchange of views or something would help.” (Morrison, p. 4).

Another important aspect or element to consider when examining a magic realist story is that of the mystical and mythical, almost ritual-like atmosphere as well as the significance of colors and light(like Emerald light). As Maggie Ann Bowers says about Morrison: “Her narratives are influenced by African American oral culture and mythology adapted from West African culture.” (Bowers, p. 55). Therefore the black culture and its myths, rituals, legends, and beliefs play a quite significant role in Beloved. In this way, Morrison and other authors who challenge the present norms, by making use of magic realism, can subvert history and re-imagine it from a different perspective. While presenting the ordinary, they can introduce the unnatural within that scope, and allow the assimilated past or history to be re-written again, just like post-colonial writers do. One reflection of African American heritage can be seen in the following passage from the book, where Denver is giving a “magic birth”, and she is compared to an antelope: “Her leg shaft ended in a loaf of flesh scalloped by five toenails. But she could not, would not stop, for when she did the little antelope rammed her with horns and pawed the ground of her womb with impatient hooves.” (Morrison, p. 30).

Thus, in her novel Beloved, Morrison, “takes the advantage of both realism and magic to challenge the assumptions of an authoritative colonialist attitude and so can be alleged as a powerful and efficient method to project the postcolonial experience of African-American ex-slaves in the United States. It can also provide an alternate point of view to Eurocentric accounts of reality and history to attack the solidity of Eurocentric definitions and as a consequence to portray the hidden and silenced voices of numerous enslaved generations of African Americans in the history of the United States.” (Razmi & Jamali, 2012). So the ghost can be seen as a representation of both Sethe’s past and a historical embodiment of slavery that has to be dealt with, in other words, Morrison by bringing the ghost, wants the readers to face the wicked heritage of racism. Another example is the house itself. Besides its symbolic meaning, the representation, and the significance of the number “124”, the house itself seems to be one of the elements of magic realism in the story. That is to say, the personification of the house, the way it seems to act and react by itself, paints a mystical and gloomy picture. For instance, in the following passage, the house is portrayed as if it is another living being: ‘So Sethe and the girl Denver did what they could, and what the house permitted, for her.’ (Morrison, p. 4).

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Just like Morrison, Angela Carter uses both fantastic and realist elements while constituting a magical world. The story of Wise Children takes place in nineteenth-century England. From the very beginning, we are drawn into a fairytale-like atmosphere with the narrator’s words, “Once upon a time, you could make a crude distinction.” (Carter, p. 19). We see similar words at the beginning of chapter two as well: “Once upon a time, there was an old woman in splitting black satin pounding away…” (Carter, p. 63). Throughout the book though, the narrative switches back and forth between fantastical and realist mode. This allows us to approach and evaluate the story of Wise Children as a magic realist work.

The first example of magic realism in Wise Children is the ghost of Grandma Chance. She visits twin sisters Dora and Nora who are described as “two peas”. They are celebrating their seventy-fifth birthday. Dora, the narrator of the story, talks about a coincidence saying that the twenty-third of April -the birthday of Shakespeare- is also the birthday of their real father Melchior, and his brother Peregrine. It is also worth mentioning here as an aspect of magic realism that there are so many twins in the story and this is just accepted as a coincidence. So coincidences like these, play a rather absurd role in the story as an enrichment of magic realism. As mentioned above, before the twin sisters go to the birthday party of Melchior, Grandma Chance’s ghost visits them. This can be given as one of the elements of magic realism in the story. Towards the middle of the second chapter, we hear a memory that can be regarded as the second magic realism aspect in the book: “And then, hup! he did a back-flip out of the window with us, saving us. But I know I am imagining the back-flip and the flight.” (Carter, p. 79-80). As we can see in this passage, Carter blends the magical (which comes from “a backflip out the window”) and realism (reminding the reader that the narrative can not be that reliable due to her age).

Furthermore, at the end of the same chapter, we encounter a rather absurd and chaotic scene. The house was set on fire because of an accident caused by a simple mistake by Genghis Khan. While everyone is running for their lives and forced to leave the house, Dora and the boy continue to have sexual intercourse during this chaotic situation. It is also noteworthy to add that a similar scene happens in the final chapter as well. Although scenes like these reflect more the carnivalesque side than magic realism, the writer blends them very well. Additionally, just like the coincidences that were mentioned before, the amount of coincidental connections with Shakespeare and his plays (especially in chapters two and three), empower the role of coincidence as an absurd side of the story and enriches the magical realism.

Perhaps the last element that stands out in the book as an example of magic realism is the character: Peregrine. He is an adventurer and a magician, and he truly embodies the blending of magic realism and carnivalescence. Carter depicts his physical appearance as follows: “The trowelful of freckles flung over his nose never faded and he was bigger than ever, the size of a warehouse.” (Carter, p. 115). Besides his physicality, almost everything about him is out of the ordinary. He represents both magic realism and carnivalesque through his disappearances and his magic: “Here today and gone tomorrow, not so much a man, more of a traveling carnival.” (Carter, p. 161).

Considering what has been presented thus far, we can conclude by putting forward that both Morrison’s Beloved and Carter’s Wise Children -although the intentions of the writers may differ- successfully reflect the characteristics of magic realism in their way. Magic realism as a genre with its various aspects, allows the story to be diverse in its metaphoric narrative. Thus, we may argue that while the story of Beloved makes use of magical realism to take a critical approach and put the ideas of slavery and racism into question, Wise Children can be regarded as more of a story that blends the absurd, carnivalesque, and magic realism.

Works Cited

    1. Morrison, T. (1998). Beloved. Plume. Retrieved from https://libgen.is/book/index.php?md5=0A021E225077FBCEF41A21036DF6CA81
    2. Carter, A. (1993). Wise Children. Penguin Books. Retrieved from https://book4you.org/book/4779581/e50f46
    3. Murad. J. (2006). Magical Realism in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Ana Castillo’s So Far from God, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/61300
    4. Bowers, M. A. (2004). Magic(al) Realism(The New Critical Idiom). Routledge. Retrieved from https://libgen.is/book/index.php?md5=598353D013EA319157A036B7B9D5BDB0
    5. Razmi, Mehri & Jamali, Leyli. (2012). Magic(al) Realism as Postcolonial Device in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. 2.

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