In my thesis I will be dealing with the occurrence of magic-realist elements in three novels by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie is an extraordinary author, not only for his original style of writing but also for the difficulties he had to go through. After publishing his fourth novel The Satanic Verses he was condemned to death by Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini. For several years Rushdie had to live in hiding and only a few years ago he was freed from his destiny.
This thesis focuses on Rushdie’s work from the literary perspective. It will trace the common and less common features of magic realism that appear in his works in view of the fact that Rushdie is categorized as a postmodern author. Magic realism emerges at the beginning of the 20th century but its revival is apparent in the 80s with authors that are considered postmodern because of their ‘decentralization’. They are either from places other than Europe or the United States or are marginalized because of gender or race. Due to his Indian origin and then being British citizen, Rushdie could rank among these authors, although he has never been marginalized as the author since his works were a great success. He uses magic realism to erase the boundaries between West and East (centre and margin) or criticise the migrant’s status in foreign society.
The aim of my thesis is to introduce the elements of magic realism which are typical of Rushdie’s writing and which occur in all three novels. I will also examine the function and purpose of inserting these features in the novels and investigate if their function is common in all three works. In the second chapter I will briefly introduce the development of magic realism and its main features that appear in most of the magic-realist texts. In the subsequent subchapter I will put magic realism in the context of postmodern literature. Its function is different in postmodernism and therefore some of the elements are different. In the third chapter I will introduce the background Rushdie comes from. In this instance the author´s background is very important because it highly influenced his work. He puts a lot of autobiographical components and experience in his novels. Then I will in short present the three novels examined. I have chosen exactly these three (Midnight’s Children, Shame, Satanic Verses) because they create a sort of trilogy, that means that they all include magic-realist elements and deal with the problems of individuals somehow standing on the crossroad between two worlds (western and eastern). This chapter is followed by the actual analysis of the three novels in chronological order. Each of these novels deals with different problems of distinct characters but the overall theme is very similar. In each novel there are presented both worlds and cultures and the clash between them. More importantly, the emphasis is put on the eastern culture in a sense that the heroes do not forget their origin and even if confronted with a different world-view they try to preserve the traditions (that are connected with the magical).
In his novels Rushdie depicts the world he comes from as a place full of mythology and legends where everything is possible; but at the same time he is able to criticise this world from the western-experience point of view. For that reason the reader of his works can sense some kind of hyperbole or burlesque in his writing. It must be stated that there are many viewpoints to look at Rushdie’s work.
Development of the Term “Magic Realism”
In this chapter I would like to introduce the history of the term magic realism. In her study “Zázračné reálno“ Magický realismus (“Marvelous Real“ Magic Realism) Eva Lukavská at the beginning presents a brief survey of the development of the term and its spread in Spanish-speaking countries. The term ‘magic realism’ was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in his book Nach-Expressionismus. Magischer Realismus. Probleme der neuesten europaeischen Malerei (Post-Expressionism. Magic Realism. Problems of New European Painting). The term was initially only used in the art of painting in Germany. This term was used for the type of painting that was also called ‘new’ or ‘ideal’ realism. According to Roh, the works of magic realism go deeper under the surface of reality and reveal ‘the miracle’ of being. Magic realism tries to find a ‘point’ where the real and the ideal mingle.
In 1927 Roh’s essay was translated into Spanish and published by Jose Ortega y Gasset and thus the term magic realism spread to the Hispanic environment. In 1948 Arturo Uslar Pietri introduced the term in his collection of essays Letras y hombres de Venezuela (Literature and Famous Figures of Venezuela) as a term used for a certain type of Hispano-American narrative prose. The term was broadly spread in Latin America in 1955 when a study “Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction” by professor Angelo Flores was published. As the most illustrative example of magic realism he presents the work of Franz Kafka and as the beginning of magic realism in Latin America he considers the book Historia universal de la infamia (A Universal History of Infamy) by Jorge Luise Borges from 1935.
Another important contributor to the development of the term was Luis Leal. In 1967 he wrote a study “El realismo mágico en la literatura hispanoamericana“ (“Magic Realism in Spanish-American Literature“) where he articulated his comments or objections against Flores’s conception of magic realism and he also attached some important facts about the history of the term. “Leal did not approve of Flore’s concept of a ‘mixture of reality and fantasy‘ and defines magic realism as an ‘attitude to reality’ that leads to a more profound recognition of the world and allows to grasp the mystery that is hidden beyond reality” (Lukavská 14). The difference between these two scholars is evident in their conception of the term. Flores sees the magic realism as a fantasy or science fiction literature. For Leal, the magic-realistic author ‘par excellence’ was Alejo Carpentier; for Flores it was Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges (Lukavska 12-23).
The most famous and important magic-realist author in the Hispanic environment is definitely Gabriel Garcia Márquez. He is considered to be a member of the generation of authors following Borges. For Márquez the magic was the most accurate mode of representing reality (Simpkins 148). Despite the magical events in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, he claims that he “was able to write [...] simply by looking at reality, our reality [...]” (qtd. in Simpkins 149).
Márquez is also the probable source or model for the postmodern writers employing the features of magic realism (and thus being categorized as magic-realist authors) in their novels. According to Wendy B. Faris, who wrote several essays about magic realism in postmodernism, the group of these authors include Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Carlos Fuentes, D.M. Thomas, Toni Morrison and many others. Faris argues that these authors use some distinct elements of magic realism that are characteristic of postmodern writing (Zamora 167). I will focus on the problem of postmodernism and magic realism in the next chapter.
Now, I would like to briefly introduce the term ‘magic realism’ itself. Basically, magic realism combines realism and the magic (or fantastic) in a way that the magical elements and miracles rise naturally from the reality portrayed (Zamora 163). I will not introduce all the characteristics of magic-realist fiction in this chapter but I will present them in the course of my thesis in connection with the particular problems. Still, I will mention some of the basic elements that apply to the majority of magic-realist texts. One of the main features is the presence of a fantastical element which cannot be explained according to our knowledge of the world, but the magical things really do happen. The characters mostly accept these things without questioning. Another point is that the magic-realist events exists in the ‘gap’ between two worlds – the real and the magic; these two worlds are often represented by the worlds of the dead and the living. Therefore in almost all the magic-realist texts there appear ghosts and the living are in contact with them. This notion has connection with another element and that is the use of legends and folklore. The last characteristic I will mention is the altered perception of time, space and identity (Wikipedia; Zamora 167-177).
The purpose of using magic realism in writing prose differs from author to author. For the ‘decentralized’ authors (including Rushdie) it serves as a device to present their opinions on the mainstream culture and politics. At the same time it helps to demonstrate the distance between the centre and and the margin (between the West and the East in the case of Rushdie).