Magical Realism and Matriarchy in Salman Rushdie’s Novel Midnight’s Children and Gabriel Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude
Magical realism (MR) fuses magic and realism together to form one new perspective. Critics often reduce magical realism to a mere synonym of the “fantasy” genre. If this were valid, fantasy literature would be a post-colonial phenomenon, which is not necessarily the case. Magic literature evokes emotions whereas MR aims to express emotions. It serves the unique purpose of reclaiming the history of colonized people, on whom colonizers imposed an alien culture. MR has become important for postcolonial cultures, providing the literary ground for marginalized voices and submerged traditions.
“Post-colonialism” refers to the political and social attitude that opposes colonialism due to the recognized effects of colonialism. Postcolonial literature is a way of reconsidering the identity of a nation after independence. This is necessary as people of liberated nations did not experience cultural freedom though they achieved political freedom (Suganya & Tamizharasi, 2016). Postcolonial discourse rose from the Western world’s imperial expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries. The three non-western continents, Africa, Asia, Latin America, were in subordination to Europe and North America. Post-colonialism asserts not only the right of African, Asian, and Latin American people to access resources and material well-being, but also the dynamic power of their cultures (Young, 2009). Postcolonial writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie write in response to the authority exercised by the Western powers (Benny).
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells of the rise and fall of Macondo through the tale of seven generations of the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía builds a town, Macondo, by the river. The town is initially prosperous, attracting gypsies. Frequent rainstorms and a hurricane finally erase the town from existence (Milne, 2017). The text is an allegory of Latin America’s infamous history. Márquez once said he employs magical realism in his work because it accurately depicts life in Latin America. In one interview conducted in 1973, the author asserts that surrealism was adopted from the reality of South America. (Grady, 2018)
Salman Rushdie is another well-known MR author. Rushdie has always been clear about Márquez being a great influence of his work. Midnight’s Children constructs a new depiction of Indian history. The novel follows Saleem Sinai as he narrates his family’s history to Padma, his listener. India’s history is intertwined with Saleem’s from the moment of his birth. Saleem is born at the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947, the day India gained independence from the British Raj (Bounse, 2009). This text is also an allegory, specifically of India’s history. Saleem has a gift similar to telepathy, which enables him to speak to the rest of the midnight’s children in his head. These children represent the future of a democratic nation. By the end of the text, however, the children have gone separate ways and lost their gifts, just as India lost hope for a better future. Saleem is disintegrating, just as India is divided into smaller states (Bowers, 2004). Salman Rushdie once explained his belief in magical realism as postcolonial discourse. He also maintained its effectivity, as those colonized tell the story. He believes that MR “expresses a genuinely ‘Third World’ consciousness, where centuries of wealth and power have formed thick layers over the surface of what’s really going on.” (Grady, 2018)
This essay is based on a close reading of the books and on pre-existing literary theory and socio-cultural interpretation. Its methodology consists of the two primary texts as well as secondary sources to arrive at an evaluation of the research question. The secondary resources are dated from 1981 to 2017, which allows for appreciation of any evolution of magical realism.
Magical realism is worthy of exploration as it may well be the only narrative mode that challenges how we know what we know. It gives as much validation to minority worldviews as those that are commonly accepted. The two texts show how indigenous groups underwent cultural assimilation, which is the same process our ancestors underwent as a British protectorate. In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to empower marginalized communities.
Magical Realism: Giving Voice to the Colonized
Magical realism is a means for recovering the past, but also the spiritual aspects of the colonized. Both authors derive inspiration for their texts from the beliefs and mythology of their cultures. To begin with, Márquez expresses his own cultural context by integrating folklore into One Hundred Years. The author was brought up by his superstitious grandparents, in a supposedly haunted house. Márquez uses the oral narrative techniques of his grandmother. Incorporating folklore rather than, for instance, organized religion, allows for the emergence of underrepresented people. For example, Márquez makes reference to the superstition that an incestuous relationship “will” bear children with pigs’ tails. “Will” insinuates concreteness and not mere speculation on their part.
Úrsula fears that her incestuous relationship with her husband will bring about the unwanted consequence. The superstition eventually comes true when Aureliano is born with a tail. “Aureliano wept in his mother’s womb and had been born with his eyes open,” just as Melquíades “really had been through death” and resurrected. I wondered why Márquez did not term Melquíades a ghost, the Western term for hazy figures. A ghost is “an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear … typically as a nebulous image.” The answer lies in the definition. A ghost is “believed to appear.” However, Jose did not believe, but rather clearly saw Melquíades and Prudencio in their physical forms. Secondly, “nebulous image” in the definition suggests that the “image” is indistinct and obscure. This is not the case because Jose is able to recognize the two men. Thus, they were people, not ghosts. Philip Swanson notes that Márquez presents rural perspectives, thereby challenging the predominance of Western culture and reaffirming the value of the pueblo’s own perspectives.
Rushdie’s novel similarly incorporates Hindu culture. “Ramram the seer” predicted Saleem’s link to India. Just as Aureliano is indeed born with a tail, the seer in Midnight’s Children “got nothing wrong.” Rushdie also assures his listener, Padma, that his “grandfather’s premonitions … were not without foundations.” This suggests that traditional Indians use similar ways of knowing as the West: logic and reason. Unlike Márquez, Rushdie goes to the extent of referencing identity crisis as an effect of the colonized. He gives characters voice to express their state of confusion. Saleem questions his identity on several occasions. He insists that he and “the Buddha” are not the same person. He asserts that, “until the snake,” the Buddha “would remain not-Saleem.” Tai, being a boatman, is marginalized due to his low socioeconomic status. He “made his living as a simple ferryman.” Tai is described as having the “gift of seeing.” He “cheerily admitted he had no idea of his age.”His chatter was “fantastic, grandiloquent and ceaseless.”
The “old-half wit” knew the area “better than any of his detractors.” Rushdie succeeds in giving purpose to the boatman, so much so that the “lake people” were in awe. Regarding his age, he only said that he had “watched the mountains being born.” He admits that his memory is fading, but asserts that he knows history. Tai is against the modern education system; “God knows what they teach you boys these days.” He also opposes cultural dilution; “… what these foreigners put in our young men’s head. I swear: it is a too-bad thing.” This implies that Tai is a believer of magic that “soars up to the most remote Himalayas of the past …” Folklore is incorporated in Midnight’s Children as well, with Tai pickling “water-snakes in brandy” to give him “virility.” Both authors question the realism of the West and the general consensus of its reliability. They challenge the mindset on which the realism is based by creating this new form of realism. Submerged traditions dominate in these two texts, allowing for the colonized to voice their sentiments.
Matriarchy in Magical Realism
One Hundred Years shows evidence of a patriarchal society’s disenchantment with itself. Márquez discredits such a mindset. In those days, patriarchy was the overriding norm. Spanish-speaking countries labelled it as “machismo,” which referred to a prideful masculinity. A woman’s worth, in traditional Latin American culture, was reduced to little more than birthing and domestic chores. The novel opposes this, presenting what can be regarded primarily as female ways of knowing or the so-called “sixth-sense.” Women predominantly use intuition as a way of knowing. Úrsula warns her great-grandson about his grandiose lifestyle; “This luck is not going to last all your life. Save something now.” Aureliano Segundo “paid no attention to her.” His extravagance, however, did indeed end. In another scenario, Fernanda del Carpio runs the family. Despite the “visible hostility” of her in-laws, “Fernanda did not give up her plan to impose the customs of her ancestors.”
Her strength of character is as good as, if not superior, to any physical machismo of that time, such as José’s ability to “pull down a horse by its ears.” Just as MR fuses magic and realism, so does Márquez transgress the gender boundary and encourage “dualistic modes of thought.” Once again, magical realism becomes an effective tool by representing two conflicting discourses in the narrative, namely matriarchy and patriarchy. In the novel, Colonel Aureliano declares solitary confinement on himself and does not allow anyone, including family members, to intrude. However, Úrsula “was the only one who dared disturb his abstraction.” “Dared” implies that it was a fearsome thing to “disturb” the colonel, with potential grave consequences.
His own mother, Úrsula, was also expected to heed to his warnings. Her bravery, however, outweighed any fear she may have had. Furthermore, it was Úrsula who, “invested with a rare solemnity,” threatened to kill Colonel Aureliano. She concludes her rebuke by saying that “it’s the same as if he had been “born with the tail of a pig.” Only after Úrsula’s reproach did the colonel “get this … war over with.” This is a shining example of matriarchy in Márquez’s text, implicitly attributing the end of years of war to a woman. In Marquez’s novel, the female is also valued for her curative qualities. Pilar Ternera, a card-reader, are the Buendías go-to person during times of doubt or crisis. Pilar serves as a source of comfort for Aureliano, taking “refuge” in her “compassionate tenderness and understanding” nature (Faris, 2013). Gabriel García Márquez effectively incorporates matriarchy into magical realism as an alternative to patriarchy.
Rushdie, similarly, denounces patriarchy. In both texts, the mothers of the characters are forces to be reckoned with. After the death of Aadam’s father, Aadam’s mother, “who had spent her life housebound, in purdah, had … begun to run a business.” It is her business that “had put Aadam through medical school.” Aadam Aziz recognizes this subversion of parental roles. “The seemingly immutable order of his family” had been “turned upside down, his mother going out to work …” Aadam’s mother viewed her husband’s death as “a merciful release from a life filled with responsibilities.” Rushdie ridicules the traditional domestic setting by referencing the belief that “Doctor Aziz’s nose … established incontrovertibly his right to be a patriarch.” His nose in itself “assumed a patriarchal aspect.” I found this absurd, especially being a modern reader living in a pro-feminist era.
The quote suggests how ill-founded patriarchy is to begin with. Doctor Aziz’s wife also rejected this supposed power of her husband’s nose. To her, “it looked noble.” Rushdie suggests that patriarchy was established by the uncivilized. Tai, the boatman with the same backward mindset, was described as one whose “brain fell out with his teeth.” The oppression of women is also noticed through daughters being sold off by their fathers. Girl children were considered invaluable in those days and so to sell them at a price would bring more fortune. Saleem narrates that “Uncle Puffs had tried to sell his daughter” to him “by offering to have her teeth drawn and replaced with gold.” Salman Rushdie also references to Mrs. Indira Gandhi as a powerful and influential women. She was so powerful that the phrase “India is Indira and Indira is India” was adopted. Her status is compared to the country itself. Both authors point to the stature of the female as an indicator of her narrative power. In the context of the novels, women prove to be a necessary component of the domestic setting. Matriarchy is used effectively to in postcolonial discourse because the authors revise a patriarchal mindset by counteracting this male chauvinism with the female power.
Rewriting History through Magical Realism
Gabriel Márquez and Salman Rushdie write against totalitarian regimes. Both authors aim to bring into question the colonizers’ versions of Colombian and Indian histories respectively. Through the eyes of the protagonists, clashes between political groupings drive the violent histories of India and Colombia.
Márquez’s alternative source of historical events is the manuscript of Melquíades. These manuscripts turned out to be a premonition of the lives of the Buendias, revealing forgotten incidents of Macondo. This creates a surreal history, unlike that narrated by the West or in historical records. Márquez implies that we are the masters of our own destinies. Márquez narrates about years of civil unrest, including the War of a Thousand Days (1899 – 1902) and “la violencia” or government brutality (1948-58). The author once explained how the gruesome past and present of many South American countries lends itself naturally to magical realism as the narrative mode is able to convey the “unearthly tidings of Latin America” (Bowers, 2004).
Márquez explains that what others would consider myths and legends are in fact the “everyday life” of Colombians. In fact, only the scientific innovations brought by gypsies are considered extraordinary. Jose Arcadio Buendia is in awe of ice, a telescope and a magnifying glass. Postcolonial literature has the primary objective of retelling events through the eyes of the colonized, rather than the colonizers. Márquez effectively retells the colonial legacy of violence in Latin America from the victims’ perspectives.
Some critics argue that One Hundred Years loses its sociopolitical power due to Márquez’s nostalgia and the playfully quaint nature of magical realism. The text begins with a moment of nostalgia: “Many years later, Colonel … was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” On the contrary, I find magical realism to be an impactful form of political resistance. One Hundred Years is effective in that it uses sensory language to appeal to my emotions and also refers to factual historical accounts. This combination is powerful because a tragic historical event narrated by Márquez is heartbreaking. For example, the banana massacre was a brutal act from the army as they opened fire on peaceful protesters. The military regime denied of any such incident.
Denial, a lack of official records and the unreliability of tattletales in the region wiped off any occurrence of the event. The number of the deceased was never known. This shows how magical realism is effective in depicting how the manipulation of reality by corrupt rulers, coupled with a compliant population, can redefine “facts.” “Every time that Aureliano mentioned” the killing of the workers, people “would repudiate the myth … the banana company had never existed.” The text nonetheless offers a precise number of those killed, as witnessed by Jose Arcadio; “three thousand four hundred eight.” The tragedy is described as a “real fact that no one believed in.” I appreciate the fact that Márquez is firm in his agenda of historical revisionism, shown through giving an exact number of casualties. It is effective because readers are prone to think highly of eyewitness accounts rather than secondary sources that were not even published in the era of the incidents.
Rushdie, on the hand, is more flexible in terms of rewriting history. Rushdie uses magical realism an effective tool for postcolonial discourse. Due to its dual narrative structure, magical realism presents the postcolonial text from both the colonized people’s and the colonial power’s perspectives. Salman Rushdie acknowledges that “history is always ambiguous.” According to him, “facts are hard to establish … reality is built on prejudices … as well as our perceptiveness and knowledge.” (page 25) Rather than enforcing an authoritarian version of historical truth the way Márquez does, Rushdie embraces the recreation of history with uncertainty (Bowers, 2004). Midnight’s Children illustrates that the way to provide a comprehensive portrayal of India is to acknowledge the multiple perspective of history and validate each one. Rushdie’s magical realism has a postmodern approach to history. Saleem admits that “there are so many stories to tell, too many” and that to know him would require the reader to “swallow the lot as well.” Salman Rushdie succeeds in postcolonial discourse because he aims to show the various voices that make up history, instead of the sole Western interpretation.
However, I view Rushdie’s “flexibility” in narrative simply as lack of certainty about his own stance. Authorial reticence is a technique that refers to the lack of clear opinions about the accuracy of events and the credibility of the worldviews expressed by characters in a text (Pagnucci, n.d.). This raises an eyebrow. In order for historical revisionism to be considered successful, the author cannot have a “lack of clear opinions about the accuracy of events.” In an attempt to be balanced, Rushdie has rather failed to convince me about his rewritten history due to his imprecision. For example, Tai narrated to Aadam a “brandied portrait of a bald, gluttonous Christ.” Rushdie adds that Tai knew that this was the reverse of the truth. I prefer the truth be stated. If not, the reader will not know either and the novel becomes a jumble of multiple perspectives with no clear conclusion.
This is why I prefer Márquez’s authoritarian narrative style. The reader is forced to either accept his version or not, rather than the confusing position of being stuck in the middle of conflicting viewpoints. Rewriting history through magical realism is the most valid form of political discourse expressed in the novels. This is because they explicitly oppose popular belief by presenting their version of history. It could be argued that the versions of the colonized are more worthy of consideration compared their colonizers. This is because the colonizers’ version may be presented with vested interests. The colonized, on the other hand, are most likely to be concerned with only seeking justice for the impacts of colonization. Rewriting history through magical realism plays the most effective role in postcolonial discourse, as both authors have shown, albeit to varying degrees.
In conclusion, both authors “wage war on totality,” as Jean-François Lyotard put it. They disrupt fixed notions of history, truth and reality. Márquez and Rushdie create a dimension beyond authoritative discourse where the voiceless express themselves. Although possessing many similarities, Gabriel García Márquez’s novel is more effective in achieving the five tenets of magical realism listed in the table of contents. Rushdie, however, is more explicit in the way matriarchy plays a role in the progression of the storyline. It is Márquez that succeeds in using magical realism as a tool for postcolonial discourse. Rushdie’s novel is more of an enjoyable cultural read with intriguing characters. His opposition to colonialism is not clear in the novel as opposed to Márquez’s. Nonetheless, both authors prove that more than a fashionable narrative technique, magical realism has stimulated consideration of the link between fiction and reality.
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