Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and Isaac Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool”
The concept ‘magical realism,’ which was originally introduced by Franz Roh during the 1920’s, was originally meant to portray a ‘counter-movement’ in art which aims to present a different account of reality as opposed to that which is presented by realist theories of art (Simpkins 146).
The distinction between the two-realism and magical realism-is evident in the following: (1) ‘Realism’s use of history as opposed to the later’s use of myth,’ (2) ‘Realism’s use of mimesis as opposed to the later’s use of the fantastic,’ (3) ‘Realism’s use of familiarization as opposed to the later’s use of defamiliarization,’ (4) ‘Realisms use of empiricism as opposed to the later’s use of mysticism,’ (5) ‘Realism’s use of narration as opposed to the later’s use of meta-narration,’ (6) ‘Realisms close-ridden narrative structure as opposed to the later’s open-ended narrative structure,’ (7) ‘Realism’s naturalism as opposed to the later’s romanticism,’ and (8) ‘Realisms use of rationalization as opposed to the later’s use of imagination’ (Simpkins 146-150).
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This distinction between realism and magical realism may be rooted on the basic philosophical assumptions of both styles. Whereas realism opts to present an accurate account of reality through the use of mimesis, magical realism opts to present a fantastic account of reality through the re-presentation of reality. This re-presentation of reality is particularly evident in the later’s use of religious figures, objects, and images within the text. The use of such figures, objects, and images may be understood in the following ways: (1) It may serve to ridicule and negate the basic assumptions of a particular belief or (2) It may serve to affirm the basic assumptions of a particular belief.
This is evident in the use of magical realism in the negation of religious beliefs and practices in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and the affirmation of religious beliefs and practices in Isaac Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool. ” In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” magical realism is used to criticize the beliefs and practices of Christian theology. Within the text, an ancient angel falls from heaven into the graces of Elisende and Pelayo who are perplexed at the idea of having an old man with wings in their midst. Puzzled about this occurrence, they consult Father Gonzaga who treats the celestial being with suspicion. After much debate, the angel becomes a carnival attraction.
In the end, after being teased and harassed by the town folks, the angel recuperates and flies away remaining but “an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea” (Marquez 218). In the aforementioned text, the use of magical realism is evident in Marquez’s use of a mixture of various forms of myth, with a specific emphasis on the religious myth of the existence of supernatural entities, with reality. In addition to this, the aforementioned text utilizes the fragmentation of narrative time which can be seen as time progressed from the old man’s fall to his rise back to the heavens and how it is juxtaposed to the child as well as to the community’s growth and development.
Another manner in which the use of magical realism is evident within the text can be seen in the ambiguity of the plot itself as the narrative is left open-ended as no definite ending is given regarding the old man’s fate. In relation to this, various themes may also be attributed to the text itself. Within the text, for example, Marquez discusses the exploitation of the unknown. This is evident as the old man was turned into a public spectacle despite his refusal to communicate with the villagers. This may understood in two ways. First, it may be understood as Marquez’s way of showing how religion is used as a means of gaining control over people. Control is gained over the villagers within the text as they succumbed to the unknown.
In addition to this, control is gained within the text as the old man was used by some of the villagers as a means of gaining economic privilege over the other individuals. Second, it may be understood as Marquez’s way of ridiculing religious beliefs and practices which can be seen in Father Gonzaga’s skeptical assessment of the old man’s nature as well as the villagers’ treatment of the angel as a circus freak. The paradox here is evident as the religious practice regarding the necessity to treat ‘sacred characters’ with reverence was not applied to their treatment of the old man who resembles the characteristics ascribed by religious texts to angels.
It is interesting to note that the distinct characteristic of Marquez’s fiction can be seen in its ability to link the massive unfolding of the unconscious processes. Consider for example that as soon as experience has been made visible and objectivized within the narrative, any imaginary and affective contents encountered within the narrative was used to describe things and ideas, to create opposite meanings, and to subjectify the official boundaries of reality. In the aforementioned text, even if Marquez did not make any explicit reference to any form of spirits, the irreducible elements of the old man’s characteristics leads to the feeling of an indeterminate and indefinable encounter with an entity that counters the real yet is completely fitted with the real in the text.
In the text, even if Garcia presents the priest as engaging in the determination-and hence objectification and demystification-of the old man, the defocalized narrative along with the attributes of the old man-which includes the lice in his wings-validate the delicate undefinability of the old man’s being. In this sense, the story thereby portrays the mysterious in an ironic manner. As opposed to Garcia’s use of religious elements as means of presenting the ironies inherent within the Christian theology, Isaac Singer uses religious elements in order to affirm the Jewish theology in his short story “Gimpel the Fool. ” The text revolves around the tale of Gimpel who subverts the town’s conception of him as the ‘fool,’ in such a way that his ‘foolish’ actions prove his wisdom thereby affirming the existence of the ‘wise fool’ within Yiddish Literature while at the same time affirming the Biblical emphasis on the ‘virtue of weakness .
The text begins with Gimpel’s introduction of himself. He states, “I am Gimpel the fool. I don’t think myself a fool. On the contrary. But that’s what folks call me…I had seven names in all: imbecile, donkey, flax-head, dope, glump, ninny, and fool. ” (Singer 3). As a result of the townsmen’s conception of Gimpel as a fool, they continuously pull various pranks and assaults upon his person. Instead of retaliating, Gimpel chooses to accept these pranks without retaliating on his fellowmen thereby in the end proving his existence as the only wise man within their town. The magical aspect within the text is evident in the parable like characteristic of the text itself.
This characteristic is evident as the text chooses to portray one particular character in such a way that the actions that are committed to his person as well as his reactions to these actions are constructed in such a way that they serve to present a lesson at the end of the text. The lesson is evident in his philandering wife’s words as she herself admits that as she cheated on her husband, she has fooled no one but herself. In the same manner, the text serves to emphasize that by treating other individuals in a negative manner, by treating other individuals unkindly, one is only imposing a moral burden upon one’s self that one may not be able to bear in the end.
The religious characteristic of the text is thereby evident as it affirms a Jewish adage regarding the importance of kindness as well as the ephemeral character of academic intelligence as opposed to wisdom that is gained through an individual’s cultivation of his character. Within this context, one may state that magical realism enables the affirmation or negation of particular beliefs regarding reality by re-presenting reality in such a way that particular emphasis is given on the moral which the story wishes to emphasize. In the case of Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” this is evident as Marquez places emphasis on the ironic characteristics of religious beliefs and religious practices. In the case of Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool,” this is evident as Singer places emphasis on the positive characteristics of religious beliefs and practices.