A Comparison of South American Realism and European Surrealism
Info: 9008 words (36 pages) Dissertation
Published: 5th Oct 2021
The research provides the comparison between the magical realism of South America and the surrealism of Europe, with a particular reference to One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Anos de Soledad) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) by Franz Kafka.
Applying to the comparative and historical theoretical approaches, the paper reveals both similarities and differences of two literary movements of the twentieth century. The received findings demonstrate that the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is based on the unity of reality and fantasy, while the surrealism of Kafka deals with the harmony between dreams and rationality, or, applying to Freudian psychoanalysis, between the conscious and the unconscious. In this regard, some results of the research reflect the previous analyses of Kafka and Marquez, while other findings provide some new interpretations of Kafka’s surrealism and Marquez’s magical realism.
Statement of the problem
Although the magical realism and the surrealism are two literary movements that were formed in different parts of the world, they have more similarities than differences. This is especially obvious on the examples of One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Anos de Soledad) written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) written by Franz Kafka. Despite the fact that The Metamorphosis belongs to the genre of the surrealism, it is sometimes attributed to the genre of the magical realism; the same regards Marquez’s masterpiece.
However, while the surrealism is aimed at the depiction of superior reality with the help of such tools as automatism, fantasy and mesmerism, the magical realism describes the real world in a combination with a fantastic realm. Overall, both the surrealism and the magical realism appeared as the revolutionary movements that challenged the civilised reality and the crucial role of rationality, considerably influencing the formation of new consciousness in South America and Europe in the twentieth century.
Literature of the twentieth century is characterised by the formation of various movements that reflected the essence of a rather contradictory and complex era, when different social, political, cultural and individual aspects emerged on a scene. Unquestionably, every literary movement made an attempt to implement its own ways of expression, forms, symbols and the treatment of certain crucial issues. However, after the era of rationality and in the threshold of Two World Wars, many writers and poets began to challenge pure reason, searching for the ways to combine reality with fantasy.
In this regard, the magical realism and the surrealism are literary movements of that period, which oppose the conventional portrayal of reality and produce their own understanding of human existence. Thus, two movements reveal many common features and characteristics, especially the similar ways of presenting and interpreting reality; however, the magical realism and the surrealism are not identical genres.
The magical realism overcomes the depressive and gloomy nature of the realism, trying to evoke the belief in supernatural things and simultaneously revealing the essence of reality. Applying to different perspectives and new ways of expression, the magical realism demonstrates the unusual world of Latin America torn between civilisation and primitive state, modernity and antiquity, social conflicts and cultural unity. The magical realism challenges rationality, puts questions and leads readers to fantastic realms.
The surrealism is a more formal genre than the magical realism; the surrealism bases its ideas on a certain ideology, while the magical realism forms its concepts on the logic of imagination, presenting a unique universe. However, similar to the magical realism, the surrealism is in search of combining contradictory juxtapositions, producing profound implications and complex ideas of reality. On the other hand, the surrealism strives for freedom, but this struggle is rather delicate; it does not maintain the idea of political or social changes, but rather claims for psychological changes.
Thus, the purpose of this research is to compare the magical realism of South America and the surrealism of Europe on the examples of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Evaluating the similarities and differences of these literary trends, the analysis is divided into several parts. Starting with a statement of the problem, which points at the major idea of the conducted research, the paper goes on with some social, political and cultural aspects of the magical realism and the surrealism. Chapter 3 presents a general overview of certain critical sources, which provide their interpretations of Marquez’s and Kafka’s literary works.
The theoretical methods applied for the analysis are discussed in the further section. Chapter 5 provides a detailed comparison between the defined works of Marquez and Kafka, paying a particular attention to the principal elements of the magical realism and the surrealism. The summarisation of the received findings is conducted in the Conclusions Chapter, while the final chapter reveals the limitations of the research and gives certain suggestions for further analyses of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka.
Review of the literature
As the literary works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka belong to rather complex genres of the surrealism and the magical realism, which are characterised by the unity of contradictory elements, critics provide different interpretations of these authors. Kafka’s The Metamorphosis has been analysed by feminists, psychoanalysts, postmodernists, structuralists, Marxists and other scholars who utilised various approaches in the process of their research. Gavriel Ben-Ephraim points at the fact that “Kafka’s The Metamorphosis validates contradictory reading that cancels coherent interpretation”1, while Harold Bloom maintains the similar viewpoint.
As the researcher claims, “my working principle in reading Kafka is to evade interpretation, which only means that what most needs and demands interpretation in Kafka’s writing is its perversely deliberate evasion of interpretation”2. William Madden draws a parallel between Kafka and the principal character of The Metamorphosis, revealing many autobiographical elements in the narration and stating that “it is literally a true account of a man, life, and the cosmos”3.
Ralph Friedman expresses the viewpoint that “it is best to approach Kafka as a writer of realistic fiction… [and that] symbolism must be taken into account, but it is not the master key of Kafka’s work”4. Evaluating the role of Kafka in worldwide literature, Friedman states that “Kafka went his own way… No great artist can be caught in the categories set up by literary historians”5. Despite various interpretations of Marquez’s work One Hundred Years of Solitude, many critics agree in opinion that Marquez’s magical realism demonstrates profound social, historical, cultural and political contexts. According to Stephen Minta, Marquez is “inevitably concerned with the whole history of his country and continent, and, both as a writer of novels and as a journalist, he has constantly laid stress on the importance of developing alternative sources of history”6. Marquez’s researcher Regina Janes points out that “his [Marquez’s] fellow novelists recognised in the novel a brilliant evocation of many of their own concerns: a ‘total novel’ that treated Latin America socially, historically, politically, mythically, and epically”7.
In fact, totality of One Hundred Years of Solitude is achieved through the unity of history and society; although Marquez seems to uncover the history of his region, he simultaneously reveals the history of Latin America, starting with the primordial times and ending with the establishment of Western imperialism. Anne Marie Taylor points at the fact that Gabriel Garcia Marquez treats history from two different perspectives; on the one hand, it is presented as a crucial tool for the explanation of the past, while, on the other hand, it is an integral part of the protagonists’ experience.
According to Taylor, the characters of Marquez’s narration “see the past in general as part of the circular pattern of recurring events and in particular, as filled with negative personal experiences which they do everything possible to repress”8. Despite the variety of interpretations of Marquez’s and Kafka’s works, the further analysis makes an attempt to overcome the existing contradictions and compare One Hundred Years of Solitude with The Metamorphosis, presenting a profound research of the magical realism and the surrealism.
The research utilises two theoretical methods – a comparative approach and a historical approach, which provide an opportunity to compare the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the surrealism of Franz Kafka. The aim of the comparative approach is to define both similarities and differences of the discussed literary movements, revealing unique features of each trend and of each literary work. Simultaneously, this approach uncovers a close connection between a literary work and such sciences as psychology or philosophy.
However, due to some limitations of the comparative approach, the paper also applies to the historical approach to overcome a simple analysis of differences and similarities and demonstrate interpretations of Marquez’s and Kafka’s works through the historical perspective, as every literary source is inseparably connected with history. The historical approach takes into account historical periods when certain literary texts are written; the received results are further applied to the analysed works that reflect some common features of a particular epoch.
Applying to an interpretative perspective, this approach evaluates social, cultural, and political changes that influenced certain aspects of literature9. In addition, the historical approach analyses forms, styles and literary tools of specific literary works, producing various valid interpretations of fiction. According to such historians as Raymond Williams, Steven Zwicker, Kevin Sharpe, and Geoffrey Hughes, the historical analysis of language in a literary work is crucial for the research of political, cultural and social changes10.
The definitions of the magical realism and the surrealism
The ‘magical realism’ as a notion belongs to a famous German critic Franz Roh who applied this particular term to the reality created by artists; according to Roh, the magical realism “employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquillity of simple and ingenuous things”11. Although the magical realism is a comparatively novel literary movement, some elements of this genre can be found in the works of such famous writers as Honoré de Balzac, Nikolay Gogol, Mikhail Bulgakov, Guy de Maupassant, Italo Calvino, Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
However, in South America the concept of “magical realism” was successfully utilised in literature since 1940s to reveal the realistic outlook of American nation. As a challenge to post-colonialism and the prevalence of European cultural values in various countries of South America, some writers created literary works that began to reflect a definitely new vision of reality that was later regarded as the ‘magical realism’.
Due to the fact that South America was exposed to various cultural, social and political conflicts in the nineteenth-twentieth centuries, the magical realism successfully demonstrated the existing complexities of that particular period. In this regard, the magical realism is based on the harmony of contradictory aspects, such as past and present, reason and emotions, reality and unreality. Thus, on the one hand, this literary trend accepts reality, while, on the other hand, it also accepts supernatural elements as an integral part of this reality12.
Unlike the fantastic literary genre, where the created world differs from the real world, the setting in the magical realism is created within the real contemporary world, depicting modern people and social realm, although through the fantastic perspective. According to the historical approach, this combination of reality and fantasy can be explained by the survival of Indian culture within European civilisation. In view of this combination, the magical realism of South America is characterised by such features as irony, hybridity, restraint and the balance between natural and supernatural. As for irony, authors of the magical realism utilise irony to preserve realism within their fantastic contexts; however, their fantasy is so real that is almost impossible to separate the realm of fantasy from the realm of reality.
As the narrators or the characters turn to fantasy, their reality is changed, and these protagonists no longer belong to a particular social class; rather they belong to the realm of magical reality, which constitutes their own lives. Hybridity is one of the most important features of the magical realism, as it challenges the traditional realistic portrayal, demonstrating that reality is usually more complex than it is presented in the majority of literary works. In other words, reality is exposed to constant changes and mixtures, revealing the equilibrium between two extremes.
Restraint and the balance between natural and supernatural are closely connected with the previous features; writers of the magical realism apply to these literary techniques to prove that any supernatural elements are normal for the protagonists who live within the magical reality. In addition, the magical realism demonstrates various fantastic components that seem rather logical, although this logic is not clarified within the narration. The best representative of the Southern American magical realism is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous Colombian writer, although there are other writers of the magical realism, such as Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, Ernst Junger, Ben Okri, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo and Alejo Carpentier. For instance, The Famished Road by Ben Okri reflects such features of the magical realism as hybridity and restraint, which are demonstrated through the principal characters and the portrayal of social reality.
Alejo Carpentier is a South American writer who is known for the creation of the notion ‘marvellous reality’ that defines the literature of new writers after the Second World War. Similar to the magical realism, the surrealism also deals with two realms, but these realms are of different nature. In particular, the surrealism is aimed at observing exterior reality and interior reality in their unity; in fact, it is difficult to achieve the unity of two realms, as one reality is social, while another reality is individual.
The surrealism as a literary movement was created in the twentieth century and became spread in Europe after the First World War. Originating from the Dada movement, the surrealism in literature is based on positivism, rather than on negativism, although it challenges the traditional understanding of art. In the period of immense disappointment caused by the war, the surrealists made attempts to renew the lost culture and art, adhering to realism and truthfulness of expression. For Andre Breton, the author of The Surrealist Manifesto and the founder of the movement in 1924, the surrealism is expressed in the balance between the unconscious and conscious spheres; in this regard, dreams and rationality constitute a perfect reality in surrealistic literary works.
Thus, the surrealism reflects Freud’s psychological theories on the conscious and the unconscious, especially the psychoanalyst’s ideas of the id and the ego; it also rejects the dominance of traditions and reason over imagination. In this context, both the surrealism and the magical realism stress the importance of dreams, treating fantasy as a crucial and serious aspect of reality.
However, writers and poets of the surrealism pay much attention to intricate combinations of words, but not to the meanings of these words, complicating their literary pieces and adhering to mysticism of primitive societies. Some famous European surrealist authors and poets are Robert Desnos, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, Philippe Soupault, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and Jean Cocteau who considerably maintain the ideas of pure primitivism, but one of the most outstanding writers of the surrealism is certainly Franz Kafka, whose major short stories and novels were published only after his death.
Overall, both the magical realism and the surrealism make attempts to find supernatural in normal things and present reality through a new vision. As a result, literary pieces of the surrealism and the magical realism are characterised by the implementation of new experimental forms, styles, themes and ways of expression, changing the traditional interpretation of fantastic and real, ironic and dramatic. In addition to these common features, the surrealism points at the fact that reality can be understood only through the unconscious. According to such psychologists as Freud and Carl Jung, myths and legends reveal the common unconscious of a particular community; that is why many surrealist writers utilise myths for better portrayal of their characters.
Simultaneously, myths in the surrealism appear as an implicit opposition to Western cultural traditions and way of thinking. For Freud, civilisation deprives people of their primordial nature, while myths return societies to their cultural roots and their true identity. In this regard, writers of the surrealism usually apply to the key feature of the movement – automatism, with the help of which they try to reveal the unconscious. Automatism provides the surrealists with an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas in a freely manner.
The comparison between the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the surrealism of Franz Kafka
Various elements of the magical realism are utilised in the work One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Anos de Soledad) written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, where the writer mixes reality and fancy, overcoming profound differences between two realms. Above all, this mixing of spheres is expressed through the narrative tone of Marquez’s literary masterpiece. Applying to a serious and untouched tone, Gabriel Garcia Marquez manages to implicitly transform mystical and unreal events into real occurrences. The tone of his portrayal is so genuine that the whole narration seems natural, while combining the most controversial things. As the writer acknowledges, “the key to writing One Hundred Years of Solitude was the idea of saying incredible things with a completely unperturbed face”13.
Marquez masterfully treats mystical elements, presenting them as an uncompromising truth. For instance, the priest, one of the novel’s characters, demonstrates the phenomenon of levitation that he performs with the help of chocolate; however, the protagonist regards this phenomenon as a normal act of God, claiming that “now we shall witness an undeniable proof of the infinite power of God”14. Thus, Marquez introduces the bizarre elements into his fantastic realm so unnoticeably that the readers accept them as natural things of their world. Introducing such supernatural elements as flying objects, carnivalesque and levitation, Marquez also applies to irony, symbolism and narrative distance. But the atmosphere of domesticity provides Marquez with an opportunity to gradually turn from fantasy to reality; in this regard, the introduction of Ursula into the narration serves this particular purpose.
As Ricardo Gullon points out, “Ursula’s function is to impregnate the fictional space with everybody realities so that the marvellous may enter it smoothly”15. Other episodes of Marquez narration also demonstrate the writer’s skilful ability to switch from the supernatural to the real portrayal. This is especially vivid in the episode that describes Jose Arcadio’s death: “A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces… and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread”16.
Despite its unusual and mystical portrayal, the death of Arcadio is perceived as real due to the precise style of expression and the description of daily life. As in the real world, some people in Marquez’s novel die, while other characters continue to lead their usual existence. Maintaining the similar tone for the portrayal of real and unreal things, Marquez “never allows it to become evident, by interjection or amazement, that there may be a substantial difference between the extraordinary and the commonplace”17. The writer makes no attempt to question any supernatural elements or events; instead Marquez treats mysterious and real things in the similar way, revealing their mutual coexistence. For instance, a flying carpet is a normal phenomenon for the citizens of Macondo, it is the reality that evokes no doubts.
As Marquez claims, “this time, along with many other artifices, they [the gypsies] brought a flying carpet. But they did not offer it as a fundamental contribution to the development of transport, rather as an object of recreation”18. Applying to such exaggerated portrayals of people and things, Marquez creates an atmosphere of reality that seems logical and natural. On the other hand, such portrayals allow Marquez to introduce the comic elements into the narration; utilising certain hyperboles, the writer at the same time presents them as reasonable.
In his portrayal of Melquiades, Marquez states that “He was a fugitive from all the plagues and catastrophes that had ever lashed mankind… But in spite of his immense wisdom and his mysterious breadth, he had a human burden, an earthly condition that kept him involved in the small problems of daily life”19. Although this exaggeration seems unreal for the modern world, it is absolutely normal for the fictitious world created by Marquez. The same regards other hyperboles, such as “it rained for four years, eleven months, and two days”20. Despite the fact that this hyperbole contradicts the existing reality, its accurate definition reveals the rigour of the catastrophe and implicitly points at the probable consequences of the occurred incident.
Thus, Marquez’s principal narrative tool is the mixture of fantasy and exaggeration presented through the fictitious reality, as is especially obvious in the following utterance: “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point”21. However, despite its fantastic elements and its fictional setting in the place of Macondo, One Hundred Years of Solitude reveals the true historical past of Columbia and the ironical social reality.
As history is inseparably connected with culture, Marquez’s work demonstrates a profound historico-cultural context. Simultaneously, One Hundred Years of Solitude reflects a considerable impact of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis on the creative work of Marquez. While Kafka renovates the fable, adjusting it to the contemporary daily life, Marquez puts the fable within the strange, but familiar modern environment. In The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) Franz Kafka portrays a person who leads a life created by his family and society, finally transforming into an insect.
In his surrealistic portrayal Kafka applies to symbolism, similar to Marquez, to demonstrate person’s alienation in the cruel reality and reveal that this reality is not exposed to any logic. Suffering from the constant domination of his father, Kafka turns to an implicit way of expression to oppose this terrifying control. In this regard, Kafka’s surrealism is expressed in the portrayal of mysterious and spiritual things through the bureaucratic perspective; while Marquez’s magical realism is revealed through the fictitious romanticism that uncovers real social and historical events of South America.
Like Marquez, Kafka bases The Metamorphosis on contradictions and absurdity, on the extremes of reality and fantasy; however, his manner of expression is gentle and inconsequent. At the same time, Kafka, similar to the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, pay much attention to the details, intensifying the narration. On the other hand, while Marquez combines seriousness with irony in his interpretation of the occurred events, Kafka uncovers his story through a philosophical perspective. Every thought or dream in Kafka’s narration evokes certain reflections and emotions in readers; for instance, the following expressions reveal father’s attitude towards his son, as Gregor changes into a vermin: “His father knotted his fist with a fierce expression on his face as if he meant to knock Gregor back into his room”22 or “at any moment the stick in his father’s hand might hit him a fatal blow on the back or on the head”23.
However, despite the fact that Kafka’s critics overlook subtle irony in The Metamorphosis, the whole narration demonstrates profound irony, as the writer makes an attempt to reveal that person’s life is a temporary existence that is under the control of fate. In this regard, the real meaning of life is to preserve his/her own identity under the pressure of society and family, but not to attain wealth or high social position. Maintaining a rather objective viewpoint, the writer creates a sole protagonist Gregor Samsa who embodies Kafka’s own self and his own existence; thus Kafka’s story is autobiographic. For instance, at the beginning of the story Kafka provides the following description: “He [Gregor] was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like belly divided into stiff arched segments”24.
The writer applies to such portrayals throughout the narration, implicitly revealing his own suffering and intensifying realism of his descriptions. As Kafka once claims to Felice Bauer, “I was simply too miserable to get out of bed… I’ll write you again today, even though I still have to run around a lot and shall write down a short story that occurred to me during my misery in bed and oppressed me with inmost intensity”25. When Gregor ponders over his job of a travelling seller, he thinks that he has chosen this work, while in reality Gregor does not have a choice in this particular matter, as he works without salary to return the debt of his family.
Kafka also worked as a travelling seller, and he embodied his wish to change his job and his life in the short story. Thus, The Metamorphosis deals with a sudden change; as Gregor transforms into a vermin, his life and his inner self become completely different. Gregor’s change is “the first occurrence in his life over which no one (including he) had any control”26. Despite the negative consequences of this transformation, it “allows [Gregor’s] hidden self to emerge, the self that had been stifled for so many years”27.
In this regard, Kafka’s surrealism stresses the importance of finding one’s self; Gregor’s transformation provides him with an opportunity to receive freedom, thus “in his death likewise he is both extinguished and set free”28. In fact, according to Martin Greenberg, “the first sentence of The Metamorphosis announces Gregor Samsa’s death and the rest of the story is his slow dying”29. In the first instances of his conversion, Gregor is overwhelmed with the questions of daily routine; however, as the protagonist adjusts to his new image, he starts to ponder over the vital issues of existence.
Simultaneously, Gregor is no longer afraid of death, as “his death is a … liberating realisation. Gregor says, “Yes”, to his own death and dies reconciled with himself and with the New World”30. Therefore, Kafka’s symbolism demonstrates his own opposition to society, in which he lives, his opposition to the existing social stereotypes and biases. Gregor’s physical and psychological transformation occurs, because the character is no longer able to withstand his routine life and the pressure of his family.
According to Thorlby, in The Metamorphosis the writer reveals that “man is hopelessly and inappropriately situated in the world as a beetle would be in a human family”31. As a result, Gregor looses his human features, implicitly revealing his reluctance to belong to the human race. As William Madden points out, “In his story, Kafka has undoubtedly exorcised some personal devils, notably his ambivalent feelings towards his father Hermann”32. In view of such interpretation, Kafka’s philosophy is closely connected with psychoanalysis of Freud; similar to other surrealist writers, Kafka, on the example of Gregor, demonstrates a struggle between the unconscious animal instincts and the conscious human reason.
The unconscious receives victory in this struggle, as Gregor completely looses any human features, thus revealing the importance of the unconscious for a human being. On the other hand, Kafka points at the fact that Gregor’s loss of human features occurs only when society and family reject him. As Gregor realises that his own parents are cruel to him, he looses any wish to be a human and dies. According to Corngold, “Gregor’s metamorphosis into a disgusting insect seems to confirm the father’s opinion of his son”33.
The Metamorphosis reveals the destroying impact of father’s behaviour on Kafka’s mentality; throughout the narration Kafka applies to the descriptions of such attitude, like in the following portrayal: “from behind his father gave him a strong push which was literally a deliverance and he flew far into the room, bleeding freely”34.
Kafka’s surrealistic way of expression is rather shocking, as in the following portrayal, “if he [Gregor] tried to bend a leg, it first straightened out; and he finally succeeded in taking charge of it, the other legs meanwhile all kept carrying on, as if emancipated, in extreme and painful agitation”35. But the writer raises crucial issues of existence, revealing that modern society conforms to certain stereotypes, which may destroy a person’s identity and life. The issue of death is also implicitly shown throughout Kafka’s narration, in fact, it is the major theme of The Metamorphosis. Similar to the balance between the realms of the conscious and the unconscious, surrealist writers draw a parallel between life and death.
Kafka’s treatment of death reflects his obsession with death under complex life conditions. As Gregor transforms into a vermin, he starts to realise that all his life is a simple illusion and that all his beliefs are false. The protagonist experiences loneliness and loss, rejection and lack of understanding. As a result, Gregor isolates himself from the rest of the world, and this isolation causes the character’s destruction. In this regard, Gregor Samsa resembles Jose Arcadio Buendia, the character of Marquez’s work One Hundred Years of Solitude, as both Gregor and Jose are destroyed by their isolation.
However, Marquez and Kafka treat the theme of isolation differently; in The Metamorphosis Gregor’s isolation destroys only him, positively influencing all members of his family and uniting them. Before Gregor’s transformation, the Samsas family morally degrades, but Gregor saves them. As Rudolph Binion rightfully points out, “It is beneficent to his family – [Gregor’s] decline revitalizes them – and so by way of his morbid choice, a free and deliberate one in the end, [Gregor] acquires tragic dignity”36. In view of this fact, Gregor is usually compared with Jesus Christ; this allegoric parallel reveals that Kafka’s surrealism does not exclude a religious aspect, especially in the treatment of such issues as life and death.
On the contrary, Jose’s isolation ruins the unity of his family, destroying both Jose and his close people.
Thus, despite the obvious negation of Kafka’s work, the writer manages to implement positivism in his treatment of certain crucial issues, smoothing the depressive mood of the narration and simultaneously preserving realism of the portrayal. At the same time, Marquez treats the theme of isolation from a variety of perspectives; isolation may be negative, as in the case of Jose Arcadio Buendia, and may bring happiness to people who are in love with each other.
Besides, isolation in One Hundred Years of Solitude is also applied to the town Macondo that is estranged from other places of the world; however, Marquez reveals that miracles may occur only in the places that are remote from the civilised world. In this regard, both Marquez’s magical realism and Kafka’s surrealism implicitly stress the importance of primitive societies, which exist in accordance with natural laws, rather than in accordance with the rules created by people.
In the case of Marquez’s narration, the writer introduces a gypsy tribe that shows various supernatural things; however, these phenomena seem real in the described world. According to gypsies, “things have a life of their own, it’s simply a matter of waking up their souls”37. But as Gabriel Garcia Marquez points further, the citizens of Macondo start to lose their sense of life; as a result, the town is exposed to decay, and people resemble ghosts or echoes of the past. With the death of Ursula, the ruin of Macondo seems finalised. Similar to Franz Kafka, who draws a parallel between him and his character, Marquez draws a parallel between Macondo and his native place of living Aracataca. Both real and fictional places experience decay by the middle of the twentieth century; thus, Marquez and Kafka embody their own reality through the symbolic settings. In this context, Marquez’s and Kafka’s narrations do not evoke any doubts as to the realism of their portrayals.
However, unlike Kafka, Marquez’s magical realism also reflects considerable parallels with the existing political conditions of Latin America. While Kafka depicts reality mainly in terms of psychological and social aspects, Marquez also applies to some political issues that influence the lives of his characters. In addition to the mentioned negative consequences of European civilisation, certain dictatorships described in One Hundred Years of Solitude greatly resemble the governments existed in such places of Latin America as Panama, Cuba and Nicaragua, the governments that were obsessed with power and money, but were unable to maintain stable existence within the countries.
On the other hand, Marquez does not justify cruelty, despite his communist and revolutionary thoughts; the same regards Kafka who openly maintained the anarchist ideas of justice and equality, but avoided taking part in the activity of the anarchist movement. Overall, Marquez’s magical realism covers both internal and external aspects of human existence, even though they are treated through fantasy. Thus, Kafka’s and Marquez’s narrations demonstrate the writers’ pursuit for genuine truth in every discussed aspect; in the case of Kafka, the writer reveals his viewpoint towards such issues as social justice, family relations, human mentality and alienation.
Wilhelm Emrich considers that Kafka’s works can be rightfully understood only if taken into account the complete truth of the writer; as Emrich points out, “an assistive and willing readiness for the full truth means the ability to renounce all personal, limited ideas, wishes, and efforts of will and to enter into the fullness of all of that-which-is”38. In other words, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis should be interpreted, rejecting all the conventional. Franz Kafka provides his own unique vision of various issues, whether it is the issue of alienation or the issue of genuine truth.
Kafka presents truth as specific gates that a person may reach, overcoming many paths; however, as he/she reaches these gates, he/she may either accept or reject this opportunity. Although Gregor Samsa seizes the opportunity, he feels that it is too late for him to change. After the transformations, the protagonist finds his true self and understands that he has always followed the wrong paths. However, as Kafka once acknowledged, “Life is a continual distraction which does not even allow us to reflect on that from which we are distracted”39.
In Marquez’s narration, life is closely connected with time; as the writer eliminates the conventional division of time into present, future and past, people’s lives are exposed to different, sometimes rather unexpected, changes. Ursula Iguran considers that time in her town is infinite and is constantly quickened. In some instances, for instance, during amnesia, people of Macondo forget their past, but can clearly observe their future, while in other periods of their lives they can easily remember their past and predict their future.
Melquiades, the gypsy, constantly points at the fact that life is a continual phenomenon; even at the beginning of the narration Melquiades uncovers the final outcome of the occurred events. Melquiades’ ghost proves the continuity of time, implicitly revealing that the past can be easily transformed into the present or the future. In this regard, Gabriel Garcia Marquez utilises two times in his narration One Hundred Years of Solitude; firstly, it is the historical period, which covers daily life of Macondo’s citizens, and, secondly, it is the fantastic time, which regards present, past and future in integrity. The fantastic time prevails over the historical period40.
The very beginning of the novel demonstrates a parallel between the past and the present: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice”41. As Marquez’s magical realism is based on the depiction of various contradictions, the writer applies this technique not only to time, but also to other issues. In particular, some protagonists of Marquez’s novel regard amnesia as a dangerous phenomenon, while at the same time memory can also cause certain negative occurrences.
For instance, Rebeca’s recollections of the past result in her inability to forget her loss of a husband; instead of leading normal life, she isolates herself from other members of society. Rebeca is not able to accept the occurred changes, constantly returning to her past. In contrast to Rebeca, the writer implements the character of Colonel Aureliano Buendia, a person who lacks any recollections. The protagonist’s existence is connected only with the infinite present; in fact, all members of the Buendias family suffer either from amnesia or from nostalgia, depriving themselves of their present and future. Thus, both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka raise an important issue of human existence, the issue that emerged in the post-modern period to find out the real meaning of life.
Masterfully combining reality with fantasy, Marquez complicates his narration; for instance, the real narrator of One Hundred Years of Solitude appears to be Melquiades who can hardly be regarded as a protagonist of Marquez’s novel. Melquiades performs an imaginative role within the narration, producing different and rather contradictory images, such as the images of a wise person, a trader, God and devil.
However, by the end of the novel Marquez uncovers the truth in regard to Melquiades, simultaneously proving that natural and supernatural exist in the total equality. In The Metamorphosis Kafka applies to a different literary technique; in particular, he implicitly identifies his narrator with the principal character, although these are two different individuals. As the narrator reveals the deepest mechanisms of Gregor’s mind, he demonstrates that his own thoughts and feelings are embodied in the portrayal of this protagonist.
For instance, Franz Kafka provides the following description: “His [Gregor’s] numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes”42. Such literalness is one of the most important features of Kafka’s surrealism; the writer’s attempt to plunge into the essence of every word and phrase results in the formation of a solid, but at the same time delicate style. Introducing an impressive symbolic portrayal of personal hopelessness and doubts, Kafka places The Metamorphosis in the central position among other surrealistic literary works. The symbol of a person who is transformed into a vermin reveals not only Kafka’s neurotic state of mind, but also the essence of the contemporary world that causes the spread of various mental diseases.
As Philip Rahv points out, in The Metamorphosis Franz Kafka “succeeds in objectifying through imaginative means the states of mind typical of neurosis and hence in incorporating his private world into the public world we live in”43. These mental diseases are also discussed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez who characterises the major protagonists of One Hundred Years of Solitude as people who are obsessed with the past and yearn for their future, revealing their inability to live in the present.
Ursula, Jose Arcadio Buendia, Amaranta and other characters of Marquez’s narration yearn for future, hoping that it will save them from their past; however, their hope is not realised, instead they experience ruin and change for worse. As Marquez states, “races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”44.
In this regard, both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka maintain the idea that, although it is impossible to avoid the ruin, either the death of Gregor Samsa, or the ruin of Macondo, it is necessary to preserve the depiction of certain events and people. On the other hand, Kafka’s surrealism reflects the existential point of view that deals with the individual’s choice. As Kafka demonstrates, a person has two sides of personality: an individual and social; and it is necessary to find a harmony between two sides. Gregor fails to find this harmony, firstly, he chooses the first side, loosing his self, while further he acquires his individuality, but looses social help.
The research has conducted the comparison between the magical realism of South America and the surrealism of Europe, with a particular reference to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The received findings demonstrate that the magical realism and the surrealism have both similar and different features; in regard to similarity, the movements deal with dreams and fantasy that constitute the portrayed reality. Being in opposition to traditionalism and colonialism, the magical realism and the surrealism make an attempt to counterbalance different extremes, such as rationality and fantasy, natural and supernatural, the conscious and the unconscious.
However, while the magical realism manages to combine both contradictory aspects due to such characteristic features as hybridity and irony, the surrealism reveals that it is difficult to find an appropriate balance between two realms.
As the analysis uncovers, this difference is explained by the fact that the magical realism in literature was formed in South America, the place of dualities and conflicts among various social groups.
Though in real life these dualities rarely achieved uniformity, writers of the magical realism managed to find the balance between two extremes in their literary works. In One Hundred Years of Solitude Marquez masterfully mixes fantasy and reality so that any exaggerations and supernatural elements seem to naturally interweave into the narration. In The Metamorphosis Kafka also evokes various contradictions and extremes, as well as the struggle between the conscious and the unconscious.
Marquez’s and Kafka’s ways of expression possess many similar features; in particular both writers utilise precision and the detailed portrayals of people and events to smooth the gap between fantasy and daily reality. In addition, Marquez and Kafka apply to symbolism, producing greater effects; however, Marquez’s style is characterised by the unity of irony and seriousness, while Kafka is interested in the philosophical interpretation of various phenomena. Thus, Kafka’s surrealism is more preoccupied with human mentality and human relations, while Marquez’s magical realism covers both internal and external aspects of reality.
Suggestions for further research
Despite the fact that the analysis has evaluated many aspects of the magical realism and the surrealism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka, there are some limitations that can be overcome in further researches. Applying to the comparative and the historical approaches, the paper limits its discussion to historical and cultural issues of the magical realism and the surrealism, ignoring a detailed analysis of political and social aspects. Thus, it is crucial to pay more attention to political and social contexts of Marquez’s and Kafka’s literary works. In addition, the comparison of Kafka and Marquez with some other writers of the surrealism and the magical realism will provide new interpretations of the famous masterpieces.
1. Gavriel Ben-Ephraim, ‘Making and Breaking Meaning: Deconstruction, Four-level Allegory and the Metamorphosis’, Midwest Quarterly, 35 (1994), pp.450-467 (p.451).
2. Harold Bloom, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), p.4.
3. William A. Madden, ‘A Myth of Mediation: Kafka’s Metamorphosis’, in Kafka, Franz, Short Story Criticism, ed. by Thomas Votteler, Vol.5 (Detroit: Gale, 1996), pp.210-213 (p.211).
4. Norman Friedman, Problematic Rebel – Melville, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus (New York: Random House, 1st ed., 1963), pp.218-219.
5. Friedman, p.219.
6. Stephen Minta, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Writer of Colombia (London: Jonathan Cape, 1987), p.30.
7. Regina Janes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Revolutions in Wonderland (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1981), p.7.
8. Anne Marie Taylor, ‘Cien Anos de Soledad: History and the Novel’, Latin American Perspectives 11.3 (1975), pp.100-110 (p.100).
9. Arthur C. Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), pp.11-15.
10. Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Glasgow: Fontana/Croom Helm, 1976), p.15; Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker, (eds.), Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1987), pp.2, 4; Geoffrey Hughes, Words in Time: A Social History of the English Vocabulary (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp.224-225.
11. Franz Roh, ‘Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism’, in Magical Realism, ed. by L. P. Zamora and W.B. Faris (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp.15-32 (p.15).
12. Amaryll Beatrice Chanady, Magical Realism and the Fantastic (New York: Garland Publishing Inc, 1985), pp.11-15.
13. George R. McMurray, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983), p.87.
14. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), p.85.
15. Ricardo Gullon, ‘Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Lost Art of Storytelling’, in Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ed. by George McMurray (Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1987), pp.129-139 (p.133).
16. Marquez, p.135.
17. Gullon, p.130.
18. Marquez, p.31.
19. Marquez, p.6.
20. Marquez, p.320.
21. Marquez, p.2.
22. Franz Kafka, ‘The Metamorphosis’, in Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, ed. by X.J. Kennedy and D. Gioia (New York: Longman, 7th ed., 1999), pp.296-329 (p.303).
23. Kafka, p.306.
24. Kafka, p.296.
25. Stanley Corngold, The Metamorphosis (Sydney: Bantan, 1972), p.64.
26. Friedman, p.218.
27. Friedman, p.222.
28. Friedman, p.220.
29. Martin Greenberg, ‘Gregor Samsa and Modern Spirituality’, in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, ed. by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), pp.19-36 (p.20).
30. Wilhelm Emrich, Franz Kafka: A Critical Study of His Writings (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1968), p.145.
31. Anthony Thorlby, Kafka: A Study (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972), p.40.
32. Madden, p.212.
33. Corngold, p.77.
34. Kafka, p.306.
35. Kafka, p.297.
36. Rudolph Binion, Soundings: Psychohistorical and Psycholiterary (New York: Psychohistory Press, 1981), p.218.
37. Marquez, p.2.
38. Emrich, p.50.
39. Johannes Pheiffer, ‘The Metamorphosis’, in Kafka: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by Ronald Gray (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965), p.58.
40. Mario Vargas Llosa, Garcia Marquez: Historia de un Deicidio (Barcelona: Barral Ediciones, 1971), p.547.
41. Marquez, p.1.
42. Kafka, p.296.
43. Philip Rahv, ‘Introduction’, in Introduction to the Modern Library Edition of Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka, tr. by Willa Muir and Edwin Muir (New York: Random House, 1952), pp. iii-ix (p.ix).
44. Marquez, p.383.
Ben-Ephraim, Gavriel, ‘Making and Breaking Meaning: Deconstruction, Four-level Allegory and the Metamorphosis’, Midwest Quarterly, 35 (1994), 450-467.
Binion, Rudolph, Soundings: Psychohistorical and Psycholiterary (New York: Psychohistory Press, 1981).
Bloom, Harold, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (New York: Chelsea House, 1988).
Chanady, Amaryll Beatrice, Magical Realism and the Fantastic (New York: Garland Publishing Inc, 1985).
Corngold, Stanley, The Metamorphosis (Sydney: Bantan, 1972).
Danto, Arthur C., Analytical Philosophy of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).
Emrich, Wilhelm, Franz Kafka: A Critical Study of His Writings (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1968).
Friedman, Norman, Problematic Rebel – Melville, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus (New York: Random House, 1st ed., 1963).
Greenberg, Martin, ‘Gregor Samsa and Modern Spirituality’, in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, ed. by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 19-36.
Gullon, Ricardo, ‘Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Lost Art of Storytelling’, in Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ed. by George McMurray (Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1987), 129-139.
Hughes, Geoffrey, Words in Time: A Social History of the English Vocabulary (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1988).
Janes, Regina, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Revolutions in Wonderland (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1981.
Kafka, Franz, ‘The Metamorphosis’, in Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, ed. by X.J. Kennedy and D. Gioia (New York: Longman, 7th ed., 1999), 296-329.
Madden, William A., ‘A Myth of Mediation: Kafka’s Metamorphosis’, in Kafka, Franz, Short Story Criticism, ed. by Thomas Votteler, Vol.5 (Detroit: Gale, 1996), 210-213.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, One Hundred Years of Solitude (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991).
McMurray, George R., Gabriel Garcia Marquez (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983).
Minta, Stephen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Writer of Colombia (London: Jonathan Cape, 1987).
Pheiffer, Johannes, ‘The Metamorphosis’, in Kafka: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by Ronald Gray (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965).
Rahv, Philip, ‘Introduction’, in Introduction to the Modern Library Edition of Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka, tr. by Willa Muir and Edwin Muir (New York: Random House, 1952), iii-ix.
Roh, Franz, ‘Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism’, in Magical Realism, ed. by L. P. Zamora and W.B. Faris (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 15-32.
Sharpe, Kevin and Zwicker, Steven N. (eds.), Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1987).
Taylor, Anne Marie, ‘Cien Anos de Soledad: History and the Novel’, Latin American Perspectives 11.3 (1975), 100-110.
Thorlby, Anthony, Kafka: A Study (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972).
Vargas Llosa, Mario, Garcia Marquez: Historia de un Deicidio (Barcelona: Barral Ediciones, 1971).
Williams, Raymond, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Glasgow: Fontana/Croom Helm, 1976).
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