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Magic Realism appeared as a critical term for the arts and it later extended to literature. The term was first used by the German critic Franz Roh in 1925 to characterize a group of Post-Expressionist painters. Franz Roh described it as a form in which ?our real world re-emerges before our eyes, bathed in the clarity of a new day.? It was later replaced by ?New Objectivity.?
Magic Realism survived to define a narrative tendency in Latin America during 1949 to 1970. It can be defined as a preoccupation or interest in showing something common or daily into something unreal or strange. A magic realist narrator creates the illusion of ?unreality,? faking the escape from the natural, and tells an action that even if appears as explainable it comes across as strange. In strange narration?s, instead of presenting something as real, the writers reality becomes magical. The writer suggests a supernatural atmosphere without denying the natural, and the style is distorting the reality. The intention of the narrator is to provoke strange feeling. The explanations are not clear or logical. There also is no innuendo or psychological analysis of the characters, instead they are well defined almost in opposition, and never appear confused or surprised about the supernatural. Gabrial Garcia Marques says for him it is the supernatural and the natural peacefully co-existing and showing themselves through magic realism. It is the encounter of strangeness and familiarity.
During colonization, Europeans found a land full of strange and supernatural things and their records were based on their interpretations which lead to a uncertainty of Latin America. Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the Conferencia Nobel 1982 (the year in which he was awarded the Nobel Prize): ?La Soledad de America Latina?, tells of a Florentine sailor named Antonio Pigafetta who wrote about his expeditions around the world. This sailor described strange creatures, which many can be found today, but his interpretation created a supernatural rendition of Latin America in the European point of view. Overall, Latin American culture is a combination of many other cultures that came during colonization.
Garcia Marquez, born into poverty studied law and journalism at the National University
of Colombia in Bogota, and at the University of Cartagena. He began his career as a journalist, and demonstrated a unique interest in cinema and dedicated much of his early career to film criticism. Garcia Marquez began writing short stories in the late 1940s. His first major publication was ?La hojarasca.? In this story, Marquez describes the first fictional Colombian village of Macondo–the setting of much of his later work–and the combination of realism and fantasy characteristic of his style. His early journalistic writings clearly reflect his fascination with William Faulkner.
Garcia Marquez?s Monologue of ?Isabel Watching it Rain in Macondo? offers us an example of the dangers of the ?authoritarian nature of technological systems? and an example of the ways in which political and cultural systems are shaped by technology. ?Then it rained. And the sky was a gray, jellyish substance that flapped it?s wings a hand away from our heads? is a form of magic realism described in his short story. Garcia Marquez carries out his distortion of direct historical time through the internal monologues that record the narrators? thoughts, and through the complex effect of many monologues. The extent of the narrators? structure of social and historical reference differs significantly, and is almost immediately outlined by their reactions to the first historical sign, the sound of the train?s horn, which marks 2:30. Garcia Marquez employs to overturn the passage of time at the level of the stories structure. The reader must read backwards and forwards at once in order to locate all of the emphasis of a strain and establish the relative historical order of the monologues in which they appear. It is remarkable over the family setting and the weather with the new season. The narrator and the family in this short story seem to be the upper class and the Indians as the servants. The second extravagant image comes when the narrator and her stepmother are talking about having the Indians put the flowerpots on the veranda ?and that was what they did, while the rain grew like an immense tree over the other trees.? Everyone is down due to all of the rain as the narrator talks about her father?s eyes being ?lost in the labrynth of the rain.? Giving a demoning presence, their house was soon flooded ?the floor covered by a thick surface of viscious, dead water.? Everywhere things were getting worse especially when the water got to the cemetary and broke open tombs having dead bodies being washed away. This is definitely a demoning presence. My interpretation of the story is that it was all a dream this girl was having compiled of nothing more than Garcia?s work of magic realism.
As a critic, Mike Gonzalez takes about Gabrial Garcia Marquez?s work. ?It would be easy to see Marquez as a kind of folklorist trying to rediscover a lost world of rural innocence, some kind of ?dream time? long since lost. And it is true that his work is full of extraordinary events: beautiful girls with long green hair, others who levitate to their deaths amid clouds of butterflies, tattooed boys with enormous sexual longevity, doctors who eat grass. Perhaps they were all part of his grandmother?s repertoire of legends, myths and magical recipes. Yet they are not simply nostalgic fantasies that belong to a distant past: they are responses to a reality which is also present in all of Marquez?s work.? Through my research on Marquez, I have learned a lot about his work and I agree with the way Mike Gonzalez critically analyzed his work. Marquez is fascinated with this world of magic.
Earnest Gains, another magnificent writer is a native of Louisiana. He won the National Book Critics Circle Award for the novel, ?A Lesson Before Dying.? On top of many other awards, novels, and short stories, Gaines served in the United States Army from 1953 to 1955. He received a bachelor?s degree from San Francisco State College and also did graduate work at Stanford University. In 1984, he began teaching at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. As Gaines has said:
?Though the places in my stories and novels are imaginary one?s, they are based pretty much on the place where I grew up and the surrounding areas where I worked, went to school and traveled as a child. My characters speak the way people speak in that area. They do the work that people do there. Since most of my writing is about rural Louisiana, my characters are closely attached to the land.?
As written in the first person, ?I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be . . . . . .? So begins Grant Wiggins, the narrator of Ernest Gaines?s powerful exploration of race, injustice and resistance in ?A Lesson Before Dying.? Though Grant is the narrator from chapters 1-28 and also 31, chapters 29 and 30 very greatly. Chapter 29 covers Jefferson?s prison diaries and the last weeks of his life and chapter 30 gives different members of the community a chance to give their points of view on Jefferson?s death sentence. ?These strategic shifts work to create a more comprehensive view than a single narrative angle. They detail Grant?s frustration as he struggles with emotional demands he would rather avoid, and they avoid stereotypical community responses on execution day.?
A young black man named Jefferson is being accused on murdering a liquor store owner, and two black men. He pleads that he is not guilty of the crime everyone thinks he has committed.
University educated, Grant has returned to the tiny plantation town of his youth, where the only job available to him is teaching in the small plantation church school. Grant is trapped in a career he does not enjoy, angered by the injustice he sees all around him, he dreams of taking his girlfriend Vivian and leaving Louisiana forever. But, when Jefferson is convicted and sentenced to die, his grandmother, Miss Emma, and Grants Aunt, Tante-Lou beg Grant for one last favor, to teach Jefferson to die like a man. What was worse than having to deal with his aunt and Miss Emma, Reverend Ambrose wants Grant to reassure the death row prisoner about Heaven something Grant is no longer able to believe in. In Grants response:
?Everything you sent me to school for, you’re stripping me of it, I told my aunt…. The humiliation I had to go through, going into that man’s kitchen…. Now going up to that jail…. Anything to humiliate me. All the things you wanted me to escape by going to school. Years ago, Professor Antoine told me that if I stayed here, they were going to break me down to the nigger I was born to be. But he didn’t tell me that my aunt would help them do it.?
Grant tells Vivian how Miss Emma needs a memory of Jefferson standing as a man. Vivian can not understand where Grant is coming from.
?We black men…stay here in the South and are broken, or we run away and leave them alone to look after the children and themselves. So each time a male child is born, they hope he will be the one to change this vicious circle–which he never does. Because even though he wants to change it, and maybe even tries to change it, it is too heavy a burden because of all the others who have run away and left their burdens behind…. I can give them something that neither a husband, a father, nor a grandfather ever did, so they want to hold on as long as they can. Not realizing that their holding on will break me too,? says Grant.
As he struggles to impart a sense of pride to Jefferson before he must face his death, he learns an important lesson as well: heroism is not always expressed through action–sometimes the simple act of resisting the inevitable is enough. ?Yet they must believe. They must believe, if only to free the mind, if not the body. Only when the mind is free has the body a chance to be free,? says Reverend Ambrose. At the end when Jefferson walks to his death he becomes a demonstration of pride and solidarity. As Grant said in the book as Jefferson walks to his death, he becomes ?the bravest man in that room.? Jefferson has found his freedom even at the time of his death.
Grant connects his reading with the situation he now faces, of trying to convert Jefferson, and necessarily to convert himself, to the belief in responsibilities beyond his own immediate needs or feelings. Thinking of Jefferson just before the execution, Grant asks: ?Have I done anything to make you not believe? If I have, please forgive me for being a fool.? Reflecting on how Reverand Ambrose is able ?to use their God to give him strength,? Grant thinks now of the ?old man?s? fortitude, yet he still refuses to kneel and pray with his students. Following the execution, a butterfly appears in the field of bull grass and flies away, signaling the passage of Jefferson?s soul. Still uncertain of his own belief, Grant nonetheless tells his new friend Paul: ?You have to believe to be a teacher.?
The story proves that even in the past blacks were guilty of a crime before they even entered the courtroom. This is because then, the jury was chosen of all registered voters which were all white men. A black man never had the chance of being acquitted.
To an interviewer?s question about the audience that Ernest Gaines hoped to reach, the author responded: ? I write for the African American youth in this country, especially the south, so that they can know who they are and where they came from and take pride in it. . . . . and for the white youth of this country, and especially the south, because unless he knows his neighbor of three hundred years, he only knows half his history.?
Quite similar to Ernest Gaines?s novel, ?Dead Man Walking,? is the story of a spiritual woman who embarks on a dangerous journey with a convicted killer and the profound changes it makes in her life. Honoring the request of a lonely and desperate man, Sister Helen writes to Matthew, the condemned killer of two teenage lovers, and is entirely unprepared for the relationship which will follow. At their first meeting, Poncelet speculates aloud about Sister Helen’s sex life. His conversations with the nun reveal a man filled with hate and resentment–one who’s completely remorseless for his crimes. Sister Helen tells a priest, ?I don’t know if I like him,? but it?s through her eyes that we?re finally able to perceive Poncelet as something other than a monster.
Confronted with the anger of the community and the private pain of his victim?s parents, Sister Helen overcomes her own fears to fight for the life and soul of Matthew Poncelet. The grieving parents of Poncelet?s victims force Sister Helen to relive the last day of their children?s lives. In a flashback sequence, we see Matthew smiling as he brutally murders the teenagers.
When the date is set for Matthew?s execution, he asks Sister Helen to be his spiritual advisor and she complies. As she comes to see the terrified human beneath Matt?s bold and remorseless facade, Sister Helen becomes increasingly disturbed, not only by the terrible anguish he suffers during the long countdown, but, by the rage of the victims families, who seek retribution for their unbearable loss.
With this film, we are able to see the difficult challenge of bringing fairness, honor and voices to the families of the victims. With the clock ticking away the final days before his scheduled execution, she struggles for the life, the dignity, and the soul of a confused and angry man. In the end, it is her faith and her fierce courage that sustains her when she stands with Matthew and with the victim?s families.
The movie does compare with the novel in the sense that there are men waiting to be executed, and the fact that they are both trying to cope and learn the consequence of their action. In the novel, Jefferson is the one being taught from Grant and in the movie, Sister Helen teaches Matthew. This difference, however, is the fact that in the novel, Jefferson is a black man while Matthew is a white man. Like I already stated, it is easier to convict a black man over a white man especially around the time that the novel was written.
Garcia Marquz adds a lot of magic realism into his novel and there was more of the American Moral realism that went into the movie. American Moral realism I can describe is basically how it sounds. In my own words, it is about morals and learning a lesson. The novel and the movie are opposites, but like I said they are alike. In the movie, I enjoyed how Sister Helen was reliving what Matthew had done. She was picturing it in her own mind. The movie had a very Christian aspect about it. The movie was more on religion than the novel making Jefferson into a man. The reason why the movie has much more religion in it is because the women who helps of Matthew is Sister Helen who is a nun and she does state a few lines out of the bible to him. Also, she has the Christian religion because although she knows he has done a terrible thing, she is learning and trying to forgive him for his sin like a lot of Christians tend to do.
In A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines adopts a more affirming attitude toward the entire range of Southern traditional rural culture, and he finds in this culture, which includes African-American religion, respect for elders, loyalty to family and neighbors, and common-sense morality. The importance of A Lesson Before Dying rests in the novel?s acceptance of a Southern folk culture about which Gaines has demonstrated considerable discrepancy through most of his career. In this novel, Gaines has achieved a greater distinctness and outlook in his presentation of the workings of an entire cultural system. As a result of his discovery of the traditional culture as a basis for authority, he appears more hopeful.
In conclusion, I have learned a lot about the works of Ernest Gaines and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also, I have formed an understanding on what magic realism and American Moral Realisim are. While doing research for this paper I found many other interesting books and works of other authors that I have looked at just on a personal level. Both the novel and the movie were educational issues and I think for myself there was a lesson that was learned. Today, I know the African American culture is still judged, but I don?t think it is nearly on the level that it used to be. The movie also proved that it isn?t just black men that are the accused or are waiting on death row. I think that is a very stereotypical attitude of many people.
I worked hard on forming this paper at the best of my ability and I feel as though I did a good job. Like I said, this was a paper I enjoyed doing because I learned a lot from it and also did other readings on the topics aside from using it in my paper.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS and a WONDERFUL NEW YEAR!
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