Magic Realism

in the Latin American Boom

Research Question

The Authors

Julio Cortázar

Born Jules Florencio Cortázar on August 26, 1914, Cortázar was one of the most influential Argentine writers of the 20th century. He was actually born in Belgium to Argentine diplomats, and due to the German occupation of Belgium during World War I did not reside in Argentina until 1919, and only remained in Buenos Aires until 1951 (after which he moved to France, where he remained until his death in 1984). Nonetheless, his writing is entirely in Spanish, and deals heavily with his home country. He took inspiration from Surrealism and the improvisational aesthetics used in Jazz, with his story "La Autopista del Sur" adapted by famed French New-Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard under the title Week End. In addition to fiction, Cortázar wrote poetry, radio plays, drama, and nonfictional essays and novels, and worked for UNESCO as a translator. He supported many Latin American revolutions (including Allende's in Chile and Castro's in Cuba), and petitioned against human rights abuses across South America.

Source: Montes-Bradley, Eduardo. "Cortázar sin barba". Editorial Debate. Random House Mondadori, Madrid. 2005

Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Known throughout Latin America as "Gabo" or "Gabito," Gabriel García Márquez was a Nobel-winning Colombian writer, creating everything from short stories to novels to screenplays to news articles. Born on March 6, 1927 to a family whose grandmother (according to him) "treated the extraordinary as something perfectly natural". Márquez had his first poems published at age 13, in his high school magazine. Throughout the 1950s, he would write whimsical articles for the Colombian El Heraldo, before participating in the 1958 Venezuelan coup that saw President Jimenez exiled from the country. After winning the Nobel Prize for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Márquez became a facilitator for the conflict beteween the Colombian government and rebel guerilla forces, denied immigration to the United States due to his staunchly anti-imperialistic views. His writing style commonly leaves out critical elements of the story, forcing the reader to participate more heavily with the text. His most frequently-referenced topics include solitude and civil war, as well as small quasi-Colombian towns (creating the fictional village of Macondo based on his memories of his birthplace of Aracataca, Colombia). He is considered one of the defining writers of the Latin American Boom.

Source: Bell, Michael. Gabriel García Márquez: Solitude and Solidarity. Macmillan, Hampshire. 1993

Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes Macías, famed Mexican novelist and essayist, was born in Panama City on November 11, 1928, to a Mexican diplomat father. As a child, he spent time in many Latin American capital cities, but his interest in societal issues was only sparked when, in 1938, Mexico nationalized its foreign oil holdings, causing conflict with the United States and prompting Fuentes' exploration of socialism. In the wake of the Cuban Revolution, he worked in Havana writing favorable essays toward Fidel Castro; in 1975, he was made Mexican ambassador to France; and he taught at many presitigious univerisities in the United States, including Cambridge, Harvard, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. His writing (created entirely with pen and ink, despite the availability of typewriters) commonly features a changing cast of narrators, death, and his own Leftist politics, and is considered a cornerstone of the Latin American Boom.

Source: Fraser, Howard; Daniel Altamiranda; Susana Perea-Fox. "Carlos Fuentes". Critical Survey of Long Fiction. 2012

Rosario Ferre

Rosario Ferré Ramírez de Arellano was one of Puerto Rico's most influential authors. Getting her start with writing at age 14 in the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día, Ferré became a strong an advocate for Puerto Rico's independence from the United States, against her father's wishes. During her time as a student at the University of Puerto Rico in the 1970s, Ferré created a journal dedicated to publishing new writers who focused on the independence movement, and graduated with a thesis on the works of Julio Cortázar. Her writing focused primarily on the treatment of Puerto Rico, as well as feminist themes involving women's relations with abusive or apathetic men. She cited influence from Cortázar and Márquez, the latter of whom she emulated with her novel House on the Lagoon.

Source: Echevarria, Roberto Gonzalez. "Rosario Ferré." Encylopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2018.

Juan Rulfo

Raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Juan Nepomuceno Carlos Pérez Rulfo Vizcaíno came from a family whose fortune was destroyed by the Mexican Revolution. After graduating from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, he worked as an immigration agent and travelling salesman, roaming around Mexico during the 1940s and 50s... until he was fired in 1952 after asking for a radio for his company car. After his firing, he began his writing career, finishing only two books in his lifetime before moving on to work at the National Institute for Indigenous People in Mexico. While not prolific, Rulfo's works, which featured themes of homecoming, travelling, estrangement, and the blending of the fantastic with the real, proved hugely influential for Márquez. In addition, he was a prominent photographer, with his photographs posthumously collected into a book featuring essays by Carlos Fuentes.

Source: Smith, Verity. Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Chicago. 1997.


The Magic Realism genre is a worldwide category of literary writing that presents magical or surreal elements into ficion in a realistic, matter-of-fact way, suggesting that the events are part of the norm. The most famous Magic Realist texts come from Latin America, where authors such as Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges wrote many of these pieces under the backdrop of dictatorial governments. Many of the most famous authors, such as Márquez, came from Colombia; the color scheme of this site is modeled after the Colombian flag.


The purpose of this research project is to analyze the use of magic & surreal elements in Magic Realist texts, as well as usage of isolation and cultural allusions, to determine stylistic differences and literary decisions between the authors' texts, as well as linguistic differences in the Spanish language.


We will be analyzing eight texts, all in the Spanish language. These include three by Gabriel Garcia Márquez: "El ahogado más hermoso del mundo", "La siesta del martes", and "Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes"; one by Juan Rulfo, "No oyes ladrar a los perros"; two by Julio Cortázar, including "Casa Tomada" and "La noche boca arriba"; one by Rosario Ferre, "La muñeca menor"; and one by Carlos Fuentes, "Chac Mool."

In our markup of these texts, we will be analyzing divisions (divs) of the text that are considered real or surreal, as well as occurences of magic that are oriented in an internal or external way. Examples of internal magic would be a character imagining an event or character that no one else can see, whereas external magic is something that a group of people or the entire world can see. We also have an option for magic to be ambiguous, in case it is not known which characters can observe the magic event.

We will also mark periods of isolation for characters in the story, as this is a common characteristic of Magic Realist texts. Isolation includes a type attribute with two attribute options: indiv or group, based on if it displays a single character isolated from society or a group of people isolated from the outside world, such as in "El ahogado".

Finally, we will also mark up any allusions that we find in the texts in hopes that they refer to the geographic or cultural backgrounds of the authors. These include the attributes ref, which indicates if it references a person, event, myth or place, and critique, indicating if it references a political or social event of significance.

One thing we have to be mindful of in our markup is that there are plenty of opportunities for elements to lie inside other elements, and vice versa. For example, it is possible for a magic event to happen inside an allusion, for an allusion to happen inside of a magic event, and even for an allusion to occur within another allusion! To solve this, we made a hierarchy in our XML schema that allows for elements to hold themselves or other elements as appropriate, as shown:

                magic = element magic { mixed {orient?, allusion*}} #Orient is obligatory.
                isolation = element isolation { mixed {type+, (magic | allusion)*}} #Type is NOT
                allusion = element allusion {mixed {(ref|critique)*, (allusion | magic)*}} 

In this schema, a magic element can hold none or multiple allusions, an isolation element can hold none or multiple magic or allusion elements, and an allusion can hold none or multiple allusion or magic elements. This allows for more flexibility in our markup so that we can more accurately describe what occurs in the authors' texts.

By marking these aspects of the text, we hope to be able to extract a pattern of writing that will indicate similarities and differences between these authors that may be indicative of their cultural, historical, or geographic backgrounds.

Coding for XML Markup

For the markup, we looked for critique, allusion, and realm elements. critiques could have either political or social attributes. To determine if the author made a social allusion, we selected anything that was a comment on society, such as the way families interracted, or if a character commented on another character's social action. For political critiques, we marked up any time a character made a reference to the goverment, and expressed an opinion about them.

To markup the allusions, we used place, person, and event attributes. to mark these up, any time a real location, person, or event was mentioned, we surrounded it in an allusion element.

For realms, we noted any time that the character shifted in and out of realities. For some stories, it was unclear as to which reality was the "real" realm, so we used the first realm that appeared in the story as the "real" realm.

Additional Sources

Encyclopaedia Britannica