Monday, June 18, 2012

Eva Luna and Magic Realism

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Eva Luna Magic Realism

Eva Luna by Isabel Allende embodies magic realism. Magic realism is a perfect device in an oppressed environment such as Latin America, to express and voice opinions or use as a means of social change. Magic realism takes the harsh truth and everyday reality of society, wraps it in the silky evocative language of myth, magic and fantasy, thus creating a softened blurred boundary between reality and surreality. Through this blurred realm can the author interweave themes and create awareness of social and political injustice and unobtrusively challenge the oppressive views constructed by society. Magic realism in Eva Luna is evident and embellished through the structure and language of the narrative, the characterization, the contrasting environments, time and change, intertextuality, political / historical representation and context, and through themes such as death and remembrance, cultural identity, the use of storytelling and the union of opposites.

The structure and language of Eva Luna creates the basis for magic realism. The figurative, evocative language and vivid imagery fabricates the magic and fantasy of everyday scenarios Eva lives through. The opening paragraph places us squarely in a world of magic created to displace ourselves from reality. The language allows the reader to magically see, hear, smell and even taste the world as the characters experience such senses. Like the language, the story line is that of magic and fairytales. The plot is set as a myth, beginning with a clear title and character name. The main character Eva has heroic father and mother figure, a miraculous conception, and goes on a journey of discovery, meeting friendly helpers with magical gifts. During this journey Eva undergoes a magical transformation from a domestic to a liberator, rescues her love, saves the prisoners and lives to tell the tale. The fairytale then ends with the expected ‘happy ending’ of love forever. But yet at the end, Eva suggests and admits that this is not so, that in reality love failed and that we ourselves construct reality in the image of our desires. This leaves the reader questioning and wondering whether the story Eva told of her experiences were in fact truth or the image of reality according to her desires.

Eva Luna is filled with a myriad of characters all in some form impacting the development of Eva. This collaboration of characters presents to the reader conflicting and contrasting perspectives of values and ideals. Eva Luna is a female created by a female writer, in a text that shows women as they see themselves, not as men would see them. This offers a construction of both men and women, that does not support popular views, or expectations of genders based on stereotypes. Eva is a woman empowered by her experiences, her imagination, her gift of storytelling, her lineage, background and her sexuality and she uses these gifts to move and adapt to each character. Rolf Carle is Eva’s Masculine counterpart and lover. Eva and Rolf create the typical myth of two lovers thrown across two sides of the universe. Both must make their way to each other to become their complete self and gradually become whole. Huberto Naranjo is a brother figure to Eva and was once a lover. Despite his revolutionary ideas, never does Huberto allow revolution or change within his ideas of gender values and relations. This makes relationship with Eva impossible. Riad or also known as ‘The Turk’ is the father figure to Eva. He gives birth to a second Eva by taking her to Agua Santa where he gives her, emotional and financial support, freedom, proof of existence (identity) ability of reading and writing, guidance and eroticism. As Eva moves and adapts through the different characters she collects family. Madrina is her godmother, Elvira is her grandmother, Mimi is her sister, Huberto is her brother, Riad is her father figure and Rolf is her lover (Note all male figures are at some time lovers- reflects Eva’s attitude towards men).

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The comparison of environments enhances notions of magic realism. A perfect example is the difference between, La Colonia an Austrian colony in the middle of South America and Agua Santa a remote town that thrives and grows in its natural environment. La Colonia is an imposed environment, artificially separated from the outside world. In the text it is described and compared to that of the stage or movie. It is so perfectly created to idealize and ‘act’ as the perfect homeland with pure race, pure ethics, seemingly innocent characters (twins), perfect marriage and perfect love. All is perfect because of the escape the characters have from the true surroundings (reality, nothing is ever perfect). The environment has such wholeness and completeness that there is no further development with time (like a story ended, has no where else to move from). Agua Santa on the other hand, is not a perfect environment, but yet is realistic. It has a culmination of cultures and a thriving commerce. It is a place of creation and productivity where characters can grow and learn. Agua Santa is where Eva grows, sexually, intellectually, and physically. Here she has a sense of purpose and place, where as Carl only grows sexually in La Colonia and he feels ‘intoxicated’ and ‘smothered’ by it appearance. Agua Santa does not distill and preserve reality according to desires; rather it works towards desires through reality.

Magic realists incorporate many techniques that link to the primary feature of Hybridity. Hybridity links and joins opposing themes to create a more deep and true reality than realist techniques use (they just reflect world). Paradoxes within Eva Luna are common, using an opposite to create the opposite i.e. Life vs. Death (birth on deathbed, takes deathly encounters to realize importance of life), Light vs. Darkness (shadows and illusions/ reality and fiction. Takes fiction to come to the realization of reality), there is the paradox of words i.e. Palace of the Poor (Poor people don’t have palaces) and the physical union of opposites (brings together the best or the worst in mixing opposites) i.e. Eva’s parents (physically opposite, Eva gained the best qualities of both parents) Uncle Rupert’s Dogs (formulated that best created through crossbreeding of pedigree dogs) and Madrina’s twins (one black and white). Another paradox is that those fighting against oppressive violent means all gain freedom through violent means (Guerillas, Rolf and fathers death) Zulema (Riad and sense of duty) gain freedom when Riad was away, erotic purge with Kamal and finally Suicide.

As magic and myth cloud the narrative, a distinct sense of time is undistinguishable. From the evidence portrayed time seems to progress in a sequence (like evolution). It seems eternal, changing with time and flowing in a circular motion. This cyclical time sense dominates the narrative, fusing together the beginning and the end (foreshadowing) i.e. Eva’s birth begins with the Indians and at the end Eva meets the Indians, the gift of the Belly Dance is played at the beginning and end and the nugget on string is a motif given at both the beginning and end of the novel. Tradition (storytelling and rituals) is circular and changes as it is passed down in time. Even the chapter structure is cyclical with time. Chapters One and Two introduce both Eva and Rolf while Chapters Three and Four each individually deal with the death of a parent and the moving to a new environment� eventually coming closer together, two souls becoming complete at the end.

Reality itself can transform through the process of writing. Eva uses storytelling to emphasize and displace reality. An example of when Eva’s storytelling displaces characters from reality is the impact Eva’s stories have on Zulema “my stories... romantic ideas that distanced her from reality”, Eva’s stories constructed love and created the image of Zulema’s desires leading her to be emotionally dependent on her ideals of love. Eva emphasizes reality through her television series Bolero when it was used as a device to express ideas and footage (guerillas) without censors and when Eva retells the ending of Rolf’s family future (makes him cry in realization that it will never be). It’s ironic, that although we live in reality it takes a fictional perspective to come to realization of reality.

Eva Luna writes with experiences for fulfillment of self. It is a literary oral tradition, she learns from mother to use as a tool of barter, survival, escape and emotional comfort. Eva uses words to change, recreate, change, shape, and distort reality. It gives her the ability to shape events through narration and represents Latin American women’s desire for equal power and social justice. In a world so economically, socially and politically oppressed, words are of great value for “Words are free…reality is not what we see on the surface; it has a magical dimension as well and, if we desire, it is legitimate to enhance it and colour it to make life less trying” and one Eva’s most valuable gifts given was the ability to read and write.

The use of myth and fantasy is a common form and trait of magic realism used to connect themes and plot with contextual knowledge. The intertextuality of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and has a significant effect on the interpretation of Eva Luna. The story is quoted as in Eva Luna “…tell us a story to pass away the night”. This is one of the only texts actually named in all Eva’s collection of books. Riad gives Eva this story, and becomes “…immersed completely, losing sight of reality…erasing all limitations”. The Arabian Nights tells the story of a Prince who takes a concubine each night and if he is displeased in the morning she dies, until Scheherezade is chosen. The prince that night asks for a story and she raptures him in such a story that he forgets about his usual routine. He falls in love with her and marries her. Thus storytelling keeps Scheherezade from an undeserved death, setting up the primal theme of salvation through Storytelling But also through her collective stories of myths and fables she saves not only herself but all women oppressed, putting an end to death and suffering by non-violent means. The significance of such a theme becomes evident when we place this in cultural context and the common writings of Latin American feminist authors.

The mythical use of a name is a sacred ritual, calling the previous unnamed into existence, giving it a destiny. It is intimate private and personal. When Eva Luna attempts to speak to a Native American Indian she is stopped and told that, “…it would be discourteous to ask. For these Indians, to name is to touch the heart; they considered it offensive to call a stranger by a name…” The title and first sentence of Eva Luna determines the name of the main character thus determining her purpose and destiny in life. So it is determined, to have a name is to have a purpose in life. Eva’s mothers name Consuelo means to console (consoles Indian on deathbed, consoles Eva when afraid or alone by presence). Eva Luna’s name means Eva meaning life and Luna meaning moon which is a cyclical matriarchal symbol that reflects life (reality). It can be predicted by her name that Eva is a character that is unwilling to let death defeat the gift of life. Characters like Jochen Carle denies surname as it labels and connects him to his father, a figure we would not like to relate or share future with. There are also characters lacking names. Frau Carle and the Mother Superior are denied individual identity because it is assumed by and labeled under the more powerful figure (Lukas Carle and God). Names are also stereotyped and categorized by cultures (El Negro, El Portuguese, Russians) and political figures personal names are excluded (El Benefactor, Lawyer) due to unimportance.

“There is no death, people die when we forget”. The preservation of memories is a strong magical force that can resurrect life and unheard voices and defeat death itself. There are many forms of remembrance throughout Eva Luna. Storytelling is only one form to keep ideals alive and unforgotten. Without words “… it would be as if nothing happen- what is not void scarcely exists; silence would gradually erase everything, and the memory would fade” There are visual and verbal forms of remembrance (Visual- Rolf’s documentary and Verbal- Eva’s stories) but there is also artificial preservation as represented by Dr Jones cadavers and La Colonia. Dr Jones and Eva recreate figures so they become a positive rather than a negative figure and set preserved images of the figures to last eternity (Both shape reality to desire; shape memories to desire of how society desires them to be remembered) “…the dead came alive with an illusion of eternity; those who had been separated were reunited, and all that had been lost in oblivion regained precise dimensions”. It is ironic that, like how fiction can grab reality, death can create and grab life. Attitudes towards life can change during death experiences. Dr Jones, for example, a man who dedicated his life to preserving death, realizes at his own death that life is more important. Elvira feared a pauper’s death and brought herself a coffin, ready for death, then changed perspective of death and life when her coffin (her symbol of death) saves her life from a flood.

In comparison to magic realism, the ‘realist’ novel is faithful to actuality in its representation of political events and figures. Eva Luna does not accurately record political dates or significant events, rather is clouded by the magical events of Eva’s life. The characters who posses power are represented critically. Apart from Aravena and Rodriguez, the powerful figures in Eva Luna are represented stereotypically and they have a sinister presence. Revolts, skirmishes with military presence, corruption, glimpses into strategies employed by terrorists, street gangs, turmoil’s in the capital city, tales of barbarism, coups, rebellions- all these constantly in the background of the text and although they are not accurately connected with the context, they create a realistic voice in representing class struggles. This complex and rich history and culture has affected the way Isabel Allende writes about her experiences. Historically, in Latin America, females have been seen to be passive, nurturing and sexually pure. However Allende’s reality is in conflict to this image and Allende’s construction of Eva is all but passive. Allende also claims that life in Chile is very political so therefore she does not want to write about politics or accurate historical events, rather the hidden history of passion, love and the events and everyday life of the people on the streets, exploding them into larger than life characters in whirlwind adventures based on themes of social courage and development; all by using magic realism.

The use of painting a dull oppressive reality with the bright vibrant fantastical colours of magic realism is a vehicle to voice the opinions and rights of the repressed on political and social change and gender construction in Latin America society. Eva Luna written by Isabel Allende, embodies and exemplifies the spirit of magic realism through the structure and language of the narrative, the characterization, the contrasting environments, time and change, intertextuality, political / historical representation and context, and through themes such as death and remembrance, cultural identity, the use of storytelling and the union of opposites.

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