16 December 2011
Time and Magical Realism: Exploring the Supernatural in Gabriel García Márquez’s “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait” and Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story”
Introduction: Trending Magic in Hispanic Literature
After reading several works of Hispanic literature, I currently think differently towards the traditions and values of this remarkable culture. Once a jumbled mess of thoughts prior to reading such texts, I can now identify these specific writing styles in relation to which region they have come from. Strangely, many of these Hispanic texts do not follow the standard approach for storytelling. Rather than following the traditional continuous narrative formula, these pieces tend to stray towards mystical realms where sequences of events appear distorted and reality falls prey to the supernatural. Standing out amongst most world literature, Hispanic literature sets itself apart through its unorthodox writing techniques.
The implementation of magical realism tends to reoccur throughout many works of Hispanic literature. It has served readers with a strong dosage of mystery and supernaturalism in order to enhance their exploration of fictional works. Acting as a literary spice, magical realism, along with the manipulation of time, conjures up an otherworldly result, ultimately leading most readers astray. While some may argue against these abnormal literary twists, which may include feelings of confusion and irritation, others embrace the bold direction these authors have chosen to take. Works such as Gabriel García Márquez’s “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait” and Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story” apply these literary techniques through their unique forms of storytelling. Magical realism bridges these two pieces together by transcending their plots past everything that stands for normalcy.
Manfred Jahn’s “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative” provides the tools necessary to dissect and interpret literature in creative new ways. Using literary devices such as “discourse time” and “story time” helps us to differentiate between time passing in the story and the actual time readers invest into physically reading the text. In addition, the usage of “analepses” and “prolepses” assists readers by providing flashbacks and flashforwards, respectively, to the plot at hand. Together, these literary tools have the potential to bring about otherworldly happenings, which are present in the two stories mentioned previously.
An abundance of magic appears in both stories to an extent where readers may become confused and misled, forcing them to reread the story and conjure up new ideas. This may have been intentional on the author’s part. In this article, I argue that literary tools regarding time contribute to the supernatural effects observed in both “Nabo” and “She Lived in a Story,” ultimately achieving magical realism.
Defining Terms: Time in Narratology
Understanding narrative tenses such as discourse time and story time come off as essential when reading stories, which include simultaneous lapses of time. Jahn describes discourse time as “the current point in time in discourse time: the narrator’s NOW” (N5.5.1). In comparison, story time is defined as “the current point in time in story time; usually, a character’s NOW” (N5.5.1). These terms serve as crucial roles in deciphering literature because of the need to keep track of the line of events. The narrator’s “now” may not be the same as the character’s “now,” which can lead to great confusion if the reader loses track of time.
Two major literary devices used in surveying the passage of time in literature include analepses and prolepses. Both of these elements function in opposite ways. The analepsis focuses on portraying a flashback of some sort, usually intended to describe the backstory of a character or event. As for the prolepsis, it serves as a means of foreshadowing future events that a character may experience later on in the story. Jahn defines both analepsis and prolepsis as follows:
flashback/retrospection/analepsis The presentation of events that have occurred before the current story-NOW. An external flashback presents an event occurring before the beginning of the primary story line (i.e., in the pre-history). flashforward/anticipation/prolepsis The presentation of a future event before its proper time. An external flashforward involves an event happening after the end of the primary story line. An objective flashforward or certain anticipation presents an event that will actually occur; a subjective flashforward or uncertain anticipation is just a character’s vision of a likely future event. (Jahn N5.2.1)
Applying these terms to current time can prove quite useful when trying to tell a story in a timely fashion. Had the author gone through the trouble of starting the story from the moment of the analepsis, readers may lose interest midway due to the plethora of irrelevant information between the occurrence of the analepsis and the present time in the story. Not to mention the text could exponentially increase in size, possibly discouraging readers from picking up the book and leaving authors very exhausted. Its function proves quite useful for stories that lapse over large amounts of time. As for the prolepsis, its function also proves beneficial when trying to build up the mood in a story. For example, an apocalyptic vision can be used in order to explain to the reader what’s at stake if a particular objective is not met as seen in the following image:
- The opening scene of Terminator 2: Judgment Day serves as an excellent example of a prolepsis. A disturbing vision portraying the end of the human race is shown in order to lay out the consequences for allowing Skynet to flourish. It conveys to the audience that there is something to lose, should the protagonists fail. Also, this serves as a mechanism to invest the audience’s attention to the film.
Torn Existence: The Transition of Time in “Nabo”
Gabriel García Márquez’s “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait,” contains two different sets of time lapses. The first set contains human years in which Nabo’s supposed slave owners keep him locked up in a delirious state while he is holding on to his life by a thread. The second involves more of an abstract approach, in which the “man who patted his knees,” who supposedly represents the angel, has been waiting for an “eternity” for Nabo to awake and join the choir. García Márquez writes:
Nabo couldn’t feel anything. It was as if he’d gone to sleep with the last blow of the horseshoe on his forehead and now that was the only feeling he had. He opened his eyes. He closed them again and then was quiet, stretched out, stiff, as he had been all afternoon, feeling himself growing without time, until someone behind him said: “Come on, Nabo. You’ve slept enough already.” He turned over and didn’t see the horses; the door was closed. (73)
Several phrases throughout this short story indicate passages of time, yet under a different context each time. For example, in the quote above, “feeling himself growing without time,” represents Nabo experiencing the fifteen human years passing in a mild conscious state. Although relatable to a senile old man, or homeless people muttering random nonsense on public transportation, Nabo maintains the ability to feel pain, hence making him slightly conscious. Yet, he remains stuck in between two worlds at the same time when the “man who patted his knees” asks Nabo to wake up from his eternal sleep. Some may argue that this man serves merely as a hallucination of Nabo’s, undermining his significance in the story. However, they fail to realize that the man does signify the angel mentioned in the title. He embodies the supernatural aspect of this particular García Márquez story and proves to be quite patient and tranquil when dealing with Nabo’s awakening. Nabo seems very keen to singing while he curries the horses. This reflects the angel’s consistent dialogue in which he presses Nabo to wake up in order to join the choir. It’s as if the angel keeps waiting for Nabo to die so that he can take him away to his ideal heaven: an angel choir where Nabo can happily sing forever in peace. The choir symbolizes a metaphor for death and the mute girl yelling out Nabo’s name at the end of the story illustrates a metaphor for life and consciousness. Nabo remains torn between two different realms, life and death.
Manfred Jahn explains the reasoning behind these time lapses through the function of an ellipsis:
A stretch of story time which is not textually represented at all. “The discourse halts, though time continues to pass in the story” (Chatman 1978: 70). Some critics consider ellipsis a special case of speed-up. (Jahn N5.2.3)
Every time Nabo seems to transition from one stage of his life to the next, an ellipsis silently places itself into the text. For example, “feeling himself growing without time,” indicates a large passage of time with minimal wording. This eventually builds up to the conclusion of the story in which Nabo has grown from a young boy to a fully-grown adult. Turns out the kick to his face didn’t impede on Nabo’s growth spurt. Especially considering his slave owners fed him three meals a day! Nabo’s refusal to die stands strong because of his determination to find the comb that he uses to tend the horses’ tails with. It serves as the only thing keeping him alive. Nabo remains stuck in limbo, torn between two different worlds.
Nabo saw the man again. ‘A horse kicked me,’ he said. And the man said: ‘You’ve been saying that for centuries and in the meantime we’ve been waiting for you in the choir.’ Nabo shook his head again, sank his wounded forehead in the hay once more, and thought he suddenly remembered how things had happened. (García Márquez 79)
This supernatural experience with the angel exemplifies that time has an impact on Hispanic storytelling. The reader’s interpretation of time, the discourse time, remains far off from the time Nabo experiences, the story time. He lives through a supernatural medium because of his accident. Meanwhile, readers are left to decide which time is authentic. First, the slave-owners’ interpretation of time, which consists of fifteen years since Nabo got kicked in the face by the horse. The second interpretation of time consists of the supposed angel who has been waiting an “eternity” for Nabo to wake up. It appears that Nabo remains stuck in limbo, torn between two different worlds: the natural and the supernatural. This common theme seems to reoccur consistently in García Márquez’s short stories. The surrealism of the Nabo hallucinating the angel represents magical realism at its finest.
The ending of Gabriel García Márquez’s tale of Nabo seems quite tiresome when reading it aloud. The last paragraph reads as one tremendous run-on sentence that shocks the reader as the deaf girl screams out Nabo’s name.
still with the rope they had tied him with fifteen years before (when he was a little black boy who looked after the horses); and (before reaching the courtyard) he passed by the girl, who remained seated, the crank of the gramophone in her hand since the night before (when she saw the unchained black force she remembered something that at one time must have been a word) (García Márquez 81-82)
The vocabulary used in this passage is particularly interesting considering it has no end until a full page later. The term “something that at one time must have been a word,” suggests that Nabo currently resembles something inhumane. It leaves the reader wondering what something that has been rotting for fifteen years must look like, or even worse, smell like. García Márquez’s choice to make this ending paragraph a run-on sentence tells me that he wanted the reader to feel a sense of chaos and disorientation. It seems so powerful to imagine this creature coming back to life, practically as a zombie with so powerful a demonstration that even the deaf girl can muster up the words “Nabo! Nabo!” Everything in the story has built up to this moment and it delivers a satisfying ending.
Deciphering Time and Magical Realism in “She Lived in a Story”
In Guillermo Samperio’s “She Lived in a Story,” time becomes responsible for misconstruing reality from writing throughout the text. The internal and external focalizations of Segovia and Ofelia contribute to the growing confusion as the story progresses. As Samperio delves deeper and deeper into the stories of his characters, the more difficult it becomes to keep track of who is exactly writing about whom. At one point, Ofelia goes as far as bringing up Samperio himself, deeming Samperio responsible for writing a story within a story. Samperio writes through Ofelia:
It occurs to me that I should write that likely the man’s name is Guillermo, he has a beard, a long straight nose. It could be Guillermo Segovia, the writer, who at the same time lives as another Guillermo Segovia. Guillermo Segovia in Guillermo Samperio, each inside the other, a single body. I insist on thinking that he writes with his typewriter precisely what I write, word upon word, only one discourse and two worlds. Guillermo writes a story that is too pretentious; the central character could have my name. I write that he writes a story that I live in. (Samperio 60)
As confusing as this may appear, Samperio has every intention of accomplishing this outcome from his audience. Otherwise, he would have never written this piece to begin with. It’s possible that his intention to write such a piece derived from a sick intention to confuse his audience, however it does not fail to deliver as a product of magical realism. Time becomes a lost cause in this situation. Segovia’s interpretation of time has now been transferred to Ofelia’s interpretation of time. Ofelia lives through Segovia who lives through Samperio. While all three share the same discourse time, their story time becomes shared as well because they are simultaneously writing about each other.
“She Lived in a Story,” resembles a matrix narrative that delves into three different stories. However, great confusion arises when Ofelia acknowledges the existence of her fictitious author, Segovia, and her real author, Samperio, who scripts the actual story.
Now on his way home; driving an ’82 VW; Guillermo could not remember several points from the end of his presentation. But it didn’t bother him too much; his memory was prone to sporadic lapses. However, he was excited about one part of that he did remember and that he could use to write a story. (Samperio 55)
The initial narrative about Segovia coming home from the lecture to write his story is presumably the primary narrative until Ofelia comes into the picture. Only now does it become questionable whether Segovia’s narrative remains the primary story after Ofelia begins writing about her current situation. Ofelia writes, “I write that he writes a story that I live in” (Samperio 60). This would convey that Ofelia accepts responsibility in choosing which direction the story will continue, rather than Segovia. Ultimately, the story as a whole leaves off on an open-ended note and I can’t help but feel that Samperio does this intentionally.
Comparison of Texts to “The Supplement of Realism”
Both “Nabo” and “She Lived in a Story” share elements of magical realism. They both go against the conventional norms of writing by misleading their readers, yet opening their minds at the same time. While some may enjoy broadening their thinking to new kinds of ideas, others such as Scott Simpkins interpret magical realism as a mere gimmick, used to spice up the dullness of realistic text. Simpkins states:
Magic realism seems plagued by a distinct dilemma, a problem arising primarily from its use of supplementation to “improve” upon the realistic text. The source of this nagging difficulty can be attributed to the faulty linguistic medium that all texts employ, and even though the magic realist text appears to overcome the “limits” of realism, it can succeed only partially because of the frustrating inadequacies of language. The magical text appears to displace these shortcomings through a textual apparition, but this appearance itself illustrates the representational bind which hampers its desired success. And thus the magic realists, always trying to overcome textual limitations, continuously fall short of their numinous goal. (Simpkins 140)
Simpkins argument does not come off as completely sound to me. His approach towards analyzing this genre seems all wrong. First off, who says that realistic texts needs improvement? For all we know, authors such as García Márquez and Samperio chose to add these magical elements because they genuinely enjoyed them. Secondly, the “faulty linguistic medium” Simpkins brings up seems unclear. His suggestion that language can never fulfill our desire for self-expression tells me that he can not write well.
Conclusion: Answering the Big Question
Overall, the question comes down to this: Why would someone bother writing these types of stories? While some may claim that no purpose exists, others welcome this type of writing with open arms. Sure, one can analyze a text until the cows come home, but they may never understand the true intentions for writing such a piece. Only the author may recognize this reason.
Hispanic literature stands out amongst the rest of global literature because of its unorthodox writing techniques. Magical realism and time will continue to influence many works to come considering the stability of Hispanic literature. García Márquez remains alive and well, hopefully crafting new works of genius. Future research of this topic may include more modern works, which apply these techniques. In this essay, I have analyzed older works from the 20th century. It would be very interesting to delve into the modern sector of Hispanic literature and study how certain aspects of this type of literature have changed. Despite a lack of funding towards the exploitation of Hispanic literature, recent texts such as Omaha Bigelow have proven that these writing styles continue to run strong in the 21st century.
Cameron, James. Terminator 2. Digital image. Shockya.com. Web. 20 Dec. 2011. <http://www.shockya.com/news/2011/02/15/could-another-terminator-film-be-on-the-horizon/>.
Dalí, Salvador. The Persistence of Memory. Digital image. Wikipedia. Web. 20 Dec. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Persistence_of_Memory.jpg>.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. “Nabo: The Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait.” Collected Stories. Trans. Gregory Rabassa and J.S. Bernstein. Modern Classics ed. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999. 73-82. Print.
Jahn, Manfred. “Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.” 28 May 2005. Web. 18 December 2011. <http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppn.htm>.
Samperio, Guillermo. “She Lived in a Story.” TriQuarterly. Trans. Russel M. Cluff and L. Howard Quackenbush. 85 (1992): 54-62. Print.
Simpkins, Scott. “Magical Strategies: The Supplement of Realism.” JSTOR. JSTOR. Web. 18 Dec. 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/441074>.