At its first glance, the words ‘magical’ and ‘realism’ do not seem to be compatible with each other. Realism is all about events that have happened, largely dealing with historical settings. On the contrary, magic concerns with the use of fantastic or magical elements in the narrative. So what is the effect when realism and magic are mixed? Magical realism is, more than anything else, an attitude toward reality that can be expressed in popular or cultured forms. In magical realism we find the transformation of the common and the everyday into the awesome and the unreal (Adapted from the article: Magical Realism: A definition).
It is primarily an art of creating surprises, giving people a new perspective on what otherwise would be usual and monotonous. Events are endowed with a sense of mystery by the way they are described. For example, a crowd celebrating India’s independence is called ‘the monster in the streets’. This results in a feeling of amazing, of something extraordinary even when the events considered normal have happened. The reader’s attention is drawn to these events in a way they might not otherwise be. Apart from the use of magic realism techniques in the narrative, another example is central to the novel is the birth of Saleem Sinai as he is born at the exact moment of India’s independence. Birth itself is not uncommon, but it is definitely extraordinary and significant by making it meaningful.
In my opinion, in the novel that carries real historical significance, magic realism is one of the most appropriate narrative techniques. History itself can be quite dry, so the incorporation of ‘magic’ tends to make it a bit more interesting to read. On the other hand, while reading about history sometimes can be heavy-hearted, adding ‘magic’ elements is likely to relax the readers a bit. As a whole, magic and realism are complemented as magic helps achieve the effect which realism barely does, and vice versa. And indeed, realism or authenticity is true to every piece of history no matter it is in the form of narrative or documentary.
In Midnight’s Children, history is seen through the eyes of Saleem Sinai, thus reflected predominantly through individual experiences. For Saleem, born at the very moment of India’s independence, his life becomes inextricably interlinked with the political, national, and religious events of his time. This gives him a strong desire to restore his past identity to himself. Realism plays a big role here in terms of describing the significant events that have happened. It goes as detailed as Sinai himself and his family members especially the experiences of his grandfather, which provides a unique perspective for the readers to view what have happened during the period of Indian independence. Imagine without the ‘magic’ elements, this book could end up with a common novel as other historical documentaries. Overall, the use of magic realism not only makes this novel more appealing, it also exerts another level of importance in terms of the narrator himself as well as the Indian history as a whole.