Teaching Spanish Literature: Magic Realism


If you teach high school English, chances are you will encounter a piece of Hispanic literature or two in your class anthology text. If you want to explore the literature of the Hispanic world with your students, you will need to understand magic realism (or magical realism). This literary device involves blending the real with the surreal, and it makes Hispanic literature both confusing and entrancing at the same time.

Magic Realism: What is it?

Magic realism blends together elements of magic with everyday life. A story that uses this device might have characters with super powers or situations involving paranormal activities, usually just thrown into the middle of the plot without apology or explanation. As an example, in Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate, the main character somehow manages to infuse her emotions into her cooking so that everyone who eats the food she makes ends up feeling how she felt when she made it. In other words, if she’s having a bad day, so are all of her dinner guests. The rest of the characters do not seem to find anything strange with this mysterious occurrence, even though the reader does.

Magical realism is at the heart of many stories from Hispanic and Latin-American writers. In J.L. Borges’s story, "Borges y Yo," the author ends up talking to himself; in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the blood of a dead son trickles all the way through town to his mother’s house. It can be easy to get confused by the infusion of these magical elements in a story that is not part of the fantasy genre; however, as a teacher and a reader you simply have to take them with the rest of the plot and figure out what insights they provide.

For more information on magic realism, visit the online magazine Margin.

Suggested Reading

If you want to explore Spanish literature with your students, here are some suggestions:

Short Stories:

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings or The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World– Jorge Luis Borges, Borges and I– Julio Cortazar, House Taken Over


– Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera– Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate