Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 1: Magical Elements in Magical Realism

Created October 6, 2014


The Lesson


The term “magical realism” is broadly descriptive and recently has been applied to the works of such diverse authors as Salmon Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and Louise Erdrich; however, critiques usually recognize Gabriel García Márquez as first among equals in writing in this fictional genre. What does this term mean? Commentators disagree, and the divide seems to be both geographical and linguistic: English-speaking critics emphasize the magic in One Hundred Years of Solitude, while Spanish speakers stress the reality of the events in the novel.

It is generally recognized that rather than explaining reality using natural or physical laws, the magical realist creates a new reality. This is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or magical elements into seemingly realistic fiction. At one point García Márquez confessed, "My most important problem was destroying the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.” Although this strategy appears in the literature of many cultures in many ages, the term is a relatively recent designation and is used to characterize a number of contemporary writers of Latin American literature such as Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, and Juan Rulfo.

The first two lessons in this unit look at both sides of this novel, the magical and the realistic elements, in an effort to come to understand magical realism. In Lesson 1, students begin their analysis through a study of how García Márquez used fantastic elements to enrich the story of the Buendía family and the history of Macondo.

This lesson is one part of a three lesson unit on One Hundred Years of Solitude. The three lessons may be taught in sequence or each lesson can stand on its own. It is expected that students will have read the novel before beginning the unit. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, College and Career Readiness standards and Background. Lesson 1 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3.

Learning Objectives

Students will identify “magical” elements of the novel and analyze how García Márquez used a “realistic” voice to give them credibility.

Preparation and Resources

Optional: A day or two before the lesson, freeze a large block of ice in a bucket; you might be able to use your school’s freezer. On the day of the lesson, bring the ice block to class in a cooler.

If you wish to spend more time on the concept of tone, or if you feel the need to provide a scaffold for the worksheet with a word bank, you may wish to have a list of words suggesting the author’s attitude toward his subject. Type “words describing tone” into your search engine to find multiple lists. These lists are very useful for vocabulary development.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Magical Elements in Magical Realism

Have students locate the section about ice at the end of chapter 1, and follow as you read it aloud, beginning with the paragraph that starts, “Holding a child by each hand …” and continuing to the end of the chapter. If you have brought a block of ice, show it to the class and invite students up to touch it.

Ask students if they consider the ice to be magic. Ask: Why would the people of Macondo think it to be magical, then? (Suggested answer: Living near the equator on the north coast of Colombia, they have never experienced ice.) Ask students what other things they can think of that might be perceived as magical by pre-scientific people. (Suggested answer: Cell phones, television, airplanes, etc.)

Tell students that García Márquez actually claimed that everything he wrote had some basis in reality. Gabriel Garcia Marquez noted in his interview with The Paris Review. “The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination."

Have students reread the paragraph in chapter 1 that begins, “Holding a child by each hand …” and the two paragraphs in chapter 3 that begins, “Visitación did not recognize him … ”. Ask them to provide a magical and a non-magical explanation for Melquiades reappearance. (Suggested answers: magical: he really died and came back to life; non-magical: the gypsies lied or were mistaken and Melquiades never actually died.)

To provide an example, read the following passage from this interview conducted by Peter Stone, “Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69.”


There also seems to be a journalistic quality to that technique or tone. You describe seemingly fantastic events in such minute detail that it gives them their own reality. Is this something you have picked up from journalism?


That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies.

Ask students: How did García Márquez integrate fantastic elements into the novel? Explain that there were two ways. Read the next section of the interview starting with “But when I was writing this. … Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed.”

Have students summarize the main idea García Márquez was stating as to how he established credibility in his fiction. (Suggested answer: One technique to establish credibility is by using additional descriptive details to convince the reader that the event is real.)

Tell students that the second technique he used is a matter-of-fact tone.

[Note: If necessary review the concept of tone with students as follows. Say the sentence, “You didn’t do your homework” a number of times in a variety of tones. After you say the phrase each time, ask students how they think you feel about it. Some possibilities are:

  • Say it very loud and aggressively (angry, exasperated);
  • Say it with emphasis on the word “You” and a questioning tone (surprise that a good student didn’t complete it);
  • Slowly, stopping after each word (annoyed);
  • Sing-song, like children teasing (taunting).

Point out that the words are the same in each case. Ask: How do we show how we feel when we speak? (Suggested answers: gestures, loudness, pronunciation, speed) Tell students that we use the word “tone” to describe the attitude of a speaker toward his subject.]

Ask students to suggest a tone word that might ordinarily describe how they would feel if they saw someone coming back from the dead (Suggested answer: horrified, frightened).

Have them locate Prudencio Aguilar’s ghostly return in Chapter 2. Read aloud from “The matter was put down as a duel of honor. …” to “Go in peace now.”

Discuss with students how the language García Márquez used in describing this ghostly apparition was really very matter-of-fact. (Suggested answer: The need for water for the grass plug, the reactions of Ursula and Jose Arcadio, etc.)

Tell students this is one of the hallmarks García Márquez’s writing and open a discussion with students to identify: (1) what effect this has on the narrative; (2) what effect it has on the reader.

Distribute Worksheet 1. Have students work in small groups to answer it. After sufficient time, pull students back into the full group to discuss their answers. (Worksheet 1. Teacher Version is available with suggested answers.)


Choose your favorite “magical” event from the novel. (Select one not already discussed in this lesson.) Write a paragraph explaining how García Márquez included specific details and a matter-of-fact tone in order to blur the line between fantasy and reality in this episode. Use textual evidence in your explanation.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Modern World
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Auditory analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Fairy tale analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Eileen Mattingly, Director of Education for Journeys in Film, former chair of the Humanities Department at Indian Creek Upper School (Annapolis, MD)