Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 2: The Realism in Magical Realism

Created October 7, 2014


The Lesson


Students today are steeped in fantasy in many arenas of their lives: video games, popular novels, and films all contribute to students’ enjoyment of otherworldly times and places. These settings make up a large part of their entertainment experiences. Such enjoyment can be a “way in” for teachers to engage students in the groundbreaking novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Beyond entertainment value, it is also important for students to understand the realistic context of this novel, to know that García Márquez was writing about actual historical trends in Latin American history and economic development. His characters were often modeled after real people in his own life and factual events that occurred near his hometown.

Previously in Lesson 1, students encountered an interview with García Márquez that emphasized how magical realism is achieved through his use of details and a matter-of-fact tone. This lesson builds on that knowledge and has them explore how García Márquez used events and people from his own experience and from Colombia’s colorful history to create his magically realistic epic of Macondo.

This lesson is part of a three lesson unit on One Hundred Years of Solitude. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, College and Career Readiness standards and Background. Lesson 2 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3

Learning Objectives

Students will identify historical events that are depicted in the novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and explain García Márquez’s treatment of these real events.

Preparation and Resources

Pre-readings to assign before the lesson:

Worksheet 2: Historical Events in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Realism in Magical Realism

Before the lesson, assign the two background readings (See Preparation and Resources). Have students list at least six pieces of information in the readings that remind them of events or characters in the novel, using Worksheet 2.

Write on the board, “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.” Explain to students that this is a bit of advice that is usually given to fiction writers. Ask the class why this might be helpful advice.

Hold a class discussion about the similarities that students recognize connecting historical events, incidents from García Márquez’s life, and events and personalities represented in the novel. 

Possible comparisons:

  • García Márquez’s birthplace, Aracataca, a small town on the Colombian coast, is similar to Macondo.
  • His grandfather was Colonel Nicolás Ricardo Márquez Mejía, a Liberal veteran and a model for Colonel Aureliano Buendía.  He was rumored to have fathered sixteen children.
  • Grandfather introduced García Márquez to ice, paralleling Melquíades’s experience.
  • García Márquez’s grandmother was Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes; her middle name is the same as Úrsula’s last name. She was superstitious and told many folktales, all in a deadpan manner, and she believed in ghosts and premonitions, as does Úrsula.
  • Courtship of García Márquez’s parents parallels the courtship of Meme and Mauricio Babilonia.
  • For part of his early career, García Márquez lived in a brothel. The mistress of José Arcadio and Colonel Aureliano Buendía, Pilar Ternera, runs a brothel in her old age.
  • Presence of early Spanish explorers and English seafarer Francis Drake recalls the discovery of the abandoned Spanish galleon and the skeleton in armor.
  • Formation of two political parties is depicted: the Liberals and the Conservatives.
  • Regional split between costeños and cachacos is reflected by Fernanda’s association with the latter.
  • War of a Thousand Days and other civil wars are depicted;
  • Banana Strike Massacre of 1928 in Ciénaga actually occurred near Aracataca;
  • Presence of indigenous peoples in Colombia is depicted. (i.e. Arcadio, and Amaranta came to speak Guajiro before Spanish and learned to drink lizard broth and eat spider eggs from a Native American woman who cared for them.)
Small Group Activity

Arrange student in three groups. Each of these groups has a slightly different purpose from the others. Each group locates and rereads sections of the novel to answer the specific questions students have been assigned. After analyzing the text and answering the question, have students develop an essential question that may relate to this or other authors. After completing this activity, have students share their answers to the specific question they were given as well as the essential questions they composed.

Group 1 studies the author’s craft using the description of the historical artifacts of the skeleton in armor and the Spanish galleon in chapter 1.

Specific question: What specific details relating to historical artifacts in this passage may have been put together by the author to convey meaning and tone?

Suggested Answers for Group 1:

The skeleton is found inside armor and wearing a locket containing a woman’s hair. This suggests elements of romanticism, medievalism, and love. “The galleon is white and powdery [i.e., ghostlike] in the silent morning light.” Its rigging is “adorned with orchids,” and the galleon seems to “occupy its own space, one of solitude and oblivion …” Inside, there is “a thick forest of flowers.” These images set up an otherworldly, funereal atmosphere but with living, blooming aspects.

Possible essential question: How can the addition of a few specific and telling details affect the over-all tone and meaning of a passage?

Group 2 examines the underlying philosophy of the author regarding war using the description of civil war in chapter 9.

Specific question: What was García Márquez’s attitude toward war as shown in this chapter?

Suggested Answers for Group 2:

Like Colonel Gerineldo Marquez, García Márquez finds war to be empty and purposeless, “a universe of unreality.” In contrast to his friend, at first Colonel Aureliano Buendía is “intoxicated by the glory of his return, by his remarkable victories, [and] he had peeped into the abyss of greatness.” However, he fails to give adequate instructions to his troops, burns a widow’s house to the ground, and even condones the murder of another officer. Eventually the aims of the war become lost and Colonel Aureliano Buendía admits that they are now fighting only for power.

Possible essential questions: How does war lack essential rational purpose? What are the effects of war on the participants?

Group 3 looks at one particular historical event—the Banana Massacre of 1928 in chapter 15

Specific question: How far does García Márquez’s account differ from a strictly historical retelling and why would he offer this version of events in his novel? 

Suggested Answers for Group 3:

García Márquez stays very close to historical truth in his retelling of the coming of the United Fruit Company, the building of the railroad and the arrival of the “gringos,” and the dissatisfaction of the workers. When a workers’ strike began, the conservative government brought in the army to break the strike, and soldiers fired upon several hundred workers and their families. Bodies were loaded on to a train and shipped toward the sea, though the novel does exaggerate the number of bodies to three thousand. Then it follows the account of the massacre with two main events: the successful suppression of information about the massacre by the government and the almost five years of torrential rain brought on by the banana company’s decision not to hold a celebration of the strike’s end until the rain stops. García Márquez clearly sides with the workers and condemns the government for both the massacre and the cover-up.

Possible essential question: How can historical truth be stretched to make an argument? Why would an author want to stretch the truth this way?

Bring the class back together and have students report on their discussions and share their essential questions (to be used in the lesson assessment.)


Take one of the essential questions constructed by another group in the class. Write a paragraph or more discussing García Márquez’s technique and/or philosophy as an answer to the question. Use textual evidence to support your statements.

Possible essential questions:

Group 1: How does the addition of a few specific and telling details affect the over-all tone and meaning of a passage?

Group 2. How does war lack essential rational purpose? What are the effects of war on the participants?

Group 3. How can historical truth be stretched to make an argument about government manipulation? Why would an author want to stretch the truth this way?

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • 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)