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Is Magic Real? Exploring the power of magical realism to challenge dominant historical narratives

Martha White

Comparative Literature/ Philosophy


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 The United Kingdom has been slow to come to terms with its involvement in the slave trade. Literature has played a role in this by normalising slavery in history. This study explores how magical realism, a literary genre where historical and fantastical elements can exist together, can radically challenge problematic representations of the past. 

To show this, I compare The Tobacco Lords (1994), a historical trilogy by Margaret Thomson Davis set in Glasgow during the era of slave-dealing tobacco merchants, with Beloved (1987), a magical realist novel by Toni Morrison showing the aftermath of slavery in the United States. I find that magical realism has powers that realism lacks when it comes to representing the realities of slavery. While The Tobacco Lords normalises slavery in history, the magical realism in Beloved can help reconstruct lost voices and challenge dominant historical narratives.


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