20 February 2015
Humanity through Curiosity
To set explicit characteristics as the norm for the entire genre of magical realism would create an impassable boundary for what does and does not qualify as magical realism. Rather, magical realism is a fluid genre that absorbs the qualities of stories that incorporate elements found in folklore, mythology etc., with elements of realism. This creates a genre in which authors can explore the depth of an individual experience. Through this genre, authors are able to define different qualities and characteristics of humanity, hidden under the guise of the story line. Authors within the magical realism genre incorporate their view on society through the curiosity of the characters within their stories.
Nikolai Gogol, author of “The Nose”, writes about a man who losses a prized facial feature; his nose. Gogol describes the perspective of Kovalyov’s predicament with the statement that “high society was exceptionally happy with these developments” (Gogol 22). It is intriguing that even though the loss of Kovalyov’s nose caused him shame and embarrassment, people were keen on intruding on his life. Humanity finds enjoyment out of the absurd, even at the expense of an individual. This lack of empathy and understanding from the society in this piece is reflected as the author’s commentary about humanity. While the protagonist exerts vain and obnoxious qualities, the town’s people took advantage of his unfortunate situation and made a spectacle out of his shame. In order to hide from everyone’s curious and prying eyes, he was “always pressing the handkerchief to his face” (27).
Though Kovalyov was grieving the loss of his nose, others were intrigued by his misfortune. The curiosity presented in Gogol’s piece reflects his view that humanity holds interest in morbidity, even at the expense of others. Gogol even writes in the story that “everyone’s minds were attuned to the extraordinary” (27). Rather than showing concern for the man the crowd teases and taunts him. This jovial curiosity that the society expressed represents Gogol’s disappointment in humanity. While one man does in fact point out the mistreatment, he was easily ignored by the masses. This shows that curiosity can easily overwhelm concern and that humanity has a habit of creating a spectacle out of an individual’s pain and misfortune.
In comparison to Gogol’s writing, Gabriela Garcia Marquez presents a similar viewpoint about humanity through curiosity in his short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. The old man who appeared in the courtyard was treated “as if he weren’t a supernatural creature but a circus animal” (Marquez 458). The old man had the outwardly appearance of a damaged angel, yet he was treated as if he belonged in a circus. This story reveals that even when humanity is presented with a being as miraculous as an angel, curiosity overcomes all other notions and intentions. Instead of desiring to look after and care for the decrepit man with wings like an angel, society rejects him as a human being and treats him as a freak with a deformity. This elderly man became subject to abuse and mistreatment as visitors gripped with curiosity traveled to witness the spectacle.
Marquez furthers his depiction of humanity by revealing to the reader that the angel is not confined to descriptions of humanity. He writes: “a spectacle like that, full of so much human truth and with such a fearful lesson, was bound to defeat without even trying that of a haughty angel who scarcely deigned to look at mortals” (Marquez 459). The lesson he refers to is the overwhelming curiosity which exposes the maliciousness that exists within humanity. In regards to the “defeat,” the author is stating that the crowd would be subject to eventual lack of curiosity due to the disinterest of the angel. He cared not for the onlookers and did not concern himself with their actions. The lack of interest from the angel excuses him from Marquez’s depiction of humanity as cruel and unjust through the society’s morbid curiosity.
In Henry James short story, “The Jolly Corner,” the main character is confronted by his alter ego. The ignition of the protagonist’s passion to begin his search was a curiosity of discovering his alter ego. In this story, the alter ego is a representation of the person the protagonist would have been, had he made different choices throughout his life. James expresses the natural curiosity of discovery that rests within humanity through the protagonist’s desire to chase down his alter-self. By creating an alter ego as something that has physical form, the author creates a being from the opposing life choices to the ones that the main character made. However, as soon as he is confronted with the person he would have become, the protagonist rejects the manifestation and goes so far as to say that he “pitied” his alter ego (James 85). The expression of the protagonist’s fear of what he could have been is seen through the horror and disgust he shows. The curiosity presented in this work expresses the author’s view of how humanity is willing to reject that which is not understood. The initial nature of curiousness that exists within humanity can dissipate upon realizations that do not agree with the perceptions that are held.
In “The Aleph”, Jorge Luiz Borges introduces his view about humanity through the curiosity to obtain knowledge. Upon hearing of the mysterious aleph and how it enables absolute insight by providing infinite knowledge, the main character becomes curious and desired to see it. It was not only the nature of the aleph that enticed the protagonist but it was that craving to satisfy the curious mind. After observing the aleph, the protagonist is consumed by regret for having drawn in copious amounts of knowledge. After this consumption, the main character revels in the unknown. To know everything and never see anything new scared him. Not knowing what is going to happen next or happen tomorrow leaves an individual blissfully unaware. His discovery of the aleph rescinds his desire to know everything or everyone. Borges expresses that people take for granted the information that they already possess. His view of humanity shows that the desire for knowledge is a leading factor of curiosity but that once obtained, the curiosity is instantly replaced with regret.
In the short story, “Axolotl”, by Julio Cortazar, the representation of humanity can be seen through the child’s curiosity of the axolotls and his reaction with them. At the beginning of the story, Cortazar describes how the axolotls are larva which symbolizes innocence, a trait shared with the child. As the story progressed the axolotls were given characteristics that made them seem increasingly intellectual and almost as if they had a high power over the child. Their interaction seemed god-like as they initially had influence over the child but it slowly diminished as the childhood innocence vanished and melded with the axolotls’. This story parallels the growth of a child through adolescence as they learn to become more like adults. After a certain point, children forever lose their innocence and can never recover it. The axolotls resemble adults who have initial influence over their children but it slowly regresses as the child grows up and begins to transition into an adult.
Cortazar’s story of the axolotls and their interaction with the child resemble humanity through the child’s curious nature of the axolotls and his eventual discovery of their way of thinking. The regression of the young protagonist’s innocence embodies the loss of innocence among the youth in humanity. The subtle reversal of child to axolotl resembles the transition of adolescence to adulthood.
The curious nature of the characters in each story presents a different aspect of humanity. Nikolai Gogol and Gabriela Garcia Marquez write about morbid curiosity and how it reveals the dark and twisted desires of humanity to tease and taunt the outcasts of society. Henry James and Jorge Luiz Borges write about the curiosity of discovery that exists within humanity and how it quickly turns to regret when faced with the knowledge desired. Julio Cortazar writes about curiosity and the gradual lessening of innocence in humanity. All authors are incorporating their view of humanity into their stories and how it is manifested through the characters and story line.