Magic Realism, Neurodiversity, and Carnivalesque in James McBride’s Song Yet Sung

Yuan-Chin Chang


This paper considers James McBride’s novel Song Yet Sung through multiple lenses – Bakhtin’s Carnivalesque, magic realism and performativity as it relates to race and gender identities. It is considered how the character of the “Dreamer” can be read clinically as suffering the sequelae of a traumatic brain injury. Her symptoms, which include future hallucinations or prophecies, can be read as neurological symptoms of her multiple head injuries documented in the novel. Connected to this reading, the influence of magic realism is considered, particularly as it relates to the natural imagery and symbolism in the novel. The importance of birds, in particular, is considered. Carnivalesque as conceptualized by Bakhtin is also considered in the context of “magical” thinking and reading, and its connections to social subversion; this is considered in relation to the era of slavery, its legacy, and associated issues of gender and race.

Keywords: Carnivalesque, Magic Realism, Prophecy, Gender Performance, Racial Performativity, Identity Performance

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