Curse Of The Desert? Magic Realism And The Pitfalls Of Setting In Bessie Head’s Maru And Ben Okri’s Starbook

Wazha Lopang


This paper argues that magic realism cannot evolve in a setting where there is no bush environment because this is where oral literature flourishes. The oral literature provides the conditions necessary for magic realism to explore the relationship between the surreal and the mundane. If the magic realism is set outside this bush environment then the experience becomes muted. Texts that have a clear dichotomy between the world of human habitation (such as villages, towns) and that of the spirits (such as the bush or forest) enable magic realism to evolve into a more profound experience, that of the dream setting. My argument is that the dream setting needs this dichotomy for it to exist. In essence, texts that do not use the bush environment as part of their setting fall short in their creative aspect because the space and time within which characters function are constrained. The use of the oral tradition with its interplay of the human, animal and spirit worlds creates a platform for the dream setting, something which cannot happen where the setting limits itself to the world of human habitation. I will compare Bessie Head’s Maru with Ben Okri’s Starbook to show how the oral tradition in the latter text makes it achieve a level of magic realism that cannot be possible in Head’s Maru.

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International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies

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