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The short story "The Day We Were Dogs", first published in 1993, was written by Elena Garro. She was born in Pueblo, Mexico, on December 15, 1920. I feel that the story definitely has to deal with magical realism. "The Day We Were Dogs" has too many magical elements that are treated as normal not to be magical realism. However, I also felt that the story has some unreal elements that are not treated as normal. Therefore, I feel that the story may also fit into the genre of fantastic literature, which creates questions about the unreal elements. Given this fact that the story hovers between magical realism and fantastic literature, it can not be absolutely defined as an example of magical realism.
After reading "The Day We Were Dogs", I felt that some things were treated as normal. One of the characteristics of magical realism is the fact that the girls might be dogs. To me, this is an obvious magical element. A human can not turn into a dog in any way, shape, or form. Also, a magical realist characteristic is when one of the girls touched a worm with her fingertip and it became a red ring (208). If she is a dog, I find myself asking: Why is he touching the worm with his fingertip? In addition, Eva rested her head on her fore paws and closed her eyes (209). The fact that the girls are switching from a human back to an animal seems magical to me. Most importantly, these magical elements are treated as normal by the characters, a necessary criteria for magical realism (Faris 172).
The sun beating down, the earth burned, and the dogs' food was heavy as bags of rocks (209), however, in my opinion, is an example of an unreal element that is questionable. Dog food is heavy, but I do not think that it is as heavy as rocks. I felt that it was somewhat an exaggeration. Therefore, I feel that it is a fantastic element, one that is questioned (Todorov), rather than an example of magical realism in which the unreal is treated as normal.
Grounding the magical elements in reality is also a characteristic of magical realism. I found some realistic elements in the story "The Day We Were Dogs" as well.
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I feel that the story does include some defamiliarization. In the story, the dogs do not do anything all day; however, in this story, we see how a dog's day usually goes, which is familiar. In my opinion, that instance is defamiliarization (Simpkins 150), something that we are familiar with, then view in a whole new way.
A problem with this story as an example of magical realism is that the reader does question the story and plot. The fact that the girls were humans and then they are dogs makes a person wonder what is really going on. Are they dogs or pretending to be dogs? Do they switch back and forth? The reason for asking this question is because one minute they mention the girl is using her finger, and the next minute she is using her fore paw (208-209). This questioning upsets the harmonious balance between the real and unreal that is required for magical realism (Todorov).
While reading "The Day We Were Dogs", I found that the characters themselves did not have any hesitation in the story. However, the readers hesitate because they are unsure if the girls are dogs or if they are pretending to be dogs. The reason the reader wonders about this occurrence is due to the fact that the story goes back and forth about them being human and a dog (208).
I felt that the story might have included elements of the magical grotesque, though. Also, I felt that the story had some strangeness to it, as well, in the form of Grotesque elements. One example was the excessive blood when the man was shot (210).
After reading "The Day We Were Dogs," I felt that it did treat some unreal elements in a way that placed it more in the fantastic genre than in magical realism. The reason I feel this story is because the girls as dogs were having to question what was happening to them. It was very obvious at times they were not sure who they were. They even had to ask themselves if they were dogs. Also while reading the story, I found another unreal element that was not treated as normal. The fact that the dogs were next to ants with their green sunshades seemed to be fantastic. There is no way that ants could wear green sunshades, and while I was enjoying that part, I felt that it would definitely be considered as an element of fantastic literature because of its questionable relationship with reality.
This story may also include some sublime elements. I felt that the two horizons and two different days , would be related to sublime. Also, the blurred horizons and the fact that the girls were always mentioning that they awoke determined not to repeat the preceding day seemed to be sublime elements. They would also look at two parallel days that glowed like two lines drawn in the water (207). For example, Rutilio yelled at the girls from the other day. He yelled, "Where are you going, you wretched little brats (209)?" The story also mentioned how they would listen to the other afternoon.
Therefore, because this story does in some ways include characteristics of fantastic literature and even some characteristics of sublime literature, it can not fit comfortably into a magical realism category. This story is an example of how easily fiction could be misidentified as magical realism if a person does not closely evaluate it according to the criteria for magical realism. After reading "The Day We Were Dogs," I found that there were magical realist elements along with elements of fantastic literature and even a few realist elements and sublime elements. The magical realism elements can also be fantastic as well. I felt that this story was very interesting to read. If a person is having trouble understanding what all of these different elements mean, I would suggest he or she read things on Scott Simpkins, Wendy B. Faris, and even Tsvetan Todorov. Reading what they have to say about magical realism, fantastic, and realistic, may help others understand what all of these issues mean.
Garro, Elena. "The Day We Were Dogs." Latin American Writers. N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1993. 206-212.
Faris, Wendy B. "Scheherazade's Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction." Magical Realism. Theory, History, Community. Ed Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris. Durkham, N. C. : Duke UP, 1995. 172.
Simpkins, Scott. "Sources of Magic Realism/Supplements to Realism in Contemporary Latin American Literature." Magical Realism. Theory, History, Community. Ed Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris. Durkham, N. C. : Duke UP, 1995. 150.
Todorov, Tsvetan. The fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Form. Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1973. 4.