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The Use of the Fantastic in Black Baby by Clare Boylan and The South by Jorge Luis Borges.

The Use of the Fantastic in Black Baby by Clare Boylan and The South by Jorge Luis Borges.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Eimear Scott. Originally submitted for Contemporary Irish Writing at National University of Ireland Galway, with lecturer Dr. Irina Ruppo in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Eimear Scott. Originally submitted for Contemporary Irish Writing at National University of Ireland Galway, with lecturer Dr. Irina Ruppo in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
The Use of the Fantastic in
Black Baby 
by Clare Boylan and
The South
byJorge Luis Borges.
The fantastic mode, as defined by Todorov, is one which “confronts us with the dilem
mato believe or not to believe
” (
Todorov, 1975:83), and causes the reader, and at times thecharacters in the text, to hesitate and reconsider the reality of a specific situation. Thefantastic has been a frequently discussed issue and various definitions exist, with somecritics seeing it as a genre, others as a sub-genre and once critic, Louis Vax, describing it as when
“men like ourselves, inhabiting the real world,
are suddenly confronted by the
inexplicable”(
26). The supernatural, fear, and many elements which one would usuallyfind in the gothic are often to be seen in the fantastic mode, such as in the works of Edgar Allen Poe, but there are a number of key differences that are important to keep at the forefront when discussing the fantastic. Todorov outlines three conditions which atext must fulfil, or partially fulfil, in order to be classed as fantastic, which are as follows.Firstly, the text must oblige the reader to hesitate between the real and the supernaturaland to take the world of the character as a world of living people. Secondly, thishesitation may also be experienced by the character in the text and thirdly, the readermust adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text, and reject allegorical or poeticinterpretations (33). In contrast to the gothic, the fantastic mode does something morethan scare the reader, it often evokes the reader to think more deeply about certain
ideas and reassess their understanding of the text. I believe that Jorge Luis Borge’s
TheSouth
 
and Clare Boylan’s
Black Baby 
fulfil these conditions outlined by Todorov, makingthem both fantastic texts, and use the fantastic in order to carry out deep studies onissues they deem important and challenging.
Black Baby 
and
The South
are texts whichstrive to examine core subjects such as the fundamental meaning of our existence and
 
the nature of death and time, and which incorporate themes of desire and regret,something I will attempt to prove in this essay.
The South
was first published in 1953, and is the story which Borges
considered to be “acaso mi major cuento”
1
(Shaw,1976:66), and
Black Baby 
waspublished in 1988. Magical realism, which has many ties to the fantastic, has a longrunning tradition in the literature of Latin America, and as Morse stated
“For manyreaders, the Irish and the Fantastic are synonymous”
(Morse, 1991:1), so it is interestingto look at these two texts from such different backgrounds and cultural contexts andhow they both examine the same issues in similar ways. Both writers use death as thecentral vehicle on which they launch their studies on the human condition, and bypresenting us with realistic worlds in which fantastic events take place, they invite thereader to join them in their search for meaning. As already mentioned, Todorov statedthat ambiguity and hesitation are key characteristics of fantastic texts, and both can befound in abundance in
Black Baby 
and
The South
.
Black Baby 
starts off as a seeminglyrealistic text, introducing us to a community in Africa where the word of the Lord is
being spread, and then switching to Alice’s lonely home in Dublin. The fantastic mode is
presented in a number of major and minor ways in the text, the minor ones being dotted
throughout, such as the mentioning of one of the many clocks ticking “spinster, spinster,spinster” (
Boylan,1988:
22), the ghosts of Alice’s family surrounding her at night 
andlurking in the wardrobes, and the reappearance of her father towards the end of the text 
telling her that “you’ve done all right”(207)
. The major fantastic component, which isonly revealed at the end of the book, is the most striking and the one over which thereader hesitates the most. This hesitation is crucial. Upon reaching the hospital scenethe reader is suddenly hit with the realisation that Alice has apparently been in a
1
 
“Perhaps my greatest story.”
 
 
hospital bed since her seizure a month before, which leaves the reader attempting toassess and make sense of the previous chapters. As M.R James stat 
ed, “It is sometimes
necessary to keep a loophole for a natural explanation, but I might add that this hole
should be small enough to be unusable”
(Todorov:26), and this idea is clearly applicableto
Black Baby,
increasing the doubt felt by the reader. If 
Alice has been in “a world of herown” as the doc
tor called it, and in the hospital as he mentions the nurses for an entire
month, then how do the details of Dinah’s actions, which correspond to Alice’s “dream”,
make sense? How do things which happened in
Alice’s memories, her experiences,correspond to Dinah’s if she had only “once been kind to her and offe
red her a room
under the eaves”?
(Boylan:209) This hesitation, this inability to explain what 
really 
 happened, evokes the reader to search for a deeper meaning and also considers the
issues of spatial time and simultaneity. The experiences Alice had in her “other world”are so strong that we are forced to consider the doctor’s analysis and the validity of her
mental state. The lines between the
real 
realit 
y and Alice’s reality are so blurred it 
causes doubt in the mind of the reader.This blurring of the boundaries, the idea of spatial time and duplicity, are
all central in Borge’s
The South
. In
The South
we are presented with Juan Dahlmann, aman who seemingly dreams (or actually experiences?) the death he has always wanted,whilst remaining on the surgical table after an accident. The similarities between thetwo texts are noticeable; both protagonists suffer an accident which leads to them beinghospitalised, both characters suffer lonely lives and both characters have a longing forsomething they will never have. Thus, desire and regret are central to both texts. Similarto
Black Baby,
 
The South
starts off as a seemingly realist text about a man who buys abook, goes home to read it, cuts his head and gets a fever which leads to him going to

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