Magical realism is fundamentally a narrative mode. The following are the essential features of this mode of narration as recognized and collated by Zamora and Faris in their monumental work Magical Realism Theory History Community.
1. A magical realist text typically contains an element of magic, something that cannot be explained by the laws of the universe as we know them. These magical events really happen, are seen by one or more characters and cannot be explained in terms of cause and effect. Reactions to these events by ordinary people however are familiar and disturbing, thus serving as a critique of human nature.
2. Realism in these texts lies in the concrete descriptions of the natural or real world. Realistic detailing creates a fictional world that resembles the one we live in. The magical events or beings are also invested with intense detailing thus subverting reality.
In many cases there is an idiosyncratic recreation of historical events – often alternative versions of official accounts, in the form of folk lore or mythical stories.
3. The weaving together of magical events in a realistic narrative creates the impression that the magic grows out of the real. Wonders are recounted in a matter of fact manner and accepted in the way that a child would, thus achieving a kind of defamiliarization.
4. Contradictory understandings of events are presented to the reader. With any magical event one is not sure whether to interpret it as hallucination, magic, or as allegory.
5. This is a narrative mode suited to exploring and transgressing boundaries whether political, ontological, geographical or generic. Mind and body, spirit and matter, life and death, real and imaginary, self and other, male and female, fact and fiction, ordinary and magical: these are boundaries that are erased, transgressed, blurred or refashioned.
6. The result is the merging or fusion of irreconcilable worlds or realms – the world of the ordinary or the mundane and the world of the magical suggesting a plurality of worlds.
7. Magical realist texts typically question received ideas about time, space and identity mainly due to their non-linearity of the narrative, oral story-telling style, reliance on myths, and folktales. Events in the novels also mirror such aspects, for instance people who live beyond the normal life span, or rains that continue for years together.
8. Some aspects of the narrative style that magical realism shares with postmodernism include metafictional dimensions, verbal magic, metaphors that are literalized or textualized, intertextuality, repetition and mirroring of events and characters, and a carnivalesque spirit in the extravagance of language, characters, and events.
9. Ultimately these texts are concerned with the nature of reality and its representation. They resist and subvert basic assumptions of post-enlightenment rationalism and literary realism.
10. Magic in these texts is also a means of resisting monologic political and cultural structures in their erasure of boundaries and therefore very useful to writers in postcolonial cultures and to women. Hallucinatory scenes and events, fantastic /phantasmagoric characters are used to indict political and cultural orders. History is narrated not as chronicle but through clairvoyance. Existing power structures are not privileged and therefore subverted.
11. Finally magical realism is Jungian rather than Freudian in its magic – reflecting collective relatednesss rather than individual dreams or memories or visions.