Elements of Magical Realism and Sublime in Toad's Mouth
"Toad's Mouth" is a short story written by Isabel Allende in 1989. She has lived in Chili for most of her life, but she was born in Lima, Peru. Her father was a diplomat in Peru, but when her parents divorced, Allende's mother took her back to Santiago, Chili, to live with her grandparents. She wrote her first novel, The House of Spirits, around 1981. It became an international best seller. After reading "Toad's Mouth, I believe that magical realism and sublime literature have many things in common.
Like magical realism, sublime literature has magical and realistic elements. Most of the magical elements in this story seem to fit into the sublime category. Burke describes the sublime as having great vastness (Burke). The English raised vast numbers of sheep. "After a few years the animals had multiplied in such numbers that from a distance they looked like clouds trapped against the ground; they ate all the vegetation and trampled the last altars of the indigenous cultures" (83). The story also talks about the vast country side and far places that people came from. James B. Twitchell says that the landscapes "often are focused on a point just where the horizontal margin of nature meets the supernatural world of the sky, where the landscape is connected with the quiet sky" (Twitchell). The land is described as, "stone, sedge, and ice; endless plains that toward Tierra del Fuego break up into a rosary of islands, peaks of a snowy cordillera closing off the distant horizon, and silence that dates from the birth of time, interrupted periodically by the subterranean sigh of glaciers slipping slowly toward the sea" (83). Another sublime element is the fact that there were only two women in that land, "Hermelinda was the only young woman in all the land--aside from the English lady", the superintendent's wife, and the rest were men (84).
Some of the sublime elements also seem to be realists elements. The people and sheep are realistic. The description of the land paints a picture in a person's mind that seems very real. Lust, loneliness, and other feelings or emotions that the people experience are realistic elements. Hermelinda's occupation as a prostitute also brings realism to the story.
The sublime elements in "Toad's Mouth" are very significant. The land and vast number of sheep show how large the world is and how small a person is in comparison to it. Later in the story, an "Asturian named Pablo appeared...by then Hermelinda had accumulated a small fortune, but the idea of retiring to a more conventional life had never occurred to her" (86). Pablo managed to win her game called Toad's Mouth, and her life changed. He "seized Hermelinda's hand and pulled her to her feet, prepared to prove in his two hours that she could not do without him" (87). They went into another room while the rest of the men stood around checking their watches. "Three hours...