Fantastic Elements in The Porcelain Doll
Although "The Porcelain Doll" is found in an anthology of Magical Realist literature, one may wonder if the story is a true example of Magical Realism. Written in 1863 by the Russian Leo Tolstoy, "The Porcelain Doll" was a letter that is now treated as a short story. After analyzing Tolstoy's story, a reader may see that "The Porcelain Doll" is not a true example of Magical Realism but rather a possible example of the Fantastic.
In order for a story to be considered a Magical Realist text, it must contain both magical elements and realistic elements (Flores 112). Near the beginning of the story, Tolstoy tells the reader how he had already gone to bed when his wife, Sonya, entered the room to undress. As she approached the bed, Tolstoy realized that his wife was "not the Sonya you and I have known--but a porcelain Sonya" (Tolstoy 34). Therefore, the transformation of a human into a porcelain doll is obviously the magical element in this story.
One of the realistic elements in this story is that of the porcelain doll itself. The manner in which Tolstoy describes the doll signals to the reader that the doll is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the doll was just like "those porcelain dolls with bare cold shoulders, and necks and arms bent forward, but made of the same lump of porcelain as the body" (Tolstoy 34). Another realistic element in "The Porcelain Doll" may be the activities of the characters. For example, one time when Tolstoy's wife became a porcelain doll, Tolstoy's dog dragged her into a corner and almost broke her, which is something that an ordinary dog would probably do (Tolstoy 36).
In addition to having the mixture of magical elements with realistic elements, "The Porcelain Doll" has the Magical Realist characteristic of an extensive use of detail as well (Faris 169). For one thing, Tolstoy gives the exact time and date, March 21, 1863, at ten o'clock in the evening, of his wife's first incident of changing into a porcelain doll. Furthermore, he describes her appearance as a porcelain doll vividly:
And the chemise was one I knew, with lace, and there was a knot of black
hair behind but of porcelain, and the fine slender hands, and large eyes,
and the lips--all were the same, but of porcelain. And the dimple in her
chin and the small bones in front of her shoulders were there too, but of
porcelain. (Tolstoy 35)
Tolstoy's extensive use of detail attempts to camouflage the magical element of a human turning into a porcelain doll as part of reality, thus making the magical element slightly more believable to the reader and the characters.
Despite having some of the characteristics of Magical Realism, "The Porcelain Doll" still does not seem to comfortably fit in the Magical Realism category. For one thing, Magical Realist literature generally uses a magical element in order to give the reader a...