#32 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Spanish: Cien años de soledad, 1967), by Gabriel García Márquez, is a novel which tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the town of Macondo, the metaphoric Colombia. The non-linear story is narrated via different time frames, a technique derived from the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (as in The Garden of Forking Paths).
The widely acclaimed story, considered by many to be the author’s masterpiece, was first published in Spanish in 1967, and subsequently has been translated into thirty-seven languages and has sold more than 20 million copies. The magical realist style and thematic substance of One Hundred Years of Solitude established it as an important, representative novel of the literary Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s, that was stylistically influenced by Modernism (European and North American), and the Cuban Vanguardia (Vanguard) literary movement.
There is a legend Gabriel Garcia Marquez likes to tell about the writing of his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. He claims that he wrote the book barricaded in his study in Mexico, after receiving a vision. One day, while he and his wife and children were in their car driving to Acapulco, he saw that he “had to tell [his] story the way his grandmother used to tell hers, and that [he] was to start from that afternoon in which a father took his child to discover ice.” He made an abrupt U-turn on the highway, the car never made it to Acapulco, and he locked himself in his study. Fifteen months later, he emerged with the manuscript, only to meet his wife holding a stack of bills. They traded papers, and she put the manuscript in the mail to his publisher.
Like everything Marquez writes, there is some truth and much fiction in this tale. The truth in the tale is that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a very personal book for the author. It would not have been written if he had not experienced the childhood he had. Marquez grew up with his maternal grandparents in Aracataca, Colombia. His grandparents were cousins who moved to Aracataca from Riohacha at the end of the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902), a few years before a leafstorm. Marquez’s childhood anecdotes tell of a big house full of ghosts, conversations in code, and relatives who could foretell their own deaths. It was also a house filled with guests and social events, shaded by almond trees and bursting with flowers. When Marquez’s grandfather died, Marquez was sent to live with his parents. In his grandfather’s absence, his grandmother, who was blind, could no longer keep up the house. It fell into a state of ruin, and red ants destroyed the trees and flowers. Also early in his childhood, Marquez witnessed the massacre of striking banana workers at a plantation named Macondo at a train station. The government made every attempt to block information from the public and pacify the foreign plantation owners. Marquez was horrified, and even more horrified when he reached high school and learned that the event had been deleted from his history textbook.
Careful readers of One Hundred Years of Solitude will recognize many of these elements in the book; there is no doubt that if Marquez had not grown up in Aracataca and had a keen ear, the novel would not exist. On one hand, the context for the book is Marquez’s own personal nostalgia for childhood, for his grandparents, for a big house filled with ghosts and laughter. On the other hand, the context for the book is Marquez’s political beliefs and the oft-brutal realities of growing up in a particularly tumultuous developing country. Growing up in Colombia, which has a long and tragic socioeconomic history, Marquez learned about politics and economics early on. In his conversations with other Latin American writers the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes was one of the writers who gave Marquez extensive feedback and advice on the early chapters of Solitude he developed his own theoretical views about writing and politics. He often claims “The first duty of a writer is to write well”implying that writing must not be polemical but there is no doubt that the economic history of Latin America, which is a history of inequality and exploitation, has had a crucial impact on all of his writing.
Marquez’s approach to writing One Hundred Years of Solitude combining his own memories and imagination with focused aesthetics and an eye for the tragic history of his country has had an immeasurable impact on writers of color worldwide. Coming at the time it did, in the midst of a boom in Latin American writing, it was immediately recognized as one of the finest, if not the finest, offerings from that period. More importantly, it crossed every boundary to becoming an international bestseller and worldwide phenomenon. Even Latin American writers who found fault with it could not deny that it had directed the attentions of the literary world to Latin America. The book was an immediate commercial and critical success when it appeared in 1967, and has since been translated into 26 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.
Other writers of color from different traditions followed in Marquez’s footsteps to draw attention to their own countries and struggles. As critic Regina James says, “Solitude represented the marginal and the primitive, yet it neither adopted the superior perspective of the Western anthropologist nor imitated an imagined, alien innocence. Many writers recognized their own ambivalent and difficult relationships with a traditional culture. In much of the world, the unimaginably old coexists with the unbearably new. For writers conscious of straddling two cultures, nostalgia for a simpler, primitive past vies with wonder at the persistence of habits of thought, patterns of life, and modes of belief that surely ought to be extinct, mere harmless fossils. Garcia Marquez turned puzzlement or outrage into ironic wonder, and he enhanced the strangeness of the real” Today, we see his influence in such celebrated writers as America’s Toni Morrison, India (and England)’s Salman Rushdie, and Trinidad’s V.S. Naipaul.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of seven generations of the Buendía Family in the town of Macondo. The founding patriarch of Macondo, José Arcadio Buendía, and Úrsula, his wife (and first cousin), leave Riohacha, Colombia, to find a better life and a new home. One night of their emigration journey, whilst camping on a riverbank, José Arcadio Buendía dreams of “Macondo”, a city of mirrors that reflected the world in and about it. Upon awakening, he decides to found Macondo at the river side; after days of wandering the jungle, José Arcadio Buendía’s founding of Macondo is utopic.
Founding patriarch José Arcadio Buendía believes Macondo to be surrounded by water, and from that island, he invents the world according to his perceptions. Soon after its foundation, Macondo becomes a town frequented by unusual and extraordinary events that involve the generations of the Buendía family, who are unable or unwilling to escape their periodic (mostly) self-inflicted misfortunes. Ultimately, a hurricane destroys Macondo, the city of mirrors; just the cyclical turmoil inherent to Macondo. At the end of the story, a Buendía man deciphers an encrypted cipher that generations of Buendía family men had failed to decipher. The secret message informed the recipient of every fortune and misfortune lived by the Buendía Family generations.
The critical interpretation of Colombian history that is the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude draws from the nationally agreed-upon history to establish the world of Macondo, where a man’s will to power allows him to invent the world according to his perceptions.
Before the Spanish colonization of the Americas by “right of conquest”, the northern region of South America that is contemporary Colombia had no culture akin to that of the (Peruvian) Incas, the (Central American) Mayas, or the (Mexican) Aztecs. That region was populated by the Tairona and Chibcha Indian tribes, who were organized as clans, from which derived the local monarchy who governed pre–Hispanic “Colombia”. In 1509, Vasco Núñez de Balboa established the first settlement and is now named the first city of Colombia, as an advanced guard of the Spanish invasion and conquest. The founding of Macondo by the patriarchal Buendía Family is metaphor of the colonization of the future “Colombia”.
A dominant theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history in Macondo. The protagonists are controlled by their pasts and the complexity of time. Throughout the novel the characters are visited by ghosts. “The ghosts are symbols of the past and the haunting nature it has over Macondo. The ghosts and the displaced repetition that they evoke are, in fact, firmly grounded in the particular development of Latin American history”. “Ideological transfiguration ensured that Macondo and the Buendías always were ghosts to some extent, alienated and estranged from their own history, not only victims of the harsh reality of dependence and underdevelopment but also of the ideological illusions that haunt and reinforce such social conditions.
The fate of Macondo is both doomed and predetermined from its very existence. “Fatalism is a metaphor for the particular part that ideology has played in maintaining historical dependence, by locking the interpretation of Latin American history into certain patterns that deny alternative possibilities. The narrative seemingly confirms fatalism in order to illustrate the feeling of entrapment that ideology can performatively create.
García Márquez uses colors as symbols. Yellow and gold are the most frequently used colors and they are symbols of imperialism and the Spanish Siglo de Oro. Gold signifies a search for economic wealth, whereas yellow represents death, change, and destruction.
The glass city is an image that comes to José Arcadio Buendía in a dream. It is the reason for the location of the founding of Macondo, but it is also a symbol of the ill fate of Macondo. Higgins writes that, “By the final page, however, the city of mirrors has become a city of mirages. Macondo thus represents the dream of a brave new world that America seemed to promise and that was cruelly proved illusory by the subsequent course of history” Images such as the glass city and the ice factory represent how Latin America already has its history outlined and is, therefore, fated for destruction.
Overall, there is an underlying pattern of Latin American history in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It could be said that the novel is one of a number of texts that “Latin American culture has created to understand itself”. In this sense, the novel can be conceived as a linear archive. This archive narrates the story of a Latin America discovered by European explorers, which had its historical entity developed by the printing press. The Archive is a symbol of the literature that is the foundation of Latin American history and also a decoding instrument. Melquíades, the keeper of the historical archive in the novel, represents both the whimsical and the literary. Finally, “the world of One Hundred Years of Solitude is a place where beliefs and metaphors become forms of fact, and where more ordinary facts become uncertain”
“The rise and fall birth and death of the mythical but intensely real Macondo, and the glories and disasters of the wonderful Buendía family; make up an intensely brilliant chronicle of humankind’s comedies and tragedies. All the many varieties of life are captured here: inventively, amusingly, magnetically, sadly, humorously, luminously, truthfully.”
Critics often cite certain works by García Márquez, such as A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and One Hundred Years of Solitude, as exemplary of magical realism, a style of writing in which the supernatural is presented as mundane, and the mundane as supernatural or extraordinary. The term was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925.
The novel presents a fictional story in a fictional setting. The extraordinary events and characters are fabricated. However the message that García Márquez intends to deliver explains a true history. García Márquez utilizes his fantastic story as an expression of reality. “In One Hundred Years of Solitude, myth and history overlap. The myth acts as a vehicle to transmit history to the reader. García Márquez’s novel can furthermore be referred to as anthropology, where truth is found in language and myth. What is real and what is fiction are indistinguishable. There are three main mythical elements of the novel: classical stories alluding to foundations and origins, characters resembling mythical heroes, and supernatural elements”. Magical realism is inherent in the novel-achieved by the constant intertwining of the ordinary with the extraordinary. This magical realism strikes at one’s traditional sense of naturalistic fiction. There is something clearly magical about the world of Macondo. It is a state of mind as much as, or more than, a geographical place. For example, one learns very little about its actual physical layout. Furthermore, once in it, the reader must be prepared to meet whatever the imagination of the author presents to him or her.
García Márquez achieves a perfect blend of the real with the magical through the masterful use of tone and narration. By maintaining the same tone throughout the novel, García Márquez makes the extraordinary blend with the ordinary. His condensation of and lackadaisical manner in describing events causes the extraordinary to seem less remarkable than it actually is, thereby perfectly blending the real with the magical. Reinforcing this effect is the unastonished tone in which the book is written. This tone restricts the ability of the reader to question the events of the novel, however, it also causes the reader to call into question the limits of reality. Furthermore, maintaining the same narrator throughout the novel familiarizes the reader with his voice and causes he or she to become accustomed to the extraordinary events in the novel.
Critics often classify Marquez’s writing as “magic realism” because of his combination of the real and the fantastic. The novel carefully balances realistic elements of life, like poverty and housecleaning, with outrageous instances, like a levitating priest. There are many purposes of this. One is to introduce the reader to Marquez’s Colombia, where myths, portents, and legends exist side by side with technology and modernity. Another reason for this is lead the reader to question what is real and what is fantastic, especially in the realm of politics. It is to force to question the absurdity of our everyday lives.
With regards to the subjectivity of experienced reality, we can see that although the realism and the magic that One Hundred Years of Solitude includes seem at first to be opposites, they are, in fact, perfectly reconcilable. Both are necessary in order to convey Márquez’s particular conception of the world. Márquez’s novel reflects reality not as it is experienced by one observer, but as it is individually experienced by those with different backgrounds. These multiple perspectives are especially appropriate to the unique reality of Latin America—caught between modernity and pre-industrialization; torn by civil war, and ravaged by imperialism—where the experiences of people vary much more than they might in a more homogenous society. Magical realism conveys a reality that incorporates the magic that superstition and religion infuse into the world.
This novel treats biblical narratives and native Latin American mythology as historically credible. This approach may stem from the sense, shared by some Latin American authors, that important and powerful strains of magic running through ordinary lives fall victim to the Western emphasis on logic and reason. If García Márquez seems to confuse reality and fiction, it is only because, from some perspectives, fiction may be truer than reality, and vice versa. For instance, in places like Márquez’s hometown, which witnessed a massacre much like that of the workers in Macondo, unthinkable horrors may be a common sight. Real life, then, begins to seem like a fantasy that is both terrifying and fascinating, and Márquez’s novel is an attempt to recreate and to capture that sense of real life
Jose Arcadio Buendia, Amaranta, Ursula, Aureliano, Jose Arcadio Segundo–are left completely alone, even forgotten, for years at a time. Buendia men named Aureliano are said to have a “solitary” air. And the town itself is isolated and alienated from the outside world. At the very end of the book, the narrator concludes that the Buendias are a race condemned to solitude, and therefore they will not get a second chance. Marquez intends for the theme of solitude to be read in many different ways. It is a protest against the practice of the Western world to “condemn” people of color to solitude, denying them access to the resources of the developed world. It is also a comment on the nature of man a comment that too much solitude can be destructive both to individuals and to society at large.
One Hundred Years of Solitude contains several ideas concerning time. Although the story can be read as a linear progression of events, both when considering individual lives and Macondo’s history, García Márquez allows room for several other interpretations of time. He reiterates the metaphor of history as a circular phenomenon through the repetition of names and characteristics belonging to the Buendía family. Over six generations, all the José Arcadios possess inquisitive and rational dispositions as well as enormous physical strength. The Aurelianos, meanwhile, lean towards insularity and quietude. This repetition of traits reproduces the history of the individual characters and, ultimately, a history of the town as a succession of the same mistakes ad infinitum due to some endogenous hubris in our nature.
The novel explores the issue of timelessness or eternity even within the framework of mortal existence. A major trope with which it accomplishes this task is the alchemist’s laboratory in the Buendía family home. The laboratory was first designed by Melquíades near the start of the story and remains essentially unchanged throughout its course. It is a place where the male Buendía characters can indulge their will to solitude, whether through attempts to deconstruct the world with reason as in the case of José Arcadio Buendía, or by the endless creation and destruction of golden fish as in the case of his son Colonel Aureliano Buendía. Furthermore, a sense of inevitability prevails throughout the text. This is a feeling that regardless of what way one looks at time, its encompassing nature is the one truthful admission.
On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that One Hundred Years of Solitude, while basically chronological and “linear” enough in its broad outlines, also shows abundant zigzags in time, both flashbacks of matters past and long leaps towards future events. One example of this is the youthful amour between Meme and Mauricio Babilonia, which is already in full swing before we are informed about the origins of the affair.
For the characters in the novel, time alternatively moves quickly and stagnates for years. In general, children grow up quickly, but when they are adults particularly the male adults time abandons them, leaving them to sit with their own nostalgia and bitterness for years on end. Time abandons Colonel Aureliano Buendia after the civil wars, and Jose Arcadio Segundo, both of them locked in Melquiades’ laboratory, refusing to join the living, moving world. In her later years when Ursula considers her family, time appears to be moving in a circle. New children turn out to be like their ancestors, only horribly exaggerated in some flaw or strength. Time is indeed moving in a circle in this book, but instead of expanding outward it is collapsing in on the Buendia family as their eventual demise draws closer. Marquez’s point is that time moves in circles and cycles, and people are not always progressing.
From the names that return generation after generation to the repetition of personalities and events, time in One Hundred Years of Solitude refuses to divide neatly into past, present, and future, and we must, therefore, acknowledge this inseparability. Úrsula Iguarán is always the first to notice that time in Macondo is not finite, but, rather, moves forward over and over again. Sometimes, this simultaneity of time leads to amnesia, when people cannot see the past any more than they can see the future. Other times the future becomes as easy to recall as the past. The prophecies of Melquíades prove that events in time are continuous: from the beginning of the novel, the old gypsy was able to see its end, as if the various events were all occurring at once. Similarly, the presence of the ghosts of Melquíades and José Arcadio Buendía shows that the past in which those men lived has become one with the present.
Perhaps the most dominant theme in the book is that of solitude. Macondo was founded in the remote jungles of the Colombian rainforest. The solitude of the town is representative of the colonial period in Latin American history, where outposts and colonies were, for all intents and purposes, not interconnected. Isolated from the rest of the world, the Buendías grow to be increasingly solitary and selfish. With every member of the family living only for himself or herself, the Buendías become representative of the aristocratic, land-owning elite who came to dominate Latin America in keeping with the sense of Latin American history symbolized in the novel. This egocentricity is embodied, especially, in the characters of Aureliano, who lives in a private world of his own, and Remedios, who destroys the lives of four men enamored by her beauty. Throughout the novel it seems as if no character can find true love or escape the destructiveness of their own egocentricity.
A recurring theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the Buendía family’s propensity toward incest. The patriarch of the family, Jose Arcadio Buendía, is the first of numerous Buendías to intermarry when he marries his first cousin, Úrsula. It is worth noting that this initial, incestuous act can be viewed as an “original sin”, however it will not be the last one. Furthermore, the fact that “throughout the novel the family is haunted by the fear of punishment in the form of the birth of a monstrous child with a pig’s tail” can be attributed to this initial, and the recurring acts of incest among the Buendías.
Incest is also a secondary theme of solitude. It plays an enormous role in the novel, from the very beginning with Ursula’s warning that children born of incestuous relationships may be born with the tails of pigs. And indeed, at the very end of the novel, a Buendia is born with the tail of a pig. For most families, incest is not a great threat. The fact that it is something the Buendias have to keep dodging marks them as a family unable to escape the family homestead, unable to look outside themselves. They are too solitary. Essentially, incest is the practice of keeping family members within the familyso it marks the Buendias as too disengaged from the world around them.
The selfishness of the Buendía family is eventually broken by the once superficial Aureliano Segundo and Petra Cotes, who discover a sense of mutual solidarity and the joy of helping others in need during Macondo’s economic crisis. This pair even finds love, and their pattern is repeated by Aureliano Babilonia and Amaranta Úrsula. Eventually, Aureliano and Amaranta decide to have a child, and the latter is convinced that it will represent a fresh start for the once-conceited Buendía family. However, the child turns out to be the perpetually feared monster with the pig’s tail. An interesting note: The words “solitude” or “solitary” appear on almost every page of this novel.
Nonetheless, the appearance of love represents a shift in Macondo, albeit one that leads to its destruction. “The emergence of love in the novel to displace the traditional egoism of the Buendías reflects the emergence of socialist values as a political force in Latin America, a force that will sweep away the Buendías and the order they represent.” The ending to One Hundred Years of Solitude could be a wishful prediction by García Márquez, a well-known socialist, regarding the future of Latin America.
In Solitude, organized religion is often the subject of jokes and satire. One of the novel’s most unsympathetic characters, Fernanda del Carpio, is a fervent Catholic who thinks nothing of putting her own child in a convent and forgetting about her. Macondo’s priest, Father Nicador, is trotted out again and again for comic relief. In general, organized religion is regarded with skepticism. The characters who follow the path of God in an unconventional, but moral, way, like Ursula, are treated with more dignity and respect.
The novel follows the town of Macondo from its founding to its demise. In between, there is prosperity, growth, war and civil strife, modernity and progress, and a cataclysmic event that leads to its downfall and eventual demise. Some critics have noted that the book also follows the trajectory of classical Greek civilization, with its careful recording of how and when science, art, and politics come to Macondo. This contributes to Solitude‘s appearance as a “total novel,” with everything contained in it. It also contributes to Marquez’s overall vision of Macondo as a lens through which all human history and all human nature can be seen.
Although language is in an unripe, Garden-of-Eden state at the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude, when most things in the newborn world are still unnamed, its function quickly becomes more complex. Various languages fill the novel, including the Guajiro -language that the children learn, the multilingual tattoos that cover José Arcadio’s body, the Latin spoken by José Arcadio Buendía, and the final Sanskrit translation of Melquíades’s prophecies. In fact, this final act of translation can be seen as the most significant act in the book, since it seems to be the one that makes the book’s existence possible and gives life to the characters and story within.
What realism is there in this “power of reading and of language”? As García Márquez makes reading the final apocalyptic force that destroys Macondo and calls attention to his own task as a writer, he also reminds us that our reading provides the fundamental first breath to every action that takes place in One Hundred Years of Solitude. While the novel can be thought of as something with one clear, predetermined meaning, García Márquez asks his reader to acknowledge the fact that every act of reading is also an interpretation, and that such interpretations can have weighty consequences. Aureliano (II), then, does not just take the manuscripts’ meanings for granted, but, in addition, he must also translate and interpret them and ultimately precipitate the destruction of the town.
One Hundred Years of Solitude draws on many of the basic narratives of the Bible, and its characters can be seen as allegorical of some major biblical figures. The novel recounts the creation of Macondo and its earliest Edenic days of innocence, and continues until its apocalyptic end, with a cleansing flood in between. We can see José Arcadio Buendía’s downfall—his loss of sanity—as a result of his quest for knowledge. He and his wife, Ursula Iguarán, represent the biblical Adam and Eve, who were exiled from Eden after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The entire novel functions as a metaphor for human history and an extended commentary on human nature. On the one hand, their story, taken literally as applying to the fictional Buendías, evokes immense pathos. But as representatives of the human race, the Buendías personify solitude and inevitable tragedy, together with the elusive possibility of happiness, as chronicled by the Bible.
Specifically, Márquez mentions the Book of Genesis. From the very first paragraph, the narrator gives readers the impression that Macondo is akin to the Garden of Eden. The preponderance of plagues that the town suffers through (insomnia, rain) are also biblical; as is the flood that rains on Macondo in an effort to rid the town of wicked men. By consciously echoing the Book of Genesis, Marquez is alerting us that this is his attempt to rewrite the history of the world and the human race, in a novel that has everything in it.
At least two definite plagues come to Macondo: the insomnia plague and the rains that last for almost five years. Critics go back and forth on whether or not the invasion of the foreign businessmen constitutes a third plague, although they certainly bring death and destruction with them. The first of these plagues very nearly causes Macondo to lose its memory; the second of these plagues brings about the eventual downfall of the town. Essentially, both plagues are dangerous because they prevent Macondo from staying in touch with reality and the world around them by plunging them into nostalgia and erasing the town’s memory.
The twisted and meandering world of politics is under a great deal of scrutiny in this novel, particularly the chapters that deal with Colonel Aureliano Buendia. The world of politics is a gloomy one. There is little difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives; both parties kill and exploit the people. Although Marquez has a definite anti-capitalist bent, his purpose in portraying the politics of the region is not to be polemical. Instead, he comments on how the nature of Latin American politics is towards absurdity, denial, and never-ending repetitions of tragedy.
This theme is particularly important for the chapters dealing with the banana plantation. In the span of only a few years, Macondo is transformed from a sleepy backwater to a frighteningly modern town via the influences of technology, economic exploitation and foreign invasion. But the arrival of new machines and farming techniques do not make Macondo a better place to live in, in fact things only get worse. The point of this is that modern technology is meaningless without a concurrent improvement in ethics, and “progress” turns brutal without a plan to lessen economic inequality.
Although a lesser theme in the novel, important patterns surface regarding the theme of women’s sexuality. In general, the women who have unconventional relationships Rebeca, Petra Cotes, Amaranta Ursula are happier and more sympathetic than the women who cling to society’s standards of behavior Amaranta and Fernanda del Carpio. The fact that Aureliano Segundo’s coupling with Petra Cotes dramatically increases the proliferation of his animals is a signal that free love can be healthy for society at large.
While the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude consider total forgetfulness a danger, they, ironically, also seem to consider memory a burden. About half of the novel’s characters speak of the weight of having too many memories while the rest seem to be amnesiacs. Rebeca’s overabundance of memory causes her to lock herself in her house after her husband’s death, and to live there with the memory of friends rather than the presence of people. For her, the nostalgia of better days gone by prevents her from existing in a changing world. The opposite of her character can be found in Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who has almost no memories at all. He lives in an endlessly repeating present, melting down and then recreating his collection of little gold fishes. Nostalgia and amnesia are the dual diseases of the Buendía clan, one tying its victims to the past, the other trapping them in the present. Thus afflicted, the Buendías are doomed to repeat the same cycles until they consume themselves, and they are never able to move into the future.
Gypsies are present in One Hundred Years of Solitude primarily to act as links. They function to offer transitions from contrasting or unrelated events and characters. Every few years, especially in the early days of Macondo, a pack of wandering gypsies arrives, turning the town into something like a carnival and displaying the wares that they have brought with them. Before Macondo has a road to civilization, they are the town’s only contact with the outside world. They bring both technology—inventions that Melquíades displays—and magic—magic carpets and other wonders. Gypsies, then, serve as versatile literary devices that also blur the line between fantasy and reality, especially when they connect Macondo and the outside world, magic and science, and even the past and present.
Frequently throughout the book, there was mention of the “little gold fishes”. The meaning of the thousands of little gold fishes that Colonel Aureliano Buendía makes shifts over time. At first, these fishes represent Aureliano’s artistic nature and, by extension, the artistic nature of all the Aurelianos. Soon, however, they acquire a greater significance, marking the ways in which Aureliano has affected the world. His seventeen sons, for example, are each given a little gold fish, and, in this case, the fishes represent Aureliano’s effect on the world through his sons. In another instance, they are used as passkeys when messengers for the Liberals use them to prove their allegiance. Many years later, however, the fishes become collector’s items, merely relics of a once-great leader. This attitude disgusts Aureliano because he recognizes that people are using him as a figurehead, a mythological hero that represents whatever they want it to represent. When he begins to understand that the little gold fishes no longer are symbolic of him personally, but instead of a mistaken ideal, he stops making new fishes and starts to melt down the old ones again and again.
The railroad represents the arrival of the modern world in Macondo. This devastating turn leads to the development of a banana plantation and the ensuing massacre of three thousand workers. The railroad also represents the period when Macondo is connected most closely with the outside world. After the banana plantations close down, the railroad falls into disrepair and the train ceases even to stop in Macondo anymore. The advent of the railroad is a turning point. Before it comes, Macondo grows bigger and thrives; afterward, Macondo quickly disintegrates, folding back into isolation and eventually expiring.
At first, the English encyclopedia that Meme receives from her American friend is a symbol for the way the American plantation owners are taking over Macondo. When Meme, a descendant of the town’s founders, begins to learn English, the foreigners’ encroachment on Macondo’s culture becomes obvious. The concrete threat posed by the encyclopedia is later lessened when Aureliano Segundo uses it to tell his children stories. Because he does not speak English, Aureliano Segundo makes up stories to go with the pictures. By creating the possibility for multiple interpretations of the text, he unwittingly diffuses the encyclopedia’s danger.
I had to laugh when the golden chamber pot was mentioned, and to think of the formal thought of “my sh*t doesn’t stink!” It was brought by Fernanda del Carpio to Macondo from her home and is, for her, a marker of her lofty status; she believes that she was destined to be a queen. But while the gold of the chamber pot is associated with royalty, the function of the chamber pot is, of course, associated with defecation: a sign of the real value of Fernanda’s snooty condescension. Later, when José Arcadio (II) tries to sell the chamber pot, he finds that it is not really solid gold, but, rather, gold-plated. Again, this revelation represents the hollowness of Fernanda’s pride and the flimsiness of cheap cover-ups.
The mention of the Treaty of Neerlandia was, for me, a bit of solid ground for me to stand on with this novel. It was a little chaotic, and I was struggling to figure out where this story was taking place, besides being in the new Americas. To me, it gave a backbone of reality to place this unbelievable story about things that could have possibly taken place. So to do the book justice, I must, therefore, tell you a little about the history of the area and the time period during which the story takes place.
The Thousand Days’ War (1899–1902) (Spanish: Guerra de los Mil Días), was a civil armed conflict in the newly created Republic of Colombia, (including its then province of Panama) between the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and its radical factions. In 1899 the ruling conservatives were accused of maintaining power through fraudulent elections. The situation was worsened by an economic crisis caused by falling coffee prices in the international market, which mainly affected the opposition Liberal Party, which had lost power.
Throughout the 19th century, Colombia was a country filled with political instability, which was the factor that evolved into the main cause of the war in 1886. This was the year in which the 1863 constitution was suppressed and replaced by a more centralist and conservative document. The 1863 constitution had been criticized as a result of federalist excesses during the period in which the Liberal radicals were in power.
With Regeneración (Regeneration) period and the creation of the 1886 constitution, the centralist regime only managed to aggravate the political problems. Some departments soon began to complain about these problems to the central government. In the economic field, poor political decisions also led to economic problems. The detonating factor of the war was simply the confrontation between the Liberals and Conservatives, as much among them as within their respective parties. The Conservatives had used fraudulent elections to remain in power, and this led to much anger amongst the opposition. On top of increasingly hostile political environment, President Manuel Antonio Sanclemente was too ill to rule the country, leading to a power-vacuum in the country. The political environment and the increasingly dire economic situation created a powder-keg that required only the smallest light to set it off.
The intended date for the beginning of the civil war was October 20, 1899. However, due to the imprudence of some of the Liberal generals who wished to begin the war on October 17, it was moved forward. The reaction of many Liberals was hesitant, since they believed that they did not have sufficient numbers or organization. Despite this, the rebellion began in the municipality of Socorro, Santander, and the rebels awaited military reinforcements from Venezuela.
The Conservative government, however, did not simply stand idle while all of this was occurring. They prepared a military force to be sent to Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander. The force never arrived, however, because the troops refused to accept payment in “tickets”, which the government had to use due to the dire economic situation. No one expected, or was prepared for, a war that would last three years and would bring disastrous ruin to the country. With time, the war spread to every corner of Colombia.
The first Liberal defeats came early in the war, with the Conservative victory at the battle of Magdalena River on October 24. However, the Conservatives were in a delicate situation as well. The Conservative side had split into two factions, the Historical and National, in a frenetic attempt to bring order to the country. First, they removed president Sanclemente and replaced him with Jose Manuel Marroquin. In response, the Liberals nominated Gabriel Vargas Santos for the presidency.
With the advance of the war, it became more repressive and cruel. The population was even driven to take part in each side in more fanatical ways, in spite of the efforts of each party to gain victories (which soon were revealed to be illusionary). Without a doubt, the battles of Peralonso and Palonegro (in Santander) showed the country the magnitude of the damages that the war was causing. At Peralonso, the Liberals achieved victory under the leadership of Rafael Uribe Uribe. At Palonegro (May 26, 1900) the Conservatives halted the enemy in what was an extraordinarily bloody encounter. After Palonegro, the war became devoid of sense and of meaning for the parties. With their defeat, the Liberals as well were split into two different factions, this time pacifists and the warmongers. The Nationals of the Conservative side believed it was time to end the war, which by this time was focused in the province of Panama and on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.
With that decision, internationalization of the war was avoided, which Venezuela wished to do through its president Cipriano Castro (who held to Uribe Uribe as President of Colombia). Conservative troops under the command of Marroquín managed to cut Venezuelan aid to the Liberals (July 29), who at this time were suffering defeats at the hands of the Conservative General Juan B. Tovar. General Uribe saw that the Liberals would not be able to defeat the Conservatives, and therefore was inclined to surrender, albeit with certain conditions.
The peace treaty was signed on the Neerlandia plantation on October 24, 1902, although the fighting lasted until November of that year in Panama. From late 1901, fighting between the ships Admiral Padilla (Liberal) and the Lautaro (of Chilean property, lent to the conservatives), the latter of which was defeated in front of City of Panama on January 20, 1902. Later the threat came from the American navy, sent by the government of Theodore Roosevelt to protect the United States’ future interests in the construction of the Panama Canal. The Liberals under the command of General Benjamin Herrera were then forced to lay down their arms.
The definitive peace treaty was signed on the American battleship Wisconsin on November 21, 1902. The Liberals were represented by general Lucas Caballero Barrera, who was in charge of the united army of Cauca and Panama, and Colonel Eusebio A. Morales, who was representing General Benjamin Herrera. The Conservatives were represented by General Víctor M. Salazar, governor of the department of Panama, and general Alfredo Vázquez Cobo, chief of staff of the Conservative army on the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific, and Panama. Together, representing the entire government, they signed the end of the war.
Although One Hundred Years of Solitude has come to be considered one of, if not the, most influential Latin American texts of all time, the novel and Gabriel García Márquez have both received occasional criticisms. Stylistically, Harold Bloom remarked that “My primary impression, in the act of rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a kind of aesthetic battle fatigue, since every page is rammed full of life beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb… There are no wasted sentences, no mere transitions, in this novel, and you must notice everything at the moment you read it.” Additionally, David Haberly alleges that García Márquez may have borrowed themes from several works, such as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography, Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, and Chateaubriand’s Atala.”