One Hundred Years of Solitude

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Editor: Marie Rose Napierkowski
Date: 1999
Novels for Students
From: Novels for Students(Vol. 5. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Character overview; Critical essay; Work overview; Biography; Plot summary
Pages: 27
Content Level: (Level 4)

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One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez


In the mid-1960s, journalist and fiction writer Gabriel José García Márquez was little known outside his native Colombia, having never sold more than seven hundred copies of a book. Everything changed, however, after he had a sudden insight while driving his family through Mexico. In an instant, he saw that the key to the imaginary village of Macondo he had been creating in short vignettes was the storytelling technique of his grand-mother—absolute brick-faced description of extraordinary events. He turned the car around and drove straight home, where he proceeded directly to a back room. There he wrote while his wife, Mercedes Barcha, sold, mortgaged, and stretched credit to keep the family going. Gradually the entire neighborhood was involved in helping to bring forth what has since been recognized as a masterpiece. After eighteen months, a hefty tome of thirteenn hundred pages was sent to the publishers. The result was Cien años de soledad, later translated into English as One Hundred Years of Solitude. The first printings sold out before they could be shelved. Today, the novel has been translated into more than thirty languages and there are a number of pirated editions. The exceptional achievement of One Hundred Years of Solitude was highlighted in the citation awarding García Márquez the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Often compared to William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County in its scope and quality, García Márquez's Macondo is revealed in several of the author's short stories and novels. The most central Page 255  |  Top of Article of these is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which relates the history of several generations of the Buendía family, the founders of this imaginary Colombian town. Interwoven with their personal struggles are events that recall the political, social, and economic turmoil of a hundred years of Latin American history. In addition to establishing the reputation of its author, One Hundred Years of Solitude was a key work in the "Boom" of Latin American literature of the 1960s. The worldwide acclaim bestowed upon the novel led to a discovery by readers and critics of other Latin American practitioners of "magical realism." This genre combines realistic portrayals of political and social conflicts with descriptions of mystical, even supernatural events. García Márquez is known as one of its foremost practitioners, although he claims that everything in his fiction has a basis in reality. Nevertheless, it is his inventive portrayals of his homeland which have made him one of the most acclaimed writers in the modem world.

Author Biography

In 1928, the year when more than one hundred local strikers were massacred, García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia. His first years were spent with a large extended family in his grandfather's house in Aracataca. This environment contributed greatly to his future career as a writer. His grandfather, Colonel Nicolás Ricardo Márquez Mejía, took him to the circus, told him stories, and admonished him against listening to the tales of women. His grandmother, Tranquilina Iguarán de Márquez, told him fantastically superstitious stories with such a deadpan style that he was more often scared than not. It was this style that the author used to such great success in his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude. After his grandfather died, García Márquez went to live in Sucre, Colombia, with his parents, telegraph operator Gabriel Eligio García (a Conservative frowned on by the family) and Luisa Santiaga Márquez de García.

He won a scholarship to the Liceo Nacional de Zipaquirá, a high school near Bogotá. He then entered the National University in the capital city of Bogotá to study law. After liberal political leader Jorge Gaitán was assassinated in 1948, civil war broke out and he had to transfer to the University of Cartagena. Disliking law and encouraged by the writing of Franz Kafka (especially Metamorphosis), he took up writing. He left school and began
Gabriel García Mdrquez holding the Nobel Prize. Gabriel García Mdrquez holding the Nobel Prize. working for several newspapers, including El Espectador in Bogotá.

A 1955 serialization of a shipwrecked Colombian almost brought García Márquez journalistic fame. The journalist's account of the sailor's story, however, scandalized the government. Fearing reprisal, the newspaper's editors sent him to Europe but military dictator General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla shut down the El Espectador for other reasons. Bereft of his steady source of income, García Márquez worked as a freelance writer in Paris. Meanwhile, friends rescued his novella La hojarasca (translated as Leaf Storm) from a drawer. Published in 1955, it drew little attention. Although Rojas stepped down in 1957, it was still unsafe for the journalist to return home. He moved to Caracas, Venezuela, and, in 1958, he married the "the most interesting person" he had ever met: Mercedes Barcha, whom he first encountered in 1946, when she was thirteen. Their first child, Rodrigo, was born in 1959; their second, Gonzalo, in 1962.

In 1959, García Márquez went to Cuba, where he befriended its socialist leader, Fidel Castro. He set up Prensa Latina, a Cuban press agency, in Bogotá, and reported for them from Cuba and New York. (These Cuban connections later caused visa problems for García Márquez with America as Page 256  |  Top of Article Cuban-American relations soured.) García Márquez then settled in Mexico City in 1961, where he worked in film and advertising. Finally solving his Macondo puzzle in 1965, he sequestered himself for eighteen months and emerged with One Hundred Years of Solitude. After its success, the family moved to Barcelona, Spain, where his study of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco contributed to the 1975 novel El otoño del patriarca (translated as The Autumn of the Patriarch). After that novel, García Márquez swore he would be silent until Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, leader of a military coup against the elected government in 1973, stepped down. Fortunately, he recanted; subsequent novels, including Crónica del muerte anunciada (1981, translated as Chronicle of a Death Foretold), El amor en los tiempos del Cólera (1985, translated as Love in the Time of Cholera), and El general en su laberinto (1989, translated as The General in His Labyrinth), were published to great acclaim.

In 1982 the exiled native son was awarded the Nobel Prize and was welcomed home to Colombia with honors. Currently, he divides his time between Mexico City and Bogotá and continues to write fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays, as well as a weekly news column.

Plot Summary

The Founding of Macondo

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of the Buendía family and the fictional town of Macondo. The first part of the book's opening line, "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice," serves to catapult the reader into the future, while the second phrase pushes the reader into the past. From this point onward, however, the book moves in fairly straight forward chronological order, with only occasional forays into the past or the future.

The first chapter introduces José Arcadio Buendía, the founder of Macondo; his wife, Úrsula; and the gypsy Melquíades, who brings inventions to Macondo. José Arcadio and Úrsula also have two sons introduced in the opening chapter. The older, José Arcadio, is large, strong, and physically precocious. The younger child, Aureliano, is quiet, solitary, and clairvoyant.

One of the more difficult features of the book is that the characters share the same names. That is, in each generation of Buendías, there are characters named José Arcadio and Aureliano, just as there are female characters called Remedios, Amaranta, and Úrsula. The characters named alike share similar characteristics. For example, the Arcadios are physically strong and active, while the Aurelianos are intellectual, with some psychic ability.

The early chapters also introduce the village of Macondo and its founding. In the days before the founding of Macondo, José Arcadio and Úrsula (who are cousins) marry. However, Úrsula fears that the result of incest will be the birth of a child with a pig's tail. Consequently, she is opposed to consummating their marriage. When Prudencio Aguilar announces to the town that José Arcadio's masculinity is suspect, it results in two things: first, José Arcadio consummates the marriage in spite of Úrsula's protests; and second, he kills Prudencio Aguilar. The dead man continues to visit the Buendías until they decide to leave their town and start anew by founding the town of Macondo.

The Growth of Macondo

In the beginning, the town is young; it is a place where no one is over thirty years old and no one has died yet. Except for occasional visits from Melquíades and his troop of gypsies, the three hundred inhabitants of Macondo are completely isolated from the rest of the world. Although José Arcadio leads a band of townspeople on a mission to try to establish contact with the outside world, he is unsuccessful. Later, Úrsula sets off to find her son José Arcadio, who has unexpectedly run away with the gypsies. Although Úrsula does not find her son, she finds a route to another town, connecting Macondo to the world. As a result, people begin to arrive in Macondo, including a governmental representative, Don Apolinar Moscote. Aureliano falls in love with Apolinar's beautiful child, Remedios.

Another new arrival to the town is the orphan Rebeca. The family adopts her and raises her as a sister to their daughter Amaranta and grandson Arcadio, the missing José's illegitimate son by Pilar Ternera. Meanwhile, the village contracts a plague of insomnia and memory loss. The people of Macondo resort to placing signs everywhere to remind themselves of the names of things. Of course, they also forget how to read. Through the intervention of Melquíades (who died in the previous chapter, only to return because he was bored) the town is saved.

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Not only does Melquíades return from the dead, the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar returns to keep José Arcadio company. José Arcadio is overcome with nostalgia and goes mad. Úrsula ties him to a tree in the courtyard, where he remains, speaking in a language that no one understands.

After the insomnia plague, another outsider, Pietro Crespi, arrives. He comes to Macondo to give music lessons. Both Rebeca and Amaranta fall in love widh him; the result of this love is tragedy as the two women engage in plots and revenge. Even after Rebeca rejects Pietro in favor of the returned José Arcadio, there is bad blood between the two women.

Another tragic love story is that of Aureliano and Remedios. Although no more than a child, Remedios is engaged to Aureliano. He waits patiently for her to mature enough so that they can marry. They do so, but the marriage is short-lived; little Remedios dies of blood poisoning during her first pregnancy.

After Remedios' death, Aureliano becomes Colonel Aureliano Buendía, a soldier for the Liberal Party and a leader in a civil war between the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Colonel loses all of his battles, but seems to live a charmed life otherwise. He survives numerous assassination attempts and one suicide attempt, fathers seventeen sons with seventeen different women, and becomes Commander-in-Chief of the revolutionary forces. In a return to the opening sentence of the novel, the colonel faces a firing squad, but is not killed.

The Buendías at War

The middle portion of the book includes accounts of the seemingly endless civil wars and of the activities of Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo, the twin sons of the late Arcadio. When the wars are finally over, Colonel Aureliano Buendía retires to his home, where he leads a solitary life making little gold fishes. His solitude increases and he is overcome with nostalgia and memories. After recalling once again the day that his father took him to see ice, he dies.

Meanwhile, Americans arrive in the prospering town of Macondo to farm bananas. The farm workers eventually launch a strike against the American company, protesting their living conditions. Soldiers arrive and slaughter some three thousand workers. José Arcadio Segundo is present at the slaughter and narrowly escapes with his life. When he attempts to find out more about the massacre, however, he discovers that no one knows that it even happened. No one has any memory of the event except for himself, and no one will believe that it really occurred. Likewise, the official governmental account of the event is accepted: "There was no dead, the satisfied workers had gone back to their families, and the banana company was suspending all activity until the rains stopped."

The Decline of Macondo

The rains, however, do not stop. Instead, they continue for another four years, eleven months, and two days. Over this time, the rain washes away much of Macondo. When it clears, Úrsula, the last of the original Buendías, dies. She takes with her the memories of the founding of the town and the relationships among people. This failure of memory leads to the union of Amaranta Úrsula, great-great-granddaughter of the original José Arcadio Buendía, to Aureliano, great-great-great grandson of the same man. Aureliano, the bastard child of Amaranta Úrsula's sister Meme, had been raised by the family since his birth. Nevertheless, only his grandparents, Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo, knew the secret of his parentage. His match with Amaranta Úrsula recalls the original Úrsula's fear of incest: the marriage of one of her aunts to one of her cousins led to the birth of a child with the tail of a pig. Likewise, Amaranta Úrsula's relationship with her nephew Aureliano results in the birth of a child with the tail of pig, thus bringing the story of the Buendías full circle.

In the closing chapter, Amaranta Úrsula dies giving birth, and her son is left in the street, to be devoured by ants, due to the carelessness of Aureliano. Aureliano's reaction is surprising:

And then he saw the child. It was a dry and bloated bag of skin that all the ants in the world were dragging towards their holes along the stone path in the garden. Aureliano could not move. Not because he was paralyzed by horror but because at that prodigious instant Melquíades' final keys were revealed to him and he saw the epigraph of the parchments perfection placed in the order of man's time and space: The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants.

In the final pages of the novel, Aureliano finally is able to read the manuscripts left by Melquíades years earlier. As he does so, he realizes that what he is reading is the story of his family. As he finishes the text, a giant wind sweeps away the town of Macondo, erasing it from time, space, and memory.

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Mauricio Babilonia

Always accompanied by yellow butterflies, Mauricio gains access to Meme through the roof over the bathtub, where a man once fell to his death watching Remedios the Beauty. He is mistaken as a chicken thief one night by a guard set by Fernanda and shot. Paralyzed, he dies "of old age in solitude."

Amaranta Buendía

Daughter of Úrsula and José Arcadio Buendía, Amaranta is a lively girl until she discovers that her foster sister Rebeca has won the heart of Pietro Crespi. She becomes bitter and withdraws into solitude, doing all she can to prevent Rebeca's wedding. Even after Rebeca forsakes Pietro for José Arcadio, she continues holding grudges against both of them. She allows Pietro to woo her, only to drive him to suicide when she ultimately rejects him. She thrusts her hand into burning coals with remorse, and the black bandage she wears from that day serves as a symbol of her solitude. Instead of accepting the love of Pietro or Gerineldo Márquez, she indulges in furtive, incestuous gropings with her nephew, Aureliano José. She dies a virgin.

Amaranta Úrsula Buendía

A fifth-generation Buendía and daughter of Femanda and Aureliano Segundo, Amaranta Úrsula finishes her education in Belgium. There she marries a rich aviator named Gaston. She returns home to find only Aureliano left at the house. Unaware that he is her nephew, she begins a secret relationship with him. When Gaston leaves, the two give in to their passion and live as husband and wife until she dies in childbirth.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía

The second son of Úrsula is Colonel Aureliano, who begins the story and remains in the lime-light almost until the book's climax. He is a quiet boy who takes to the alchemical laboratory with enthusiasm and becomes a wealthy silversmith famed for his little golden fishes. Born into the world "with his eyes open," he has premonitions throughout his life. These later enable him to avoid several assassination attempts. He becomes a man of action after the execution of the Liberal agitator Dr. Noguera, when the soldiers become downright abusive of innocent citizens. Seeing enough abuse, Colonel Aureliano gathers twenty-one men and declares war on the Conservatives. He starts and loses thirty-two wars. While on the warpath he has seventeen sons by seventeen different women, in addition to his son by Pilar Ternera. (His wife Remedios, with whom he fell in love when she was nine, dies during her first pregnancy.) At the height of his power, he stands with a chalk circle marked around him, where no one may enter. He dies while urinating against the tree where his father was tied up. Colonel Aureliano is forever "stupefying himself with the deception of war and the little gold fishes."

Aureliano José Buendía

The son of Colonel Aureliano by Pilar Ternera, the second Aureliano is adopted by Amaranta after she blames herself for the accidental death of little Remedios. He awakens to manhood while in the bath with her. When their caresses threaten Amaranta's virginity, he leaves with his father but returns years later "sturdy as a horse, as dark and long-haired as an Indian, and with a secret determination to marry Amaranta." His death comes when he ignores Pilar's pleas to stay indoors and goes to the theater. While attempting to flee from the soldiers searching for revolutionaries, he is shot in the back by Captain Aquiles Ricardo. In return, the Captain is filled with bullets discharged by a line of four hundred townsmen.

Aureliano Segundo Buendía

The third Aureliano is one of the twin sons of Arcadio and Santa Sofía de la Piedad. Aureliano Segundo is a glutton who holds wild parties and bathes in champagne. The passion he shares with his mistress Petra Cotes overflows to ensure he is rich in animals and money. He is mostly good humored and tells his livestock, "Cease, cows, life is short." In answer to family criticisms, he papers the entire house with monetary notes. He brings Fernanda del Carpio home as his lawful wife but he lives with Petra Cotes. He moves home during the rains, but after they cease he returns to Petra. The rains bring ruin and poverty, during which he and Petra discover true love with each other. Unfortunately, Aureliano falls ill at this time, but he manages to collect enough money to send Amaranta Úrsula to school in Belgium before he dies.

Aureliano Buendía (IV)

Son of Meme and Mauricio Babilonia, Aureliano is a sixth-generation Buendía and a bastard. Due to his scandalous birth, he grows up in deeper solitude than the rest of the family. He is kept in a single room for the first few years of life, and never Page 259  |  Top of Article leaves the house until he is grown. His occupation is learning all that is required to translate Melquíades's manuscript. He winds up being the sole occupant of the house when Amaranta Úrsula and Gaston arrive from Belgium. Unaware that Amaranta (Úrsula is his aunt, he falls in love with her. He ignores the Catalonian bookseller's recommendation to leave the city and thus witnesses its demise. As a hurricane approaches to wipe out the city, Aureliano translates the manuscript.

Aureliano Buendía (V)

The child of Aureliano and Amaranta Úrsula survives his mother's death. The last Buendía has realized Úrsula's fear of the family's inbreeding— he has a pig's tail. Left on the floor by his grieving father, the child is eaten by the ants that have taken over the house. The vision stupefies Aureliano because it presents the key to understanding the parchments of Melquíades: "The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants." With this key, he quickly takes up the parchments which, like the baby's skin, are slowly being obliterated.

José Arcadio Buendía

José Arcadio is the patriarch of the family and founder of the town of Macondo. After he marries his cousin Úrsula, he becomes a subject of amusement in their hometown of Riohacha because people believe she is still a virgin. After a cockfight, he takes his spear and kills Prudencio Aguilar because of his insults. With this original sin on their conscience, the first Buendía couple ventures into the wilderness with some followers to found a new city. This "New World" begins as a paradise where death is unknown. Melquíades the gypsy introduces "science" to the town, and later death when he inhabits the first grave. But by then, José Arcadio is too busy "searching for the mythical truth of the great inventions" with the toys he wastefully purchased from the visiting gypsies. Eventually, José Arcadio goes mad and speaks only Latin after the reappearance of Prudencio Aguilar's ghost; the family must tie him to the chestnut tree.

José Arcadio Buendía (II)

The first son of Úrsula, José Arcadio "was so well-equipped for life that he seemed abnormal." His hormones drive him to the bed of Pilar Ternera, who conceives Arcadio. Not wanting to face fatherhood, José Arcadio leaves with the gypsies. He travels the world and returns as a giant, illustrated from head to toe. His foster sister Rebeca finds him irresistible, and they marry shortly after his return. When the soldiers put his brother against the cemetery wall for execution, José Arcadio steps out with guns drawn. Captain Carnicero thanks him for intervening and then joins Colonel Aureliano's forces. Shortly thereafter, José Arcadio is shot to death in his own bedroom by an unknown person.

Arcadio Buendía

See José Arcadio Buendía (III)

José Arcadio Buendía (III)

The illegitimate son of José Arcadio (II) and Pilar Ternera is known simply as Arcadio. Arcadio suffers from not having a father who acknowledges him. Although raised by the Buendía family, he never believes he is one of them. He is taught reading and silversmithing by Colonel Aureliano, and receives some attention from Melquíades. But when Melquíades dies, he becomes a "solitary and frightened child." He is a bit of monster. Not knowing that Pilar Ternera is his mother, he demands to have sex with her. She tricks him and tells him to leave his door unlocked. Then she pays half of her life savings to Santa Sofía de la Piedad to be his lover. Colonel Aureliano makes him civil and military leader of the town. He abuses his position until Úrsula attacks him with a whip. He is executed by the Conservatives when they retake Macondo.

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Media Adaptations

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude has been adapted for the stage as Blood and Champagne. One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Study Guide, by Brenda K. Marshall, is available on audio cassette. Read by F. Murray Abraham, it includes dramatic readings from the novel.

Josie Arcadio Segundo Buendía (IV)

The twin of Aureliano Segundo, José Arcadio Segundo becomes a foreman for the Banana Company. For this association, his sister-in-law Fernanda bars him from the house. The working conditions, however, lead him to side with the workers Page 260  |  Top of Article and he is part of their last fatal demonstration. The only survivor, he can convince no one that over three thousand men, women, and children were murdered. When the soldiers hunt him down he hides in the room of Melquíades's manuscript. There he remains for the rest of his life, pausing only to pass on what he knows to Aureliano (IV), who then takes his place in the room.

José Arcadio Buendía (V)

Fernanda has decided that her son, José Arcadio, will become the Pope. Accordingly, he is sent away to school and then to Rome. From Rome he writes about theology but he is actually living in a garret and waiting for his inheritance. When Fernanda dies, he returns to a nearly empty house. He expects to find money, but instead finds a letter where Femanda tells him the truths left out of her letters. He is murdered by four children whom he had used as bodyservants and then expelled from the house.

Meme Buendía

See Renata Remedios Buendía

Rebeca Buendía

She is the daughter of parents who are supposedly related, but are nevertheless unknown to the Buendía family. She carries their bones in a bag when she is dropped off at the house with a rocking chair. The family adopts her and she is raised as a sister to Amaranta. She sucks her fingers, eats dirt and whitewash, and is "rebellious and strong in spite of her frailness." Her engagement to Pietro Crespi starts a feud with Amaranta. When José Arcadio shows up in all his hugeness, however, she marries him instead and turns him into a laboring man. She is happy until he is killed and she returns to dirt and whitewash, forgotten by all except Amaranta. Amaranta prays for Rebeca to die first and spends her days sewing Rebeca's shroud, but Rebeca outlasts her and dies alone in her house.

Remedios Buendía

A fourth-generation Buendía, Remedios is the daughter of Arcadio and Santa Sofía de la Piedad. Remedios the Beauty serves as the femme fatale of the novel, as her beauty kills a number of suitors. People think she is either stupid or innocent, for she often shrugs off civilized behavior and walks around the house naked. One day, while hanging sheets up to dry, she ascends to heaven.

Remedios the Beauty

See Remedios Buendía

Renata Remedios Buendía

Meme is the daughter of Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo. Although she seems to accept her mother's plans for her life, she is a rebel who more closely resembles her father. Unlike the rest of the Buendías, "Meme still did not reveal the solitary fate of the family and she seemed entirely in conformity with the world." She loves a mechanic named Mauricio Babilonia, with whom she has the bastard Aureliano (IV). For her sin she is banished to a convent, where she lives out her days in silence and solitude.

Úrsula Iguarán Buendía

Úrsula is the Buendía matriarch who even in death "fought against the laws of creation to maintain the [family] line." She is obsessed with the idea that a son begotten with José Arcadio (a near cousin) will have a pig's tail. Nevertheless, she has three children without the feared tail. When her husband José Arcadio loses himself in his scientific experiments, Úrsula starts a candy pastry business that makes the family rich and gives them a grand house. When her firstborn disappears, she searches for him but brings back immigrants instead. Through such luck, she succeeds in making the town prosper. Throughout her one hundred fifteen-plus years she rules the family—even disciplining her ruthless dictator sons. Her long life gives her insight that time is a wheel, for events keep repeating themselves. She becomes blind, but knows her house and her family so well that nobody notices—though her manner of walking around with her "archangelic arm" out is curious. Gradually she shrinks and becomes a plaything for her great-great-grandchildren.

Fernanda del Carpio de Buendía

Fernanda is the daughter of a fallen nobleman, who has been raised to believes she is a queen. As the "most beautiful of the five thousand most beautiful women in the land," Fernanda is brought Macondo to be "Queen of Madagascar" at the carnival. Aureliano Segundo makes her his wife, but he keeps a mistress and nobody else in the family likes her. She tries to rule the house but succeeds only when Amaranta dies. She is a bitter woman with a mysterious illness, so she corresponds with "invisible doctors" who eventually attempt "telepathic surgery." Unable to direct their telepathy properly—because in her prudishness she was never Page 261  |  Top of Article able to properly describe the location of her problems (uterine)—they are unable to cure her and cease corresponding. She is forever praying, keeping up appearances, and keeping to her extraordinary family planning calendar. In the end, she dies wearing her queen costume. Her son finds her body four months later with no signs of putrefaction.

Petra Cotes

The lover of Aureliano Segundo, she makes money by raffling off animals. She causes Aureliano Segundo's animals to reproduce at an incredible rate. After he dies, she secretly helps Fernanda keep food on the table.

Bruno Crespi

Pietro invites his brother Bruno to help him with his business. Bruno manages the whole affair while Pietro pursues first Rebeca and then Amaranta. Eventually, Bruno inherits the works, marries Amparo Moscote, and opens a theater where all the national hits perform.

Pietro Crespi

"The most handsome and well-mannered man who had ever been seen in Macondo," Pietro Crespi comes to the house to set up the pianola. He settles in Macondo and opens a shop of wonderful mechanical toys and instruments. He wants to marry Rebeca but the jealous Amaranta declares she will kill her first. When Rebeca marries her foster brother José Arcadio, Pietro turns to Amaranta, who encourages and then refuses him. On All Souls' Day his body is found amidst a racket of clocks and music boxes, a suicide.

Colonel Gerineldo Márquez

Colonel Márquez is Colonel Aureliano's right hand man. When he is placed in charge of the city, he spends his afternoons wooing Amaranta. She refuses him too.


Melquíades is the death-defying, plague-exposed, all-knowing King of the Gypsies. He introduces science and death to Macondo, and gives the first José Arcadio an alchemical laboratory. When he eventually dies, he haunts a room in the Buendía household, where he helps successive members of the family with his manuscript. The last adult Aureliano (IV) discovers that the manuscript is the history of the family—and his decoding of it is the novel.

General José Raquel Moncada

General Moncada is the leader of the Conservative forces who becomes great friends with his adversary Colonel Aureliano. After the war, he succeeds in making the city a municipality and himself the first mayor of Macondo. Despite overseeing "the best government we've ever had in Macondo," he is executed by Colonel Aureliano when the next war breaks out.

Don Apolinar Moscote

Apolinar Moscote is sent by the government to be magistrate in the town of Macondo. He arrives quietly and begins to exert control. When he demands all houses be painted blue, José Arcadio— the founder of the city—ushers him out. When Apolinar returns with soldiers and his family, José Arcadio says he and his family are welcome but the soldiers must leave and the people can paint what color they chose. Apolinar complies but eventually introduces more government control and then becomes a figurehead for the army captain.

Remedios Moscote de Buendía

The first Remedios is the daughter of the first city magistrate. Colonel Aureliano falls in love with her when she is only nine, and chooses her for his wife. She becomes a promising young woman who takes care of José Arcadio (I) and even speaks a little Latin with him. She is killed by the blood poisoning during her first pregnancy, and Amaranta feels responsible because she had hoped for something to postpone Rebeca's wedding. The daguerreotype of fourteen-year-old Remedios becomes a shrine for the family.

Father Nicanor

Father Nicanor uses a levitation trick to attract people's attention and purses to the building of a new church. He discovers José Arcadio Buendía's mysterious language is Latin and tries to convert him until José Arcadio's "rationalist tricks" disturb his faith.


Nigromanta is the last Aureliano's mistress. When Amaranta Úrsula dies and he gets horribly drunk, she "rescued him from a pool of vomit and tears." She cleans him up, takes him home, and erases the number of "loves" he owes her.

Dr. Alirio Noguera

Quack doctor Alirio Noguera is a revolutionary recruiter. He hopes to place people throughout Page 262  |  Top of Article the nation who will rise up and kill all the conservatives. He tries to convert Colonel Aureliano. His execution disturbs Colonel Aureliano because it lacked due process.

Santa Sofía de la Piedad

When her lover Arcadio dies, Santa Sofía moves in with the family and helps Úrsula with her candy pastry business. She is regarded as a servant by Fernanda and often sleeps on a mat in the kitchen. She is the mother of Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. She "dedicated a whole life of solitude and diligence to the rearing of children," whether they were hers or not. After Úrsula dies, Santa Sofía loses her capacity for work and leaves the house, never to be heard from again.

Pilar Ternera

Priestess of the city and second matriarch, she sits at the edge of town reading her tarot cards and letting prostitutes use her rooms. She waits for the man promised her in the cards. She bears the children of both Colonel Aureliano and José Arcadio (II), and helps arrange liaisons for several other Buendías. After a hundred years in Macondo, "there was no mystery in the heart of a Buendía that was impenetrable for her."

Aureliano Triste

One of the seventeen Aurelianos born to the colonel outside Macondo, Aureliano Triste inherited his grandfather's inclination for progress but his grandmother's success. He builds a canal, brings the train to Macondo, and sets up an ice factory.


Visitación is an Indian queen who renounced her throne to escape the insomnia plague. She finds refuge as a family servant. Unfortunately, the plague arrives with Rebeca and the town is gripped by insomnia until Melquíades arrives with the antidote.



The dominant theme of the novel, as evident from the title, is solitude. Each character has his or her particular form of solitude. Here solitude is not defined as loneliness, but rather a fated seclusion by space or some neurotic obsession. In fact, the danger of being marked by solitude is its affect on others. "If you have to go crazy, please go crazy all by yourself!" Úrsula tells her husband. One form of solitude is that of madness—the first José Arcadio' s solitude is being tied to a tree, speaking in a foreign tongue, and lost in thought. The ultimate expression of solitude, however, is Colonel Aureliano's achievement of absolute power, an "inner coldness which shattered his bones." Consequently, he orders a chalk circle to be marked around him at all times—nobody is allowed near him. Amaranta is another extreme example. Her coldness is the result of power achieved by denial—her virginity. Obstinately, she keeps her hand bandaged as a sign of her "solitude unto death." All the other characters have lesser forms of these two extremes: they become "accomplices in solitude," seek "consolation" for solitude, become "lost in solitude," achieve "an honorable pact with solitude," and gain "the privileges of solitude." The saddest expression of solitude is probably the last. The final Aureliano "from the beginning of the world and forever [was] branded by the pockmarks of solitude." He is literally alone because of the scandal his mother caused Fernanda. He is imprisoned in the house for most of his life until there is no one left to pretend to guard him. He has nothing to do but decipher the parchments of Melquíades. In the process "everything is known" to him—even the obliteration of the world of Macondo.

Love and Passion

Love involving persons afflicted by solitude is not a happy experience for those in the novel. The largest symbol of doomed love is Remedios the Beauty, for anyone who pursues her dies. Often the pursuit of the beloved takes the form of writing. Love poems and letters are rarely sent. Rather, they accumulate in the bottom of trunks and then eventually kindle fires. The chase can lead to animosity between siblings and the death of the innocent. Simple passion, on the other hand, often brings happiness to those involved. Aureliano Segundo's passion for his mistress Petra Cotes, in fact, creates fertility and wealth for the family. Nevertheless, consummation is tricky and often dangerous, as it can involve peering through holes in the roof, threatening the removal of chastity pants, or abiding by strange calendars. In its mildest forms, love is a "physical sensation … like a pebble in his shoes." At its worst, love drives a man to suicide, "his wrists cut by a razor and his hands thrust in a basin of benzoin." In the end, the only Buendía baby "engendered Page 263  |  Top of Article with love" kills its mother, is eaten by ants, and brings an end to the world of the novel.

Fate and Chance

The plot of the novel is very simple, García Márquez told Rita Guibert: it is "the story of a family who for a hundred years did everything they could to prevent having a son with pig's tail, and just because of their very efforts to avoid having one they ended up by doing so." The plot is very much like the classic tragedy Oedipus Rex (one of García Márquez's favorites), where the effort to prevent a prophecy ends up guaranteeing its fulfillment. In a link with another fundamental western text, the fate of the women in the novel is Eve's fate. They bear the pain of birth, knowing in advance their children will be dictators, bastards, and eventually possess a pig's tail. Úrsula's attempt to avoid taking part in this fate is not only circumvented, but her efforts prompt her family's expulsion from home under the shadow of a murder. Thus the cycle of violence, incest, and procreation is begun. Plans by her descendants to alter this course fail. For example, Fernanda decides the fate of her children only to have them hate her for it. Men, for all their creation and destruction, are but steps toward ending what Úrsula had begun. This is set forth in the greatest declaration of fate in the novel, the epigraph of Melquíades's manuscript: "The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants."

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Topics For Further Study

  • Examine aspects of the Buendía House, considering one or more of the following: how it reflects a certain theme or character personality; how its literal construction relates to the construction of the novel as a whole. Or, with some research and based on your own experience, what conclusions can you draw about family life in nineteenth-century Latin America from the Buendía House?
  • Bartók's compositions heavily influenced the novel. Explore the life and works of this composer and write an essay relating his music to this work of literature.
  • García Márquez told Rita Guibert, "What I most definitely am is antimachista. Machismo is cowardly, a lack of manliness." Find out what the code of machismo is as developed by the conquistador and then relate it to García Márquez's reactions as evidenced in the novel. Be sure to explain the significance of the found suits of armor in the novel.
  • Alchemy, or the "science" of transmuting one element into another, has led to several scientific and industrial discoveries. Investigate the history of Alchemy as practiced in the past, then relate it to the scientific pursuits as followed by characters in the novel.
  • Compare One Hundred Years of Solitude to Almanac of the Dead by Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko. Her book revolves around the piecing together of an almanac that escaped the fires of the Inquisition's book burnings in Mexico. Investigate how the novels explore many of the same colonial and environmental themes.
  • A reference to the environment and its degradation at the hands of humans is a not so subtle theme of the book: macaws are traded for trinkets and songbirds are replaced with clocks; the site of the Banana Company's crop is a field of stumps. Gradually, of course, the voracious jungle takes everything back. Research the current state of the environment in Colombia and argue whether García Márquez's vision of the final transformation of Macondo is positive or not.


Playing a role in the development of fate is the nature of time. Throughout the novel, time moves in ways that are nonlinear. When Úrsula sees Aureliano Page 264  |  Top of Article Triste planning for the railroad just as his grandfather José Arcadio planned Macondo's development, it "confirmed her impression that time was going a circle." She makes similar observations about her great-grandson José Arcadio Segundo, whose actions resemble those of her son Colonel Aureliano. As Úrsula ages, time becomes mixed up for her, as she relives events from her childhood. Later, José Arcadio Segundo and the last Aureliano discover that the first José Arcadio was not crazy, but understood "that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room." Pilar Ternera, who has witnessed all the years of the Buendía family's history, knows that the circular nature of time ensures that the family cannot avoid their fate: "A century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle." The family's time is limited, even as Aureliano sees how all of it "coexists in one instant" in the manuscript. As he finishes reading the pages, he knows that "everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth."


The first line of the novel foreshadows a large role for death in the novel. Death is described as a black mark on a map, and until Melquíades dies, Macondo has no such mark. Thus unknown to the spirits, it is left alone by the world—except for a few accidental discoveries. After that first mark of blackness, death is as constant a theme as solitude and each character has their particular death. The greatest death is that of the patriarch José Arcadio; it is marked by flowers falling from the sky. After that, death becomes a haunting presence, made ever more physical as the degree of decay increases. Burial ceremonies become arduous treks through rain and mud or something one does alone. For example, Fernanda lays herself to rest. Amaranta is the person most familiar with the rites of death. She sees death personified as "a woman dressed in blue with long hair, with a sort of antiquated look, and with a certain resemblance to Pilar Ternera." She is told that she will die once she has finished her own shroud, so she works slowly. When she is finished, she tells the whole community to give her any messages they wish ferried to their dead. Amaranta earlier reveals that she loved Colonel Aureliano the best by the way she prepares his body for burial. She does this in solitude.

Knowledge and Ignorance

In the beginning, José Arcadio was a beneficent and wise leader who disseminated the simple knowledge necessary for creation. His community prospers by following his agricultural instructions and the trees he plants live forever. But then his mind is awakened to the world by the science brought by the Gypsies. His madness begins in the fact that there is so much to know and so many wonderful instruments to invent. In his fascination with mechanical objects he represents the hope of someday having machines do all the work. "Right there across the river there are all kinds of magical instruments while we keep on living like donkeys," he proclaims to his wife. Úrsula keeps working like an ant while José Arcadio sits, depressed at their lack of instruments. When she stirs him, he goes so far as to teach his children the rudiments of reading and writing before he is lost again in "searching for the mythical truth of the great inventions." Knowledge can distinguish man from beast, but it is dangerous without the activity needed to keep human civilization going. The proper mix of knowledge and activity (represented by the vivacity of guests and the fight against the ants' encroachment) is never struck. As the book nears its end and knowledge is ascendant, the lack of activity speeds decay and hastens death.



The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok fascinates García Márquez and so the author constructed his novel along this composer's line. For example, he configured his climax so it would land five-sevenths of the way through the book—when the strikers are massacred—just as Bartok would have done in a musical composition. From this point on it is denouement and decay until the waters come to wash the earth clean. Also, in similar ways to a musical composition, many characters have a motif or theme which accompanies their presence, such as Mauricio Babilonia's butterflies.


The novel opens with the suggestion that the Colonel Aureliano will, at some point, face the firing Page 265  |  Top of Article squad. This is a technique called foreshadowing and it is used throughout the book to emphasize the simultaneity and inevitability of events. The example of Colonel Aureliano's firing squad is also used as a memory motif. Another example of foreshadowing occurs when Fernanda says of Mauricio Babilonia, "You can see in his face that he's going to die," even though she has not yet discovered he is the one romancing her daughter Meme. The guard Fernanda posts to catch a suspected "chicken thief shoots and paralyzes him.


The detached, matter-of-face narrative voice in the novel was drawn from his grandmother, according to García Márquez:

She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face."

Knowing this, the function of the narrator becomes even more difficult to interpret, as one might want to argue that the novel is Úrsula's story. The narrator seems to be the omniscient and omnipresent Melquíades, whose manuscript foretells the Buendía family history and cannot be read for one hundred years. The last Aureliano is finally able to decipher the story after he sees his son eaten by ants. Thus the reader is deciphering a work translated into English from a decoded Spanish translated from the Sanskrit with "even lines in the private cipher of the Emperor Augustus and the odd ones in a Lacedemonian military code."

Burlarse de la Gente

Critic Gordon Brotherston, in his The Emergence of the Latin American Novel, wondered whether the novel's conclusion "could be just a sophisticated example of the ability to use literature to make fun of people (burlarse de la gente) which [the last] Aureliano had discovered on meeting [Gabriel] Márquez and other friends in The Golden Boy." The novel does make fun of people, especially politicians and writers. It satirizes the chaos of Latin American history, as well as the gullibility of people so easily taken in by circus freaks and politicians. Mosdly, it makes fun of the reader, who in the act of reading realizes that he or she is a Buendía who is reading the parchments of Melquíades and ignoring the child being eaten on the floor.


Hyperbole is a technique of exaggeration that is not intended for literal interpretation. The best example of hyperbole comes in the description of José Arcadio, Úrsula's eldest son. Rather than say he becomes a grown man, José Arcadio is given all the conceivable gargantuan attributes. "His square shoulders barely fitted through the doorways." He has a "bison neck," the "mane of a mule", and he has jaws of iron. He eats whole animals in one sitting. His presence "gave the quaking impression of a seismic tremor."

Magic Realism

A term first used by Alejo Carpentier, magic or magical realism is a uniquely Latin American style of writing which does not differentiate fact from illusion or myth from truth. With its ghosts, magical gypsies, raining flowers, voracious ants, and impossible feats, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a seminal example of magic realism. García Márquez has explained that this type of writing is a natural result of being from a people with a vibrant ancestry. In an interview for Playboy, he said:

Clearly, the Latin American environment is marvelous. Particularly the Caribbean.… To grow up in such an environment is to have fantastic resources for poetry. Also, in the Caribbean, we are capable of believing anything, because we have the influences of [Indian, pirate, African, and European] cultures, mixed in with Catholicism and our own local beliefs. I think that gives us an open-mindedness to look beyond apparent reality."


Motifs are recurring images or themes and are used throughout the novel to close the gaps of the narrative. Seemingly unrelated episodes become connected through the use of these recurring motifs. In addition, motif reinforces the circularity of the novel. As the story is spun, each motif is seen again and again, but in different combinations. One example might be the unusual plagues of insects that appear throughout the novel, from the scorpions in Meme's bathtub to the butterflies that follow Mauricio Babilonia to the ants which continually infest the house.

Men in black robes pass through like a march of death whenever they are needed to justify the actions of the government. Numbers recur—there are twenty-one original founders and twenty-one original revolutionary soldiers. The motif that accentuates the futility of human activity reaches a crescendo in the solitude of Colonel Aureliano, who makes fishes, sells them, and with the money Page 266  |  Top of Article he earns he makes more fishes. Locked in this circle, Colonel Aureliano seals himself in the workroom, coming out only to urinate. Bodily functions (e.g., drunkenness usually ends up in vomit and tears) are also a motif. Amaranta enters this cycle with sewing, for her theme song is that of the weaver, the spider. She sews and unsews buttons. She, like the mythic Penelope, buys time by weaving and unweaving her shroud. Memories are an essential motif, recurring at their barest every time we hear about Colonel Aureliano facing the firing squad. Úrsula embodies memories and as they fade, so does she. José Arcadio Buendía reads and rereads the parchments. All the while time is passing or not passing, it is always a Monday in March inside the room of Melquíades' manuscript. All of the motifs are games of solitude used by the characters to pass the one hundred years.

Historical Context

Origins of the Colombian State

Knowing the history of the country of Colombia can provide considerable insight into the political battles that take place all throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude. The original inhabitants of present-day Colombia were conquered by the Spanish in the 1530s and incorporated into the colony of New Granada, which also encompassed the territories of modern-day Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The area lay under Spanish rule for almost three hundred years, developing a culture and population that blended Spanish, Indian, and African influences. In 1810, Simón Bolívar led the Mestizo (mixed-race) population in a struggle for independence from Spain. It was achieved with his victory at Boyaca, Colombia, in 1819. The new republic of Gran Colombia fell apart, however, when Ecuador and Venezuela formed separate nations in 1830. The remaining territory assumed the name the Republic of Colombia in 1886. In 1903 the area that is now Panama seceded, helped by the United States, who wanted control of a canal along the isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Political strife was rampant in nineteenth-century Colombia and parties forned under Liberal and Conservative banners. These parties corresponded to the followers of President Bolívar and his vice-president and later rival, Francisco Santender, respectively. Their essential conflict was over the amount of power the central government should have (Conservatives advocated more, Liberals less). The two parties waged a number of Page 267  |  Top of Article wars, but the civil war from 1899 to 1902 was incredibly violent, leaving one hundred thousand people dead. In the novel, this history of constant political struggle is reflected in the career of Colonel Aureliano Buendía.

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Compare & Contrast

  • Colombia: The third most populous nation in Latin America, Colombia has a population of approximately 38 million, 95 percent of whom live in the mountainous western half. The per capita percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is around $5,400. Since the 1950s there has been such rapid urbanization that 73 percent live in cities. The population is 95 percent Catholic.
  • United States: The population of the U.S. numbers near 270 million, with per capita percentage of GDP around $28,000. Most of the. population lives in cities, with increasing migration to the suburbs and the southwest regions of the country. There is no dominant religion, although Judeo-Christian faiths are in the majority and the single largest denomination is Roman Catholic.
  • Colombia: Immigration to Colombia is negligible. The violent clashes of guerilla troops and the government's army, as well as drug violence, make it an unattractive destination. Internal displacement from this violence is significant. In 1997,2 families were displaced every two hours.
  • United States: Despite the recent anti-immigrant fervor in the United States, millions of immigrants the world over hope that the U.S. is their final destination. Of those immigrants from Latin America, Colombians are the most numerous.
  • Colombia: In 1995, Colombia spent $2 billion on defense, or 2.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1997, they bought $60 million worth of weapons from the US.
  • United States: The world's greatest arms dealer has spent slightly less on defense in the 1990s than in the 1980s. In 1997, defense spending was 3.4% of GDP, or approximately $267 billion dollars.
  • Colombia: In 1995, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico formed the Group of Three trading alliance. Each country alters its tariffs in favor of the other two members. This alliance took the place of the 1960s effort of LAFIA (Latin American Free Trade Agreement) and responds to the Southern Cone Common Market (formed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay).
  • United States: In response to the trade block taking shape in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Mexico form the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Implemented in 1994, it is blamed by many labor activists for job losses in the United States. Meanwhile, environmentalists say that the effects on Mexico have been more pollution and downward wage pressure.
  • Colombia: When the international banana conglomerates wound down, Colombian farmers turned to traditional agriculture. Because of poor transportation facilities, however, some farmers face a several-day race against vegetable decay to bring crops to the capital markets. Faced with such poor prospects, it is not surprising that many fanners enter the cocaine trade, in which traders pick up the produce.
  • United States: Some farmers in the United States grow marijuana for the black market as a way of subsidizing their income, which has diminished as consumers demand low-cost food and politicians cut farm subsidies. Still, the number of farm bankruptcies in the 1990s has far surpassed the records of the 1980s.

The United Fruit Company

The United States influenced Colombian history at the beginning of the century with their assistance in Panama's secession, and American interests continued their influence for many years Page 268  |  Top of Article thereafter. While petroleum, minerals, coffee, and cocoa are now considered Colombia's main exports, at the start of the twentieth century bananas were the country's chief export. The United Fruit Company (UFC) was the most notorious company invested in this trade. Based in the United States, the UFC gradually assumed control of the Banana Zone—the area of banana plantations in Colombia. The UFC would enter an area, build a company town, attract workers, and pay them in scrip redeemable only in company stores. UFC would then leave as soon as the workers unionized or the harvest began to show fatigue from over-cultivation.

The culminating event of this industry occurred in October of 1928, when thirty-two thousand workers went on strike, demanding things like proper sanitary facilities and cash salaries. One night, a huge crowd gathered in the central plaza of Cienaga to hold a demonstration. Troops, who were being paid by UFC in cigarettes and beer, opened fire on the crowd. Gemal Cortes Vargas, in charge of the troops that night, estimated forty dead. Another observer, however, estimated four hundred lying dead in the square and totalled fifteen hundred dead of wounds incurred there. He also noted an additional three thousand people with non-fatal injuries. Whichever the real numbers, the incident was officially denied by the government and was not included in the history textbooks. This denial is reflected in the novel when José Arcadio Segundo cannot convince anyone that the massacre of strikers he witnessed actually occurred.

Twentieth-Century Political Conflicts

Social and political division in Colombia intensified throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The next period of Colombian history, "the Violence," began after the Liberal mayor of Bogotá, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, was assassinated. The Liberal government was overthrown, and General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla took control of the government. Both parties sent their paramilitary forces sweeping through the various sectors under their control. Many people were displaced during the fighting. Rojas began a period of absolute military rule, and Congress was subsequently dissolved. It was during Rojas's rule that García Márquez was forced to leave the country because of an article he had written.

When Rojas fell to a military junta in 1957, the Liberal and Conservative parties agreed on a compromise government, the National Front. This arrangement granted the two parties equal representation within the cabinet and legislature, as well as alternating occupation of the Presidency. While this arrangement lessened the direct political rivalry between the two parties, there came a rise in guerilla insurgencies. This was the atmosphere of García Márquez's home country during the time he was writing One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Since then, guerilla factions of the 1970s have given way in the 1980s and 1990s to a coordinated network of drug cartels, struggling farmers, and indigenous tribes. Violence has often marked the political process, as guerillas and drug lords attempt to influence elections and trials with violent threats. In 1990, after three other candidates were assassinated, César Gaviria Trujillo was elected president. During his administration the people of Colombia approved a new constitution, aimed at further democratizing the political system. The drug trade has continued to pose problems for the government, however. When the Medellin drug cartel was broken up in 1993, the Calí cartel grew to fill the vacuum. The government of Liberal Ernesto Samper Pizano, elected in 1994, has attempted to combat drug traffickers and thus improve relations with the United States. Popular support for these efforts has not always been forthcoming, particularly by small farmers who are economically dependent on the drug trade.

Critical Overview

Mexican novelist and critic Carlos Fuentes was amazed by the first three chapters of One Hundred Years of Solitude that García Márquez sent him for review. Once published, the novel was snatched up by the public, selling out its first printing within a week. Critics were on their feet, fellow novelists took their caps off, and everyone wanted to talk to García Márquez about the story. Printers could not keep up with the demand for what Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called, in a March 1970 issue of Time, "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes." American novelist William Kennedy similarly wrote in the National Observer that the book "is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race."

Early reviews of the novel were almost uniformly positive, with praise for the author's skill and style. Paul West, in the Chicago Tribune Book World, observed that the novel "feeds the mind's eye non-stop, so much so that you soon begin to Page 269  |  Top of Article feel that never has what we superficially call the surface of life had so many corrugations and configurations.… So I find it odd that the blurb points to 'the simplicity …' [of the writing]." Paradoxical as it may seem, many commentators agreed. García Márquez's delivery is so elegantly crafted that despite being bombarded by information, the reader simply wants more. For West, the novel is "a verbal Mardi Gras" that is "irresistible." Given this type of exuberance, the crusty review by D. J. Enright, in The Listener, is striking. He found the depiction of civil war and the thud of rifle butts upsetting. He noted that "these are no happy giants or jolly grotesques" and added that "the book is hardly comic." He concluded by calling the novel a "slightly bloated avatar of the austere [Argentinean writer] Jorge Luis Borges."

In contrast, New York Times critic John Leonard stated that the novel is not only delightful, it is relevant. "It is also a recapitulation of our evolutionary and intellectual experience," he observed. "Macondo is Latin America in microcosm." He then compared the author with other great writers, including Russian-American Vladimir Nabokov (author of Lolita) and German Gunter Grass (author of The Tin Drum). Other reviewers have compared García Márquez to a whole range of writers, the most prominent of which is American Nobel laureate William Faulkner. Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County is similar in scope and depth to García Márquez's Macondo. In addition, the comparison of the Buendías to other famous families started with the Karamazovs of Dostoevsky and Faulkner's Sartoris clan, and moved to the family of black humorist Charles Addams.

In addition to receiving praise for its individual virtues, One Hundred Years of Solitude has been hailed for its role in alerting the world to the literature and culture of Latin America. In reflecting on Latin American enthusiasm for the novel, New York Review of Books contributor Jack Richardson stated that it is "as if to suggest that the style and sensibility of their history had at last been represented by a writer who understands their particular secrets and rhythms."

While attention has been given to the novel's historical relevance, most criticism has focused on its technical aspects. Writing in Diacritics, Ricardo Gullon explained how the novel demonstrates the author's technical mastery: García Márquez's "need to tell a story is so strong that it transcends the devices he uses to satisfy that need. Technique is not a mere game; it is something to be made use of." Another aspect of the author's technique was noted by Gordon Brotherston in his The Emergence of the Latin American Novel The novel often, and not always in flattering ways, refers to other novels. In doing so, the world of literature is made more real and the real world made literature.

The use of myth in the novel provides another opportunity for critical comment. Roberto González Echevarría, in Modern Language Notes, explained the ease of mythmaking in Latin America. He noted that the key to the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude is the novel's awareness of the way the New World was "written into existence" through chronicles of the first European settlers. The Spanish crown gathered these eyewitness accounts into a huge archive begun by King Charles V. Echevarría points out the references García Márquez makes to these chronicles, as well as the resultant self-reflexivity imposed on the reader that is only exaggerated by the last scene. His conclusion is that, "In terms of the novel's ability to pass on cultural values … [though] it is impossible to create new myths, [we are brought] back once and again to that moment where our desire for meaning can only be satisfied by myth."

Academics have written on the novel precisely because García Márquez is capable of doing what others have failed to do. Gene H. Bell-Villada writes, in From Dante to García Márquez, that García Márquez is able to do for the banana strike what Tolstoy did for Napoleon's invasion of Russia. For example, he avoided "a serious flaw of [Miguel Angel] Asturias's banana trilogy" by not including a Yankee protagonist. Instead, he presented silent Yankee caricatures. The closest he comes is a "rare utterance" from Mr. Brown "relayed to us secondhand, via an unreliable source." Bell-Villada then continues to examine the ways in which the facts of the banana strike are actually used in the novel— even if stretched a little.

When Bell-Villada interviewed García Márquez for Boston Review, he told him that his novel is required reading for many political science courses in the United States. García Márquez responded that he was not aware of this, but he was startled to see his book listed in a bibliography for an academic study of Latin America by the French economist Rene Dumont. When asked about the strike scene, García Márquez noted that people now allude to "the thousands who died in the 1928 strike." Wistfullly, he added, "As my Patriarch says: it doesn't matter if something isn't true, because eventually it will be!"

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Diane Andrews Henningfeld

Henningfeld is an associate professor at Adrian College. In the following essay, she explores the layers of meaning in the novel, noting the ways in which García Márquez intertwines myth, history, and literary theory to create a work that is at once readable and complex.

Gabriel García Márquez's masterpiece, Cien años de soledad was published in Buenos Aires in 1967. The English translation, One Hundred Years of Solitude, prepared for Harper and Row by Gregory Rabassa, appeared in 1970. Several noted Latin American writers applauded the book even before its publication, and post-publication response was universally positive. The novel has been translated into twenty-six languages and continues to enjoy both popular and critical acclaim.

García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, on March 6, 1928. For the first eight years of his life, he lived with his grandparents. He credits his grandmother for his ability to tell stories, and for giving him the narrative voice he needed to write One Hundred Years of Solitude.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel that is at once easily accessible to the reader and, at the same time, very difficult to analyze. The book has an effective plot that propels the reader forward. Simultaneously, the book functions on no less than five or six different levels. Any reading concentrating on one level may not do justice to the others. Consequently, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that demands careful and multiple readings.

Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer, calls One Hundred Years of Solitude a " 'total' novel, in the tradition of those insanely ambitious creations which aspire to compete with reality on an equal basis, confronting it with an image and qualitatively matching it in vitality, vastness and complexity." Other critics have commented on the multi-layered nature of the book, noting that García Márquez intertwines myth, history, ideology, social commentary, and literary theory to produce this "total" novel. Although the book needs to be considered as a whole creation, it may also be helpful to examine a few of these layers individually in order to deepen appreciation for the whole.

One of the most common ways of viewing the novel is through myth. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez weaves references to classical and Biblical myths. Myths are important stories that develop in a culture to help the culture understand itself and its relationship to the world. For example, nearly every culture has a myth concerning the origin of the world and of the culture. In addition, myths often contain elements of the supernatural to help explain the natural world. One Hundred Years of Solitude opens with the creation story of Macondo. Certainly, there are echoes of the Biblical Garden of Eden in the opening lines: "The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point." In addition, the years of rain that fall on Macondo and the washing away of the village recall myths of the great flood, when all civilization was swept away.

Scholars who study myth have identified characters who fulfill certain functions in myths across cultures. These character-types are often called "archetypes" because they seem to present a pattern. For example, the patriarch is a male character who often leads his family to a new home and who is responsible for the welfare of his people. José Arcadio Buendía is a representative of this type. Other archetypal characters in the novel include the matriarch, represented by Úrsula, and the virgin, represented by Remedios the Beauty. Petra Cotes and Pilar Ternera, with their blatant sexuality and fertility as well as their connection to fortune telling, serve as archetypal witches.

Further, many myths have patterns that repeat themselves over and over. Likewise, the novel presents pattern after pattern, from the language García Márquez uses to the repetitive nature of the batdes fought by Colonel Aureliano Buendía, to the naming of the characters. Indeed, the repetitions form the structure of the book.

Finally, many myths take as their starting point violence and/or the breaking of an important taboo. Certainly, the novel does both. The town of Macondo is founded and the history of the Buendías launched as the result of violence and incest. When José Arcadio and Úrsula Iguarán marry, she refuses to allow the marriage to be consummated because they are cousins. She fears that she will give birth to a child with the tail of a pig. Prudencio Aguilar makes jokes about José Arcadio's manhood and as a result, José Arcadio kills Prudencio, an act that finally forces José Arcadio and UIrsula to leave their town and found Macondo.

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  • More information about García Márquez can be found on an internet site run by "The Great Quail" at
  • Based on his studies of Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain, García Márquez's 1975 work El otoño del patriarca (translated in 1977 as The Autumn of the Patriarch) further develops the themes of power and solitude. The novel is technically dazzling and is often described as a prose poem.
  • Revealing an affection for Daniel Defoe's 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year, García Márquez embellished on the facts of his parents' marriage in his 1985 novel El amor en los tiempos del cólera (translated in 1988 as Love in the Time of Cholera).
  • The 1968 collection of García Márquez stories called No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories contains themes or ideas later developed in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Miguel Angel Asturias, a 1967 Nobel prize winner from Guatemala, wrote a trilogy on United Fruit Company. He focused on the exploitation of Indians on banana plantations. In English, the titles of the three novels are The Cyclone (1950), The Green Pope (1954), and the Eyes of the Interred (1960).
  • Terra Nostra, a 1975 novel by Carlos Fuentes—Mexican novelist, critic, and friend of García Márquez—has been compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude. The comparison comes at several intersections: one is the use of the New World chronicles and the two novels' language concerning the Spanish Conquest; another point is the use of the archive or historian. Fuentes uses the greatest Spanish writer, Don Quijote author Miguel de Cervantes, instead of a gypsy.
  • No venture into Latin American literature can begin without the collection of poems Canto General (General Song, 1950), by Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda of Chile. Within that collection is the poem "La United Fruit Co."
  • The person of Melquíades is often interpreted as the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges. Master storyteller of the magic realism genre and director of the Argentine national library, Borges, like Melquíades, was a purveyor of knowledge. There are similarities between several of his stories and the character of Aureliano (IV). For example, as in the story "The Aleph" from The Aleph and Other Stories (1970), Aureliano's glimpse of history is instantaneous.
  • The term magic realism was applied to the new literature of Latin America by Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier in the late 1940s. His masterpiece is The Lost Steps (1953) where he defines Latin American reality as a blending of primeval myth, Indian story, and the imposition of Spanish civilization. It is this cultural blending that makes possible the fantastic yet believable elements of magic realism.
  • Another magic realist is the Chilean Isabel Allende, who is best known for her 1982 novel The House of Spirits. The niece of assassinated Chilean President Salvador Allende, the author is more up front with her examination of South American political realities as well as the role of women in that reality.
  • A Peruvian magic realist is Mario Vargas Llosa, who tells the story of a prophet who incites the people of Brazil to revolt in The War of the End of the World (1981). Led by the prophet, the people found the city of Canudos, where history and civilization is turned upside down—there is no money, tax, or property. It is pure revolution.
  • Set in Mexico, Like Water for Chocolate (1989) is Mexican writer Laura Esquivel's contribution to magic realism. The story concerns a daughter who is destined to stay at home to care for her mother. Her lover marries her sister so as to be near—and this leads to passionate tragedy.

García Márquez also incorporates personal, local, national, and continental history into his novel. Page 271  |  Top of Article Page 272  |  Top of Article The village of Macondo is clearly modeled on the village of his childhood, Aracataca. Indeed, the name of the banana plantation just outside of Aracataca was Macondo. In addition, many of the episodes of the novel are based on events from García Márquez's life with his grandparents. For example, the opening episode of José Arcadio taking his sons to see ice is certainly modeled on a similar incident in young García Márquez's life, when his grandfather took him to see ice for the first time.

Other critics have noted the ways in which the founding of Macondo mirrors Colombian settlement by Europeans. Just as the early residents of Macondo are cut off from the rest of the world, the early colonists were also extremely isolated. In addition, the institutions of civilization, such as the government and the church, moved slowly, but inexorably, into Colombia, just as they do into Macondo. Apolinar Moscote and Father Nicanor Reyna are recognizable representatives of these institutions; their appearance in Macondo signals a shift from the Edenic, Arcadian days of the founding.

The middle part of the novel traces the course of a long civil war, fought between the Liberals and Conservatives. Colonel Aureliano Buendía is one of the leaders of the Liberal cause. The civil war in the novel follows closely the long years of civil war in Colombia when the Liberals and Conservatives battled for control of the country. Many critics have pointed out the parallels between the fictional Aureliano Buendía and the historical General Rafael Uribe Uribe, the military leader of the Colombian Liberals.

Finally, García Márquez incorporates into his novel the American intervention into Latin America. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United Fruit Company, an American concern, began operating large scale banana plantations throughout Latin America. In 1928, a strike by workers over living conditions and contract violations led to a massive massacre. Newspapers differ in their accounts and it is difficult to arrive at a final figure for the number killed. Further, the governmental bureaucracy, intent on maintaining the flow of American dollars into Colombia, covered up the massacre. The fictional account of the slaying of the strikers in One Hundred Years of Solitude reads remarkably like the accounts of the historical 1928 Cienaga strike.

Finally, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel written within a particular literary context. Three important literary terms are often used in discussion of the novel: magic (or magical) realism; intertextuality; and metafiction. Knowing something about each of these devices is important for an understanding of the literary task García Márquez set for himself in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Magic realism is a term first used to describe the surreal images of painters in the 1920s and 1930s. Defining the term in literature has caused some controversy among literary scholars. However, according to Regina James in her One Hundred Years of Solitude: Modes of Reading, "In current Anglo-American usage, magic realism is a narrative technique that blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality." Certainly, One Hundred Years of Solitude offers many examples of magic realism according to this definition, although not all critics would agree with the definition. Part of the effect of magic realism is created by the completely neutral tone of the narrator. He reports such things as gypsies on flying carpets, the insomnia plague, the ascension of Remedios the Beauty, and the levitation of Father Nicanor with no indication that these occurrences are the least bit out of the ordinary, just as the inhabitants of Macondo respond to the events. On the other hand, the residents of Macondo respond to items such as magnets and ice with great wonder, as if these were the stuff of fantasy. García Márquez himself argues that the reality of South America is more fantastic than anything "magical" in his writing. Further, as he writes in his Nobel acceptance speech, "The Solitude of Latin America,"

Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imaginations, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. That is the crux of our solitude.

Another important term for the study of One Hundred Years of Solitude is intertextuality. Julia Kristeva, the French philosopher, created this term to describe the way that every text refers to and changes previous texts. Most obviously, a text can do this through allusion, by directly referring to a previous text through names of characters, incidents in the plot, or language, for example. As Regina Janes points out in her book, One Hundred Years of Solitude: Modes of Reading, the novel "adopts the narrative frame of the Bible and the plot devices of Oedipus Tyrannos and parodies both." That is, One Hundred Years of Solitude follows the structure of the Bible: it begins with an idyllic creation in a garden-like setting, where all Page 273  |  Top of Article the people are innocent. The movement of the plot is away from the moment of creation and toward the moment of Apocalypse, when all of Macondo is swept away. Second, in Oedipus the King, the entire tragedy is foretold by the oracle at Delphi, which tells Oedipus's parents that their son will murder his father and marry his mother. While the characters in the play take actions to prevent this, each action they take merely ensures that it will happen. Likewise, the fate of the Buendía family is sealed with the incestuous marriage between José Arcadio and Úrsula. What Úrsula fears most occurs in the closing pages of the book: the last Buendía child is bom with the tail of a pig, the result of the marriage of Aureliano Babilonia (who does not know his parentage) to his aunt, Amaranta Úrsula.

Finally, One Hundred Years of Solitude is an excellent example of metafiction, a work of fiction that takes as its subject the creation and reading of texts. From the moment that Melquíades presents José Arcadio with the manuscript, members of the Buendía family attempt to decipher it. These attempts parallel the attempts of the reader to decipher the text of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Further, during the insomnia epidemic, José Arcadio's labels illustrate the metafictional quality of the novel: "Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters." As readers, we participate in the creation of a fictional reality; in this sentence, García Márquez reminds us that the "reality" of the Buendías is no more than "momentarily captured" words. The "reality" of the Buendías ends when the reader closes the book.

Even more explicitly metafictional is the conclusion. In the last three pages, Aureliano finally deciphers the manuscript left by Melquíades, and suddenly understands that he is reading the history of his family. As he reads, he catches up to the present and then reads himself into the future at the moment Macondo is destroyed. At the same instant, readers of One Hundred Years of Solitude realize that Melquíades' manuscript is the novel they are reading themselves. The wind that wipes out the "city of mirrors (or mirages)" is the turning of the final page. At that moment, the reader participates in the destruction of Macondo.

As should be obvious, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that changes with reading; a second or third reading will be very different from the first. The multiple paths a reader takes through the novel, reading it as myth, as history, as metafiction, provide a rich and complicated stew, one that can be savored again and again.

Source: Diane Andrews Henningfeld, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.

L Robert Stevens and G. Roland Vela

In the following excerpt, Stevens and Vela discuss how Márquez deals with the problem of "distinguishing between illusion and reality" by fusing the two instead of treating them as separate entities.

The technical difficulty of distinguishing between illusion and reality is one of the oldest and most important problems faced by the novelist in particular and by mankind in general. In art, philosophy, or politics, western man has traditionally made great conscious efforts to keep illusion separated from fact while admiring and longing (at least superficially) for a transcendental way of life. The irony of this longing resides in the fact that western man's scientific and technological achievements are in great part due to his ability to separate fact from fiction, myth from science, and illusion from reality. It is a paradox of western culture that it draws its psychological strength from a spiritual-mythical well while its muscle is drawn largely from science and technology.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez deals with the paradox very successfully by not trying to solve it at all. That is to say, the perceptions of reality which appear in the novel are all prima facie perceptions and, as a consequence, become indistinguishable from reality. For example, when Meme falls in love with Mauricio Babilonia she finds herself attended ever after by a swarm of yellow butterflies. The question whether they are real or imaginary butterflies is the wrong question. Márquez makes it evident that he places little value on such questions and that there is, in a way, no inherent value in real butterflies as opposed to imaginary butterflies in the world which he describes and, by extension, perhaps in our world as well.

The butterflies are there, prima facie, and the distinction between symbol and actuality is broken down and declared void by the lyrical fiat of his style. The technical result of this method and the value of this view is that the conventional distinction between figurative and literal language is impossible to make and pointless beside. Conventional literary terms are inadequate to describe this fusion of both literal and metaphorical language. Page 274  |  Top of Article We who are trained to compartmentalize our minds into fact and fancy, business and God, myth and science, are prone to wonder over the nature of these butterflies, their origin, and their significance. In reality, however, the question is presumptuous and has validity only in our narrow-minded world with its forty-hour work week and our constant, energy-consuming, watchful stand to keep fancy and reality separated in our minds.

When we are told that it rained for four years, eleven months, and two days, we need not ask ourselves whether this could be so; rather we soon come to accept it as a given quantity and eventually, through the art of García Márquez, we come to accept all things in the novel as they are. This, we are soon convinced, is also a workable view of reality. Multiplying such details with profound ingenuity, Márquez gradually brings the reader's skeptical biases into harmony with the spiritual and intellectual life of his townsfolk. When José Arcadio is shot,

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs … and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.

There is no question as to how this episode is to be taken, only the simple declaration that it happened. This blood which defies the laws of physics is neither symbolical, miraculous, nor scientifically credible. It is simply a fiat of reality in Macondo. Are such events also possible in our own world? Perhaps they are more real in the Colombian cienega grande, yet, on the other hand, people who believe in the day of judgment and the resurrection of the dead, except for a certain narrowness of mind, should have little trouble with a stream of blood that does not coagulate in one minute and that travels uphill.

One of the elements constituting this poetic vision of things is the mythopoeic. The village of Macondo is a microcosm and the one hundred years recounted in the novel is a compression of the whole history of man. The village begins ex nihilo, rises to a golden age, and falls away into oblivion. Everything that can happen in our world happened there. A village was founded, children begotten, revolutions spawned, technology developed, lust, love, death, and beatitude were all enacted with the luxuriant and unending variety that suggests the inexhaustibility of the individual experience of human events. Márquez's myth has its own cosmology, "going back to before original sin." The world began the "day that Sir Francis Drake attacked Riohacha," and it is of no consequence that Drake set sail and lived a lifetime prior to this day. In the golden age of Macondo nobody died, and all men lived in a sacred and eternal present tense. As time passed knowledge accumulated, but wisdom was still the property of the few, and political power belonged, even as in our world, to the cheat and the liar. As the world aged, it was overtaken by a great insomniac sickness which resulted in a loss of memory. In fear that their loss would bring chaos, the people of Macondo put up signs to remind themselves of the identity of things; "table, chair, clock, door …," and on main street they placed the largest of all the signs against their forgetfulness, DIOS EXISTE. In giving things names, they also gave them reality; in having José Arcadio Buendía to give things their names, García Márquez gives him the function of Adam, the first man, and he simultaneously seems to tell us that anything which may be forgotten by man may lose its existence and, perhaps, its reality.

Márquez gives a sort of sacredness to all experience by breaking down the wall between the sacred and the profane, as he has broken down the wall between fact and fiction, and by refusing to intellectualize his characters. Remedios the Beauty, for instance, remains utterly chaste—not because she is pious, but because she is simple and does not know the thoughts of men. But what does it matter whether her innocence came by piety or ignorance? In either case, she ascends into heaven while hanging sheets in the backyard, and who is to gainsay her ascension? Márquez, whose point of view in the novel is somewhat like God's, has declared it so. In short, the writer has created in Remedios a natural piety which may be thought of as pure without puritanism—simultaneously sacred and profane.

Time also has mythopoeic significance in the novel. Everything ages and moves toward its own end. Life, regardless of its particular reality, is a transient condition, at best. Márquez's point of view in the novel is the point of view of God: all time is simultaneous. The story of Macondo is at once complete from beginning to end, and, at the same time, it is the story of only one out of an infinite number of worlds each with its own story. More than that, it is the story of José Arcadio Page 275  |  Top of Article Buendía, one out of an infinite number of men but one who is more the father of man than Adam himself, for if Adam's sin was to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, José Arcadio's was to live too much and too long. He lived from the beginning of time until the world became old. One has the feeling that if the world had not become old, José Arcadio would not have died—but he and his descendants would never have deciphered the parchments of the ancients, never have acquired knowledge. "What's happening," Ursula notes, "is that the world is slowly coming to an end.…" When the great apocalypse does befall Macondo however, it falls not in fire or flood, but rather it creeps in as the rot and decay of antiquity. When Aureliano Babilonia deciphers the parchments of Melquíades which contain all the knowledge and all the secrets of the ancients, he finds that "Melquíades had not put events in the order of man's conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they co-existed in one instant." The simultaneity of all time cannot be achieved literally by the novelist, and therefore he must create the illusion of it. This Márquez does by creating a microcosm of Macondo and giving it a microhistory while the individuals involved are as real as we.

In the last analysis, "time" is one of the major themes of the novel, as its title suggests. By setting all things in the context of their mortality, by dramatizing the apocalyptic nature of antiquity and decay (some say the world will end in flood, some say in fire, Márquez says it will die of old age), Márquez induces in us a rich reverence for all of his characters and events. There are great depths of bitterness in this novel—bitterness for the death of the old woman clubbed to death by the soldiers' rifle butts, for the treachery of the government and the North American fruit company, for the trainload of massacred townsfolk whose corpses "would be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas." Yet time and decay spread over these bitter incidents in such a way as to mellow and sanctify them. All of history occurred in Macondo, and it became holy through Melquíades's recitation of it in the sacred parchments; in like manner Márquez transforms the common experience of our world into something magical by his telling of it in the novel. Time bestows its blessing; all things are made holy because they have existed.

A second element of Márquez's view of life, beyond the mythopoeic, is the concept that man is naturally a scientist. The wisdom of the people who live in Macondo is a composite of folk wisdom, hearsay, legend, superstition, and religion—all indiscriminately mixed. And yet Márquez builds into the novel a clear sympathy for a certain quality of knowledge. We might think of this sympathy as an instinct for science. José Arcadio Buendía has it, as do each of his descendants who, in successive generations, lock themselves away in Melquíades's room to search for knowledge and truth. This science itself is a mixture of alchemy and occultism, but in it there is a feature which separates it from the popular wisdom of the town: its profound belief that reality is infinitely more wondrous than the most inventive of illusions. It is true that in José Arcadio the love of science exists in undisciplined comradeship with the folk wisdom.…

José Arcadio was crude and ignorant in his methodology, but a true scientist in his heart. His fascination with magnets, ice, the sextant, and the geography of the world make it clear that in spite of his own inability always to separate superstition from science, the great yearning of his heart was to know things. In many ways García Márquez sees him as the archetype of all scientists, for do they not all share his dilemma? Which scientist could ever truly separate his own illusions from his empirical knowledge? Which scientist could ever know that his methodology is pure and perfected? How much of modern science is old illusion given a new name? The common characteristic shared by true scientists, however, is their great wonder at the profound mystery of reality. And if this be so, then to the brotherhood of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, old José—with his poor sextant and his undeterred will to find a system for identifying the exact stroke of noon—eternally belongs.

It is this instinctive awe of reality that separates the first from the second generation of gypsies. Melquíades—a combination of Wandering Jew, picaro, Mephistopheles, and God—is a huckster, true enough, but beyond his slight-of-hand and his alchemy he is a man of great wisdom. It is easy from the vantage point of a highly developed technological culture, to think of Melquíades and José Arcadio as being naive, having too many gaps in their learning to be true scientists. There are loose ends in their knowledge which make them seem provincial. Should we judge them thus, however, we would betray only our own provinciality, for all science has loose ends. There must have been something of the gypsy too in Albert Einstein, for his paradox of the clock is really not different from Buendía's visualizing the air and hearing the buzzing of sunlight. García Márquez perceives it all as a vital and organic whole, as though the jungle Page 276  |  Top of Article itself [were] a Gothic artifact, creating, nourishing, destroying, and regenerating in great, broad brush strokes and in infinitely delicate detail. Márquez's way of seeing things is compatible with both myth and science, but it is neither thing in it-self. It has the analytical curiosity of science coupled with the synthetic method of myth. The result is a technique which puts him in the tradition of Unamuno, Gallego, and Lorca, and it may reveal him as one of the most inventive novelists of our day—not because others have failed to explore this artistic fusion of myth and science, symbol and surface, but because of Márquez's ingenuity and the profusion of his imaginative details.

The view of Gabriel García Márquez is a view of life as it is—complex, changing, indefinite, and difficult to understand. It is a view of reality richer and more exciting than any cross-section of any of its parts could ever reveal.

Source: L. Robert Stevens and G. Roland Vela, "Jungle Gothic: Science, Myth, and Reality in One Hundred Years of Solitude," in Modern Fiction Studies, No. 2, Vol. 26, Summer, 1980, pp. 262-66.

Biruté Ciplijauskaité

Ciplijauskaité describes the ways in which García Márquez uses foreshadowing throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude to tie different aspects of the novel together.

The constant use of foreshadowing and premonition stands out as one of the basic structural elements of One Hundred Years of Solitude. All such elements, including cyclical reiteration, paradox and parallelism, are tightly interwoven with the main themes of the book; as a consequence, they can be studied as integral parts of the "story" as well as of the "discourse," where syntactic and semantic aspects are interrelated. A major portion of the book obeys the rule of ambiguity … more generally referred to as "magic realism" when applied to the Latin American novel and short story.

The realm of the fantastic … lies between the real-explicable and the supernatural, with a continuous fluctuation of boundaries and an uncertainty intensified by the total absence of the narrator's guiding point of view. García Márquez suggests that this will also be a characteristic of his book: on the first page, stressing the importance of imagination in José Arcadio Buendía, the founder of Macondo, he writes, "his imagination always went beyond the genius of nature and even beyond miracles and magic." He causes the whole story to "float" by disrupting the natural temporal sequence and making even spatial relations uncertain. [Mario Vargas Llosa in Historia de un deicidio, 1971.] The constant intertwining of the real and material with the fantastic and spiritual fosters ambiguity and permits a myth to be born. (According to García Márquez, [in "García Márquez de Aracataca a Macando," M. Vargas Llosa, 1969] a similar blend was present in the atmosphere in which he grew up: "For lack of something better, Aracataca lived on myths, ghosts, solitude and nostalgia.") Technically, the use of ellipsis together with chronological leap, both forward and backward, produces a seldom-experienced density of statement which invites both literal and symbolical readings. [R. Barthes in "Introduction a l'analyse structurale des recits," Communications, 1966.] (García Márquez said once he would have liked to be the author of La peste whose economy of devices he admired. If one considers that the density achieved by Camus represents a chronicle of the human destiny of a city during a period of nine months, one may be even more surprised to find that García Márquez compresses into a similar number of pages the hundred-year history of a whole tribe and, figuratively, a whole continent. The absurd arrived at has the same poignancy in both authors; the difference in the presentation derives from the rational and civilized character of the French and the overflowing vitality of the Latin Americans.) Repetitions with variations are extremely effective in producing this density: the variants convey essential developments and at the same time establish paradigmatic relations within and between the symbolic patterns of the text.…

Ambiguity in the novel is further intensified by the transposition and confusion of senses and sensations (Melquíades speaks "lighting up with his deep organ voice the darkest reaches of the imagination"; Rebeca "spits hieroglyphics"; José Arcadio sees a "route that… could only lead to the past" and then perceives the sea colored with disillusionment). Such devices as synesthesia, oxymoron and the like in most cases allow more than one interpretation.…

Structurally, the fantastic element helps to create and maintain suspense; its semantic function … is its very presence in the work. And what could be more fantastic in the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude, asks Vargas Llosa, if not the fact that it is a story of a story told in reverse? An unusual aspect of it—with a distinctly twentieth-century flavor—is that it contains within itself not the account of its writing, but rather one of its reading and interpretation. Thus, all events in the novel gain Page 277  |  Top of Article added significance as clues for a final deciphering. A structuralist can easily discover a careful system of signs and codes in this never-totally-revealed universe full of premonitions.

Vargas Llosa took nearly seven hundred pages to outline a few essential characteristics of García Márquez's work. It would seem vain to attempt here a complete analysis of even one aspect. The role of foreshadowing is of primary importance in the novel, and only a long essay could do it justice. These lines will barely serve as an introduction to what begins the book as technique and ends it as theme. It should be noted that throughout the greater part of the story a single character may embody both technique and theme. The very first image the reader encounters, one periodically reiterated, provides a glimpse of the future (which then is not fulfilled): Colonel Aureliano Buendía in front of a firing squad. Aureliano is the first and the greatest seer of the Buendía family, and one who attains mythical stature. His supernatural qualities are suggested when Úrsula hears him cry in her womb; his first spoken words are a premonition: "the boiling pot is going to spill" ([la] olla de caldo hirviendo … "se va a caer.") At this point, with the introduction of the husband's and the wife's characters the dicotomy in their reactions becomes clear: what frightens Úrsula seems a "natural phenomenon" to José Arcadio. Much later, while awaiting his execution, Aureliano formulates what could be considered a theory of premonitions, which is related to a vital theme of the novel: the natural versus the artificial. Amazed at the fact that on this occasion he has no premonition of his pending execution, he concludes that only a natural death warrants a supernatural sign. As it happens no one dares carry out the orders leading to his "artificial" end; thus, the lack of a premonition of death in his mind becomes in the mind of the reader a foreshadowing of life.

Another interesting use of the foreshadowing technique is found in the account of Amaranta's death. In this case, a premonition takes on human form and visits her personally, leaving exact instructions. This fantastic situation is even further exploited as it is raised to the level of superstition: knowing she is to die, Amaranta announces publicly her willingness to collect and deliver the "mail for the dead" on behalf of the whole village. An even greater degree of complexity is achieved by the narrator's comment that "it seemed a farce".… The paradox is taken further, however: it is Amaranta herself who, looking and feeling perfectly well, directs to the very end the preparations for her own funeral.

It might be noted that the manner of presentation of each premonition exemplifies the basic technique of the novel itself: in rhythmically repeated "fore-flashes" of the main characters' deaths is included a short synopsis of the strongest emotions and impressions of their lives. The same interruptive technique is used throughout the novel to record cardinal stages in the life and death of the tribe and the whole village. The opening sentence of the novel renders Aureliano's first distinctly remembered impression as he awaits his last; as the book closes, the last Aureliano in the family line receives the final impression of his life as he reads about the first. Life and literature become one, and both seem destined to sink into oblivion.

The importance of foreshadowing becomes evident when we analyze the first chapter more closely. In it can be found most of the major themes and devices of the novel. Like the entire book, the introductory chapter forms a perfectly circular structure, a circle that runs counter to the clock. There is also a complete integration of various temporal levels: what the colonel glimpses of the past in the first sentence (which is itself a fore-flash) closes the chapter as a living experience in the present tense. Fire and ice unite as opposites, forming a paradox, a device constantly used throughout the novel. The importance of the word—the Verb, the Creation—is stressed at both the opening and the close: Macondo is so new to the world that names have to be invented to designate objects, says the narrator in his first description of the town. At the end of the chapter we see José Arcadio groping for words when confronted with what for him is a new phenomenon—ice. The novel itself closes with a character reading the last line, which for the first time releases the book's full meaning.

The circle—and the premonition—can also be found in the symbol of the child with a tail. What appears in the first chapter as superstitious fear (thereby opening the gates to the realm of the fantastic) is finally justified in the last. The whole novel in some way anticipates the fulfillment of this oracle. Another use of foreshadowing can be found in the first pages: i.e., the prediction by Melquíades that the whole tribe of Buendías will be extinguished. Melquíades's life comes full circle within the limits of this chapter: it starts with his first arrival in Macondo and ends with the news about his death, just as the book itself develops from the arrival Page 278  |  Top of Article of the Buendías in Macondo to the written news of their final extinction.

It may be worthwhile to note that the first character introduced in this book is Melquíades, a fantastic figure constantly fluctuating between the real and the supernatural: he "was a gloomy man, enveloped in a sad aura, with an Asiatic look that seemed to know what there was on the other side of things.… But in spite of his immense wisdom and his mysterious breadth, he had a human burden, an earthly condition that kept him involved in the small problems of daily life." The physical description of him, in turn, intensifies the temporal distortion: he wears "a velvet vest across which the patina of centuries had skated." And one of the first "wonders" he brings is called "flerros," not "hierros magicos," an archaic form of the word which also suggests his agelessness. While indulging in magic, he is able to give the most lucid explanations about recent progress in the scientific world. (One of the most delightful examples in his conversation with Úrsula about his being a demon, where he explains to her the odor of the devil from a chemical point of view. His blindness and the increased lucidity it brings about foreshadow Úrsula's last years when the role of intuition is emphasized. It leads, moreover, to another principal theme in the novel: that of insanity versus sanity, which is developed with regard to several members of the family.

Melquíades bears within himself the main theme of the novel: he returns from the kingdom of the dead, renouncing immortality, because he is unable to endure solitude. The book closes with the reading of his scriptures. Only at this point does the reader realize that Melquíades was not only a character but the narrator himself. In one of his first appearances in the novel, he even gives a definition of what the book turns out to be—"fantastic stories"—suggesting, moreover, that there are al-ways several interpretations to a phenomenon: on the same page we see him through four different pairs of eyes, interpreted four different ways. Thus, the figure of Melquíades points to everything in this novel being a language of signs and patterns, a "r6cit indiciel" with intricate metaphorical relationships. [Barthes, 1966.]

The first chapter makes full use of such structural elements as paradox, which is essential in the presentation of the theme of the absurd (José Arcadio sets out to look for the sea, gets lost in the jungle and founds Macondo; while seeking to communicate with the city, he discovers the sea; Úrsula, seeking her son, discovers the road to civilization); parallelism (José Arcadio as a symbol of the village and Úrsula, of the home); antithesis (José Arcadio embodying imagination, Úrsula embodying common and practical sense; the two sons who become archetypes for the entire descendency divided between an emphasis on physical enjoyment of life and the anguish of imagination); repetition as the essence of the story, summarized by Pilar Ternera at the end: "the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions." The repetition may be associated with the symbol of mirrors perceived by José Arcadio in the dream which determines the founding of Macondo, trans-posed once we understand that the mirrors do not reproduce the image an infinite number of times but instead a mirage which is impossible to repeat.…

Many secondary themes are also introduced in this chapter and later developed more fully: the first notion of religion is, significandy, mixed with superstition; the only reference to the civil government is especially important for it underscores its inefficiency. José Arcadio's desire to invent a "memory machine" is a precursor of the long episode of the "insomnia plague"; his interest in developing anns for "solar warfare" hints at the future revolution and the mythical exploits of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. The principles of self-government and equality are established by José Arcadio's distribution of land and sun, thus, introducing the important roles nature and climactic conditions are to play. José Arcadio's expedition wrestling with the fierce forces of the jungle provides one of the earliest glimpses of the jungle's power and makes convincing its final invasion of the Buendías' family house in the last chapter.

Nature also serves to introduce the eternal dichotomy between the natural state of man and civilized man, illustrated in the first chapter by the two tribes of gypsies. The first are simple and honest and want to share their knowledge. Those that follow, "purveyors of amusement," come to cheat and loot. The theme of solitude and isolation is opposed to that of friendship and is brought out by emphasizing the desire to communicate, which is as strong in individual characters as it is within the village community as a whole.

There is, finally, in these first pages of the novel an early intimation of one of the most exuberant of the later epistles: Aureliano Segundo's "papering" the walls of his house with money clearly echoes José Arcadio's announcement in the first chapter that "we'll have gold enough and more to pave the floors of the house." (The paradox attached Page 279  |  Top of Article to the theme of gold is that we see José Arcadio on the first page and Aureliano Segundo toward the end of the book desperately searching for it without success while at the peak of the fortune a saint's figure [to whom Úrsula lights candles and prays] is discovered containing a treasure of gold. A further paradox can be seen in the fact that Úrsula's hiding place is indicated in the first chapter and later repeated, but when the whole house and garden are dug up during the search, nobody looks under her bed.) A strong parallelism can be observed between the fall and rise of the family and of the village, which is symbolized at the end of the book by the return of the first tribe of gypsies we met in Chapter I: The development of the village has completed a full circle between the two comings, and the villagers have returned to a state where they can again be awed by innocent, primitive magic.

A powerful imagination is the prime characteristic defining José Arcadio. It too comes full circle: in the first chapter we see him teaching his children "by forcing the limits of his imagination to extremes," interrupting his task only to greet the arrival of gypsies who bring even more imaginary inventions. At the end, the last descendants receive instruction from Aureliano Segundo who uses an English encyclopedia without being able to read it; he draws on his imagination to invent instructions.

There is a distinct gradation among the first "wonders" acquired by José Arcadio from the gypsies, a gradation further developed in later chapters. He begins by exploring the fields around Macondo with a magnet in search of gold for personal purposes (prosperity that will be achieved through Úrsula's fabrication of candied animals and later through the proliferation of real animals during Aureliano Segundo's reign); then he passes on to convert a magnifying glass into a weapon of war (war will eventually involve the whole country through his son's revolutionary opposition to the government); with the compass and the sextant his imagination crosses seas and frontiers—as his last descendants will do in actuality. Finally, alchemy transports him to a realm of irreality, which is later repeated as several members of the family end their lives "liberated" from the limits of time, space and social convention.

Only the all-important element of time remains to be examined in the first chapter. Again a technique is introduced which is used throughout the novel. The compression of time is evident: fourteen years of life are packed into fourteen pages. This is achieved mainly by fragmenting and juggling various temporal levels, a process which can be summarized as follows: future with the present, in which five different stages are marked by the successive arrivals of the gypsies, introducing the great theme of transformations; the past alone, which contains allusions to an even more remote past; and present, past and future together. On all these levels, further divisions as well as interrelations between real time and imaginary time could be established. One remark by Úrsula deserves mention: almost ready to die, she complains that "time was slower before." In fact, José Arcadio and his men need four days to conquer twelve kilometers in the first chapter; in the last, Gaston is contemplating the establishment of airmail service to Macondo. The speed of events becomes frantic at the end, when the sudden whirlwind of destruction prevents Aureliano Babilonia (note the change in name) from finishing the deciphering of the manuscript. Almost at the exact center of the novel Úrsula utters, "it's as if time had turned around and we were back at the beginning." From this point on, one can add to the reading in progression another reading in regression. The tempo increases, but the quickened passing of time only brings omens of degeneration and destruction. All human efforts are revealed to be futile, all hopes absurd in the face of the ultimate predestination. But precisely at this point, where written time ends, the cycle is reinitiated—in the reader's imagination.

Source: Biruté Ciplijauskaité, "Foreshadowing as Technique and Theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude," in Books Abroad, No. 3, Vol. 47, Summer, 1973, pp. 479-84.


Gene H. Bell-Villada, an interview with Gabriel García Márquez in Boston Review, Vol. VIII, No. 2, April, 1983, pp. 25-7.

Gene H. Bell-Villada, "Banana Strike and Military Massacre: One Hundred Years of Solitude and What Happened in 1928," in From Dante to García Márquez: Studies in Romance Literatures and Linguistics, edited by Gene H. BellVillada, Antonio Gimenes, and George Pistorius, Williams College, 1987, pp. 391-403.

Gordon Brotherston, "An End to Secular Solitude: Gabriel García Márquez," in his The Emergence of the Latin American Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 122-35.

Claudia Dreifus, an interview with Gabriel García Márquez in Playboy, February, 1983.

D. J. Enright, "Larger Than Death," in The Listener, Vol. 84, No. 2160, August 20, 1970, p. 252.

Roberto González Echevarría, "Cien años de soledad: The Novel as Myth and Archive," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 99, No. 2, 1984, pp. 358-80.

Page 280  |  Top of Article

Rita Guibert, an interview with García Márquez in Seven Latin American Writers Talk to Rita Guibert, translated by Frances Partridge, Alfred A. Knopf, 1973, pp. 305-37.

Ricardo Gullon, "Gabriel García Márquez and the Lost Art of Storytelling," translated by José G. Sanchez, in Diacritics, Vol. I, No. 1, Fall, 1971, pp. 27-32.

William Kennedy, review of One Hundred Years of Solitude, in National Observer, April 20, 1970.

John Leonard, "Myth is Alive in Latin America," in New York Times, March 3, 1970, p. 39.

Pablo Neruda, quoted in Time, March 16, 1970.

Jack Richardson, "Master Builder," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XIV, No. 6, March 26, 1970, pp. 3-4.

Paul West, "A Green Thought in a Green Shade," in Book World—Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1970, pp. 4-5.

For Further Study

Claudette Kemper Columbus, "The Heir Must Die: One Hundred Years of Solitude as a Gothic Novel," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, Autumn 1986, pp. 397-416.

Explores García Márquez's novel for its gothic aspects and compares it to Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

William Faulkner, The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley, Viking Press, 1977.

This volume presents the entire legend of Yoknapatawpha. The creation of this fictional place is not unlike the creation of Macondo by García Márquez and the two are often compared. It is said that García Márquez read Hemingway as an antidote to Faulkner.

Jean Franco, "Gabriel García Márquez," in his An Introduction to Spanish American Literature, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 343-347.

Franco offers a brief but worthwhile overview of García Márquez's major themes in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World, Houghton (Pap), 1993.

Renowned Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes gives a brief history of Hispanic history. The tone of the work is very reflective with a hint of apology for Spanish history. It is clearly a reaction to the Spain-bashing which accompanied the quincentennial.

Gabriel García Márquez, "The Solitude of Latin America," in Gabriel García Márquez and the Powers of Fiction, edited by Julio Ortega, University of Texas Press, 1988, pp. 87-92.

García Márquez's 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech is essential background reading for any student studying One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Regina Janes, "At Home in the Pope's Grotto: One Hundred Years of Solitude," in her Gabriel García Márquez: Revolutions in Wonderland, University of Missouri Press, 1981, pp. 48-69.

Janes analyzes the structure of the novel and insists that its reliance on history and biblical framing holds it together.

Regina Janes, "Liberals, Conservatives, and Bananas: Colombian Politics in the Fictions of Gabriel García Márquez," in Gabriel García Márquez, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1989, pp. 125-146.

Janes provides the student with a lucid explanation of how the intricacies of Colombian politics figure in the novel.

Regina Janes, One Hundred Years of Solitude: Modes of Reading, Twayne, 1991.

In a book-length study of One Hundred Years of Solitude designed for the student, Janes offers literary and historical contexts, as well as well-developed biographical, mythic, and literary readings of the novel.

Gerald Martin, "On 'Magical' and Social Realism in García Márquez," in Gabriel García Márquez: New Readings, edited by Bemard McGuirk and Richard Caldwell, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 95-116.

In an important essay, Martin argues that critics should "revise the impression of a novel whose two levels, magical and realist, mythical and historical, are entirely inseparable, since after the death of Úrsula they slowly but surely begin to come apart."

Stephen Minta, García Márquez: Writer of Colombia, New York, 1987.

This is the first biography of the writer.

Bradley A. Shaw and Nora G. Vera-Godwin, eds., Critical Perspectives on Gabriel García Márquez, University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Shaw and Vera-Godwin present a variety of useful essays, most notably one on magical realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Morton P. Levitt.

Anna Marie Taylor, "Cien años de soledad: History and the Novel," in Latin American Perspectives, Vol. II, No. 3, Fall, 1975, pp. 96-111.

Explores the value of historical consciousness in the novel by García Márquez and its political relevance.

Mario Vargas Llosa, "García Márquez: From Aracataca to Macondo," in Gabriel García Márquez, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1989, pp. 5-20.

Vargas Llosa, a noted Latin American writer in his own right, is widely regarded as the foremost expert on García Márquez. This essay provides important background for the student of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Raymond Williams, "One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)," in his Gabriel García Márquez, Twayne, 1984.

Noted scholar Raymond Williams provides a chapter-length introduction to the novel, providing not only an excellent overview of the book, but also succinct summaries of a variety of critical approaches. The rest of this clearly-written and informative book offers useful information on García Márquez's life and career.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2591800024