Major Literary Analysis: Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a rich story written by Gabriel García Márquez, which details the history of the Buendía family and the fictional town of Macondo. The story follows numerous characters through multiple generations of the family, through repetitive names and fates. It begins with Úrsula Iguaran and José Arcadio Buendía, two cousins who married, but avoided intimacy due to a fear of producing children with pig tails. José was taunted for his sexless relationship, and his retaliatory act of murder caused he and Úrsula so much guilt, that they fled the town and established Macondo. Despite the fears, they produced three children without any sign of pig tails, and began the long line of the never-boring Buendía family. Throughout the generations, they dodged the ever-close threat of incest and repercussive pig-tailed children, despite their solitary lifestyle. However, the final generation of Buendía’s fell into the trap of incest, and one-hundred years later, the pig-tailed child was born, and preceded the deaths of the remaining Buendía line.

Characterization

The primary characters of the novel were those within the Buendía family. Their names were repeated throughout generations. The men were always named José, Arcadio, or Aureliano, or various combinations of those. The women were always named Úrsula, Amaranta, and Remedios, and also included combinations of those names. The repetitive nature of the names is reflective of the repetitive lifestyles of the family. The repeated names can make it difficult to follow the characters as they progress in the story, and add to the confusion when considering which characters are direct descendants of others. Fortunately, Márquez adds or withholds last names to aid in distinguishing between them.

One intriguing observation of note is how different the characters were, regardless of their repetitive nature. The novel incorporated both static and dynamic characters. Rebeca is one character who remained static throughout. She was always an anxious and solitary character, despite her circumstances. Even in her happiness, she succumbed to her old habits of eating dirt. She arrived at the Buendía household with such a fretful demeanor, and it persisted until her death. Her sister, Amaranta, is a dynamic character who was changed by her circumstances. When she perceived Rebeca as a threat to the relationship she desired, she changed into a cruel and manipulative character who would carry out whatever action necessary to stop her sister’s marriage. Upon Remedios’ death, however, Amaranta was changed again, with guilt consuming her life and playing a role in the failure of all her relationships.

Solitude is one trait that is persistent in most of the characters. The characters named Aureliano were the most geared toward solitude, as they secluded themselves with their work and their extended isolation. The one things that seemed to draw the characters from their solitude is their desire for love. Aureliano was drawn from his solitary alchemist pursuits upon the love seeded by his very first meeting of Remedios. She impacted him in such a significant way that it crumbled his solitary lifestyle. Even after her sudden death, he left in pursuit of his military career and left behind solitude for leadership. José Arcadio Segundo was another dominantly solitary character. His solitude was the result of witnessing an execution early in his life, and surviving the banana company massacre that nobody believed had ever occurred.

Magical Realism

The novel celebrates magical realism subtly through its characters and actions. The elements of magical realism were woven into the entire novel so seamlessly that neither character nor reader could determine where reality ended and the magic began. It can surprise a reader, disappoint them, and enlighten them. No expectations can be made about any character; they are all so different and prove their individuality, even though some are only in the novel for a short while. Macondo itself has a magical quality about it. In its infancy, none of its residents died or were plagued with illness. Instead, residents lived happy and content lives, with a sort of perfection lingering about, even down to the amount of sunshine each home received. People were equal and content, not requiring any government or law enforcement to keep them in check. The kind of state that Macondo was in seems like a magical frame of mind.

The wild imaginations of the Buendía men also serve to demonstrate the subtle magical realism elements. The Buendía men were so imaginative and optimistic with their inventions and alchemy work, and were absorbed into the wondrous world around them. The characters did not appear to take the world for granted, despite living in their own little corner of it within Macondo. They constantly teetered on the edge between reality and fantasy, perhaps because they divulged in fantasy so much within their own realities.

Melaquiades is a character who portrayed some of the most magic in the novel throughout his life alone. He was a gypsy who brought wonder and marvel to Macondo through his magical inventions. He defied death and age, as he returned from death and lived more than two-hundred years. His complex and mysterious prophecies intrigued the men of the Buendía family throughout generations. They were obsessed with attempting to decipher them, but failed repeatedly. Ultimately, those prophecies foretold the entire history of Macondo.

Other subtle magical realism elements permeated the novel, such as the levitating priest who drank chocolate to rise above the ground to persuade others to follow Christ. Another was the mysterious premonitions of Aureliano. Even though they were not always clear, they were reliable in the sense that they were important to Úrsula, who paid close attention to them. They were important enough to Aureliano that he suspected something out of the ordinary when he was jailed awaiting his death sentence, but no premonition came. Another strange occurrence was when deceased characters reappeared to some living characters in the story, without affecting them with surprise, as if it were a normal occurrence. Even the seemingly-ordinary event of the blood trail caused by José Arcadio’s gunshot would embrace a magical element as the trail snaked and climbed its way to the feet of his mother, Úrsula. Finally, the way time repeated itself shows that the construct of time was not followed as it is conventionally followed. Time did not seem to follow a line, but rather a circle, which is another magical element that wove itself into reality.

Themes

The first and most powerful theme throughout the novel was the repetitive nature of the Buendía family. The characters were unable to detach themselves from the past and the future. Names, personalities, and events are repeated throughout generations. This repetition was more complicated by the plagues of insomnia and amnesia, which altered how characters could recall their own pasts and prophesize the future. Úrsula was the only character to note that time repeated itself, and it was that revelation that instilled her to expand her home to accommodate the repeated generations. The repetition suggests that Márquez believed the nature of humans is very typical, and people are bound to repeat the same fates as those before them.

The irony of repetition that chases the Buendía family also signifies an element of magical realism. Even though the first generation of Buendía’s narrowly avoided the consequences of incest, each following generation was teased by the same incestuous relationships. The family line ended with the very fate that the first generation feared. It was as if the family was cursed with that fate from the beginning, and each generation was challenged to avoid it. Another example of irony is how several of the Buendía men attempted to decipher the prophecies, but failed to do so until the last remaining Buendía man was successful. By then, it was far too late to change the family’s course. The prophecies revealed the very fates that the previous generations endured. The novel then ends very similarly to the way it began, almost as if a reversal of time had occurred. The village returned to solitary isolation, as it was before its original inhabitance.

It appears that the theme of repetition is closely tied with the theme of family. The repetitive nature does not seem to affect those outside the Buendía family, at least, not to the extent that it consumes their lives. Family is essentially a prison in which the Buendía line cannot escape, and they are doomed by the mere blood relation they share. Family members who leave Macondo always find their way back to their roots. At the same time, they seem to leave behind any experiences or changes they encountered during their absence, and fall into the locked fate of the Buendía family.

Symbolism

A few symbols were evident throughout the novel. The most memorable of symbols was the little gold fish that Colonel Aureliano crafted in the workshop. Originally, the little gold fish were crafted at his hand through his artistic nature and expression. He also crafted them out of his love for Remedios, to whom he gifted a piece. Eventually, they became a token of his love, and he gifted them to all of his seventeen sons. The gold fish were also presented by passing characters as a token of their relationship with the Colonel. Later in his life, the gold fish were possessed as collector items that paid homage to Aureliano’s great leadership. Toward the end of his life, he entered the repetitive obsession of melting down existing gold fish and re-crafting them over and over again.

The railroad was another symbol of Macondo that brought both modernity and devastation. It helped bring modernity to the town, and connect it with the rest of the world, both visions of the original José Arcadio. The changes occurred rapidly, and the town went from its pleasant calmness to a foreign invasion. The technology thought to improve the lives of Macondo residents actually made life worse for them. Capitalism invaded the town and established the banana plantation, which exploited Macondo and its resident workers. When the residents realized the unfair treatment and went on strike, thousands were murdered by the conservative army. The bodies were dumped at sea and from that point on, five years of vicious rains plagued and flooded the town, which led it its decline and ultimate demise. Because of the closure of the banana plantation, the railroad was neglected, and the train no longer stopped in Macondo. The example portrays the infamous “the grass is greener on the other side,” mantra, as the modernity and technological innovation José Arcadio always desired turned out to be more harmful and destructive than ever imaginable.

Human Nature

The novel captures the understanding of human nature by showing how the different characters lived repetitive lifestyles and were in pursuit of the same things. Prime themes among the characters’ nature were desire, love, and power. These are common pursuits of life that humans typically chase.

Desire is a very strong element of human nature persistent throughout the novel. Most characters demonstrated weakness and gave in to their every desire, even though those desires effectively destroyed their lives. Desire for the young gypsy girl took José Arcadio away from his family and unborn child. He became a very impulsive person who gave into his desires throughout his life. Desire drove Aureliano into bed with Pilar Ternera, the same woman who shared the bed with his brother. Desire changed the course of Rebeca’s life, from her scheduled married to Pietro, and into bed and marriage with her adopted brother. Many men sacrificed their lives due to their desire to Remedios the Beauty. Desire even pulled several characters into a dangerous, incestuous attraction, such as Aureliano José’s attraction to his aunt, Amaranta, as well as Aureliano II’s relationship with his aunt, Amaranta Úrsula. That conquering desire, which was too strong to stand against incest, ultimately led to the demise of the Buendía family.

Every character endured a relentless pursuit of love, regardless of who that partner was. Aureliano found love in the little girl, Remedios, even though she was an unlikely suitor for his age. His love and adoration was so strong for her, that he raised her and waited for her to reach puberty. Amaranta was steadfast in her love for Pietro, even though he did not return that love until much later. Despite the fact that Pietro was in love with her adopted sister, Rebeca, Amaranta never lost love for him, even after his suicide caused by her later rejection. Many of the characters come off as hopeless romantics, as they overcame many obstacles in the name of love, and persisted in seeking love, despite the failure of generations before. Úrsula had an unwavering love for family, evident in the way she took in various family members, and even spent her savings on enlarging her home to accommodate as much family as she could. Very little stood in the way of characters’ love for others.

Power was another strong element of human nature existent throughout the novel. The original José Arcadio Buendía demonstrated his quest for power and success when he pushed his family, and Macondo, into modernity. His pursuit of knowledge was perhaps driven by his pursuit of power. He wanted to be the first to discover things, to introduce marvels to the world. His pursuit of knowledge ultimately resulted in the loss of his innocence and sanity, and he was exiled to the chestnut tree. His relentless pursuit and exile are very representative of the Biblical fall of man in the Garden of Eden. The allegory is ironic considering that José Arcadio Buendía was not a follower of Christ, and his inability to prove the existence of Christ is what led to his punishment.

All of the succeeding Arcadio characters were very hungry for power, and were also some of the cruelest and hedonistic of characters. José Arcadio’s power was evident in his sheer size and strength which he reentered the Buendía family with. His power and impulses guided his life with the gypsies and his eventual return to Macondo. His son, Arcadio, seemed to be a gentle man who was passionate about his educator position. However, when he was placed in charge of the town during Colonel Aureliano’s absence, power corrupted Arcadio. He became a power-obsessed, brutal dictator who was shunned by all. Eventually, his quest for power overrode his defenses, and he was killed when conservatives claimed the town.

Colonel Aureliano sought power after considering his political position and the impending, sweeping war. He had taken charge of the town until his absence to lead the war, and he exhibited his power everywhere he went. Even though he denied military honors and promotions, he wanted the power of leadership; he wanted to be in charge of decision-making and the political fate of the region. The element of power was perhaps related to his pursuit of success. Colonel Aureliano was formerly a solitary character who sought power only for his pursuit of success in fighting the conservatives. He was not an inherently power-hungry character, but he was ambitious. Perhaps the other power-driven men of the Buendía family were also driven by ambitious intents.

Fundamental Optimism

The characters demonstrated fundamental optimism. This was evident when Father Nicanor Reyna was astonished at the durability and prosperity of Macondo’s residents, despite the lack of Christ in their lives. They endured their struggles and pressed on for greater things. Without the strength of faith guiding them, it appears they were guided by an intrinsic optimism that lived on in the families through generations, despite the history of the family’s hardships. Faith is typically something that guides individuals through difficult times and to the promise of success, but many of the characters were faithless, at least, in regards to God. Their faith may have lied in the optimism that they had for their pursuits. The driving force behind the relentless activities in the laboratory was sheer optimism. The characters believed that their inventions could lead them to something great.

Even when his earliest experiments failed and jeopardized the wellbeing of his family, José Arcadio Buendía pressed on because of his steadfast optimism for bigger and better things. He pressed Úrsula for her buried savings because of his optimism to multiply the money with alchemistic experiments. When that experiment failed, he moved on to different activities, never letting failure dampen his optimism. His inspiration, Melquiades, was also a very optimistic character who divulged in endless acts of wonder and mystery. Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s optimism was persistent throughout all of his endeavors. He was an optimistic alchemist, even though he had little one-on-one guidance. He learned the craft through his own desire for knowledge and satisfaction. It is unclear whether or not his uncanny premonition ability may have helped his optimism. Regardless, it followed him throughout his life. His optimism spurred his military career and his countless battles. Even when the odds were against him when the Conservatives outmanned and outgunned him, he pressed on through optimism and pride.

Possibility of Love

It is unclear whether or not Márquez believed love was possible. Love was a theme so intertwined with struggle, that it is difficult to determine whether true love even existed between any characters. On one hand, love was portrayed as such a strong, unwavering aspect, so strong that it could spark love in others–regardless of species. This was evident in the relationship between Aureliano Segundo and Petra Cotes. Their powerful love life resulted in increased reproduction in their animals. It served to demonstrate that love could benefit those around the couple, improving the health and wellbeing of any and every one. On the other hand, Petra was a concubine and served to remind of the failed love between Aureliano Segundo and his wife, Fernanda del Carpio. The love that seemed the strongest existed because of–and alongside–a facade of love. It seems that every instance of love throughout the novel was doomed from the beginning. Not a single character had a truly happy love life, or was able to enjoy everlasting love. Instead, love was complicated in every instance. Love was challenged in several ways, either due to competition, incest, solitude, or self-destruction. Even though it was sought after and held in high regard, it was surrounded with an emotional whirlwind. Love never had the opportunity to flourish, and was never portrayed as a pure and rare gift.

To further complicate the matter of love, it was introduced between the most unlikely of people, including enemies. In his final moments, before he was killed, Arcadio had a revelation of love when he thought about the love he had for his enemies, and the people he held a deep hatred for. Arcadio put as much thought–or more–into his love for his enemies as he did for his wife. It demonstrates that the novel portrayed love as just another repetitive hurdle either triumphed or dodged by each member of the Buendíadia line.

Conclusion

One Hundred Years of Solitude, while praised for its rich history and enduring strength of family, has also been criticized for its depressing content. However, the novel is reflective of Márquez’s experience in Latin America and his perception of the world. In 1982, Scholar Gene Bell-Villada asked Márquez to respond to criticism for not providing solutions, or a more positive view of Latin America. Márquez responded, “it’s not the job of novels to furnish solutions.”

In his Nobel Prize speech, Márquez explained the theme of solitude in Latin America, which served as the influence of solitary themes throughout his novels. He explained, “Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration.” He went on to attribute cultural distance to navigational distance. This perhaps serves to explain the mystery behind the fictitious Macondo. It never had any desire to become like the rest of the world, and its remoteness preserved its individuality until modernity threatened it, forced it to become something beyond its desire, and ultimately destroyed it.

Each of the novel’s realistic elements can be traced back to Márquez’s perspective on life and Latin America. As a result, he created a complex novel with a tremendous storyline and significant elements that have impacted readers decades after its publishing. One Hundred Years of Solitude has solidified its place in literature as a powerful novel that teaches and inspires every reader.

 

Work Cited

 

García Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Harper, 1970. Print.

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