In the mid-1960s journalist and fiction writer Gabriel Jose Garcia Marquez was little known outside his native Colombia, having never sold more than 700 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 grandmother-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 1,300 pages was sent to the publishers. The result was Cien anos 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 30 languages and there are a number of pirated editions. The exceptional achievement of One Hundred Years of Solitude was highlighted in the citation awarding Garcia Marquez the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 1928, the year when more than 100 local strikers were massacred, Garcia Marquez 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 Nicolas Ricardo Marquez Mejia, took him to the circus, told him stories, and admonished him against listening to the tales of women. His grandmother, Tranquilina Iguaran de Marquez, 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, Garcia Marquez went to live in Sucre, Colombia, with his parents, telegraph operator Gabriel Eligio Garcia (a Conservative frowned on by the family) and Luisa Santiaga Marquez de Garcia.
A The Founding of Macondo
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of the Buendia 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 Buendia 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 straightforward chronological order, with only occasional forays into the past or the future.
A 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.”
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!” Ursula tells her husband. One form of solitude is that of madness-the first Jose 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 Melquiades. In the process “everything is known” to him-even the obliteration of the world of Macondo.
The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok fascinates Garcia Marquez 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.
A 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 300 years, developing a culture and population that blended Spanish, Indian, and African influences. In 1810 Simon Bolivar 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.
Examine aspects of the Buendia 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 19th-century Latin America from the Buendia House?
Based on his studies of Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain, Garcia Marquez’s 1975 work El otono 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.