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.
The first chapter introduces Jose Arcadio Buendia, the founder of Macondo; his wife, Ursula; and the gypsy Melquiades, who brings inventions to Macondo. Jose Arcadio and Ursula also have two sons introduced in the opening chapter. The older, Jose 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 Buendias, there are characters named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano, just as there are female characters called Remedios, Amaranta, and Ursula. 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, Jose Arcadio and Ursula (who are cousins) marry. However, Ursula 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 Jose Arcadio’s masculinity is suspect, it results in two things: first, Jose Arcadio consummates the marriage in spite of Ursula’s protests; and second, he kills Prudencio Aguilar. The dead man continues to visit the Buendias until they decide to leave their town and start anew by founding the town of Macondo.
B The Growth of Macondo
In the beginning, the town is young; it is a place where no one is over 30 years old and no one has died yet. Except for occasional visits from Melquiades and his troop of gypsies, the 300 inhabitants of Macondo are completely isolated from the rest of the world. Although Jose Arcadio leads a band of townspeople on a mission to try to establish contact with the outside world, he is unsuccessful. Later, Ursula sets off to find her son Jose Arcadio, who has unexpectedly run away with the gypsies. Although Ursula 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 Jose’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 Melquiades (who died in the previous chapter, only to return because he was bored) the town is saved.
Not only does Melquiades return from the dead, the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar returns to keep Jose Arcadio company. Jose Arcadio is overcome with nostalgia and goes mad. Ursula 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 with 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 Jose 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 Buendia, 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 by 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.
C The Buendias at War
The middle portion of the book includes accounts of the seemingly endless civil wars and of the activities of Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo, the twin sons of the late Arcadio. When the wars are finally over, Colonel Aureliano Buendia 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 3,000 workers. Jose 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.”
D 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, Ursula, the last of the original Buendias, 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 Ursula, great- great-granddaughter of the original Jose Arcadio Buendia, to Aureliano, great-great-great grandson of the same man. Aureliano, the bastard child of Amaranta Ursula’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 Ursula recalls the original Ursula’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 Ursula’s relationship with her nephew Aureliano results in the birth of a child with the tail of pig, thus bringing the story of the Buendias full circle.
In the closing chapter, Amaranta Ursula 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 Melquiades’ 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 Melquiades 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.