100 Years of Solitude: Márquez and Macondo

The Patriarchy of the Buendía family, a fictional town and mysterious scrolls…

Widely viewed as the best author of the Spanish language, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez has earned his place in the literary hall of fame alongside other Hispanic voices such as Isabel Allende, Miguel de Cervantes and Carlos Ruiz Zafón. One Hundred Years of Solitude is his most famous novel, and tells the epic tale of seven generations of the Buendía family through the founding and strange occurrences of the village of Macondo, which is inspired by Márquez’ childhood town Aracataca, in Colombia.

Márquez draws together themes of time, fate and honour in the genre of magical realism, creating a landscape that is funny, incredulous and extremely emotional. The incredible events that take place, which include town-wide insomnia, ascensions to heaven and five years of rain, are somewhat normal to a reader who is used to the crazy happenings in Macondo.

At the beginning of the novel, we see the dreamlike fantasies of town founder José Arcadio Buendía as the gypsies come through the town, bringing marvels such as ice and flying carpets. Amidst the exasperation of matriarch Úrsula, his friendship with gypsy Melquíades bookmarks the novel. His ghost visits members of the family, and his mysterious scrolls are translated by final family member Aureliano. The Sanskrit papers take years to translate, and finally come to light as the winds are sweeping away Macondo, and with it the Buendía family, in the last pages of the book. The great pathos of the novel is in its final few words, when Aureliano suddenly realises the scrolls were a narration of their lives and deaths, and frantically fast forwards in his mind to see his own end “as if he were looking into a speaking mirror”.

The idea of the “speaking mirror” is integral to the novel- characters cannot help but to succumb to the ways of their ancestors and native town. Colonel Aureliano Buendía embroils himself in civil war for many years, yet returns to Macondo and locks himself in his father’s workshop, mirroring his studies and experiments. Amaranta Úrsula returns to Macondo after receiving her education in Belgium, when the city has been destroyed by the rains. She is blinded by nostalgia and forsakes her husband for nephew Aureliano in an incestuous relationship.

The confusing characterisation Márquez uses also contributes to the cyclical nature of the novel; the Buendía family only uses a few names over seven generations. The most common among these are José Arcadio and Aureliano- at one point there are 17 Aurelianos, all named after their father. Úrsula remarks how Aurelianos are usually quiet and reserved with supernatural psychic abilities, whereas José Arcadios are headstrong and usually meet a tragic end.

When twins Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo are born, the family see how each exhibit traits of the opposite name and suspect they may have been switched at birth; indeed, when they each die it is said “the sad drunkards who carried them out of the house got the coffins mixed up and buried them in the wrong graves”.

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By Esther Duckworth: Literature Columnist

Female names are also recycled, such as Úrsula, Remedios and Amaranta; fate is inescapable as with each naming of a new child they are doomed to another repeat of the same life their ancestors led. It could also reflect the incestuous nature of the family- the last member is born with a pigs’ tail, a great fear of Úrsula’s due to past warnings about the consequences of incest.

The power of love itself holds a great power within Marquez’ work, similar to the romantic nature of the Spanish language in the novel. It drives people to death, despair and ruin- this power is exemplified in Remedios the Beauty. Her very name connotes a lovely appearance, but there is a darker side to her looks when they drive three men to death. It is said “the smell of Remedios the Beauty kept on torturing men beyond death, right down to the dust of their bones”. The frantic passion throughout the novel at times provides a deep contrast to the sometimes sedentary way of life in Macondo.

Culture, change and unrest

The rich Colombian culture of Márquez’ childhood is seen through the allegory of Colombian history in the book. Events such as the banana company profiting from the town, the introduction of the railroad system and civil war between Liberals and Conservatives echo national myths that are key in the history of the country. Social unrest is seen, with the most obvious being from members of the trade union at the banana company. Thousands are murdered in the town centre, and this narrative can be linked to the corporate leadership of the United Fruit Company, an American company trading Latin American grown fruit that controlled many territories in Colombia. The climax of One Hundred Years of Solitude is based on events in Ciénega, Colombia in 1928, where a strike by United Fruit workers resulted in the shooting of many in what became known as the ‘banana massacre’

The title of the novel becomes evident as Macondo and its inhabitants sink into deeper solitude instead of progressing naturally through history. Although there are elements of the outside world, such as the beautiful Fernanda del Carpio (a queen from a distant land), the travelling gypsies and civil war, Macondo remains an inward-facing, regressive society that is eventually wiped from the face of the earth by a hurricane. The characters can also be seen as egocentric and selfish, not knowing how their actions affect others- this links to Márquez’ criticism of the Latin American elite, as the Buendías are a high-status family who do not learn from their past errors and continue to make the same mistakes with their children.

Márquez’ masterpiece has definitely earned its title as one of the best works of the Spanish language, and its powerful message of the futility of human existence still grips the reader with every turn of the page.

MACKAYAN: 100 years of solitude

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