Gabriel García Márquez’s fiction is characterized by a thread of common themes, events, and characters that seem to link his work together into one multifaceted portrayal of the experiences of Latin American life. From the influences of his early childhood, when he learned from his grandmother how to tell the most fantastic stories in a matter-of-fact tone, to his later observations of the oppression and cruelties of politics, García Márquez captures the everyday life of the amazing people of coastal Colombia, with its Caribbean flavor, as well as the occasional resident of the highlands of Bogotá. He has an eye for the details of daily life mixed with humor and an attitude of acceptance and wonder. His characters experience the magic and joy of life and face the suffering of solitude and isolation but always with an innate dignity. García Márquez’s vision touches real life with its local attitudes and values, and in the process it also reveals a criticism of politics, the church, and U.S. imperialism, as they contribute to the Latin American experience.
García Márquez’s body of work portrays a complete reality breaking out of conventional bounds. Characters from one story regularly show up or are mentioned in another, while his complex mix of fantasy and reality reveals a consummate storyteller capable of bringing to his work the magic of his non-European world. His impact as a writer lies in the fact that although his work describes the Latin American experience of life, it also goes beyond to reveal a universal human experience.
Ojos de perro azul
García Márquez’s earliest stories have a bizarre, almost surreal, tone, reminiscent of Franz Kafka. Collected in Ojos de perro azul, these stories represent an experimental phase of García Márquez’s development as a writer. They exemplify his new, or strange, realism, extending the reality of life into and beyond the experience of death. “La tercera resignación” (“The Third Resignation”), for example, deals with the thoughts and fears of a young man in his coffin. “Nabo, el negro que hizo esperar a los ángeles” (“Nabo, the Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait”) tells of a man who is locked in a stable because he goes insane after being kicked in the head by a horse.
In “Isabel viendo llover en Macondo” (“Monologue of Isabel Watching It Rain in Macondo”), published the same year as his first novella, Leaf Storm, García Márquez captures the atmosphere of a tropical storm through the eyes of his protagonist. Here, the world of Macondo, used in Leaf Storm as well and made world-famous in One Hundred Years of Solitude, is presented amid the suffocating oppressiveness of tropical weather. Here as later, nature itself is often a palpable force in the fiction of García Márquez—often exaggerated and overwhelming in order to reflect the reality of Latin American geography and the natural forces within it. The repetition underscores the monotony of the continuing deluge, and the theme of solitude is reflected in the imagery as well as in the personal relationship of Isabel and Martin: “The sky was a gray, jellyish substance that flapped its wings a hand away from our heads.”
No One Writes to the Colonel
After demonstrating his ability to capture the tropical atmosphere, García Márquez shows himself capable of capturing a portrait in words with his well-structured novella No One Writes to the Colonel. The central character is a dignified man with a deep sense of honor who has been promised a military pension. Every Friday, he goes to the post office to wait for mail that never comes, and then he claims that he really was not expecting anything anyway. He is a patient man, resigned to eternal waiting and hope when there is no reason to expect that hope to be fulfilled. “For nearly sixty years—since the end of the last civil war—the colonel had done nothing else but wait. October was one of the few things which arrived.” His other hope is his rooster, which belonged to his son, who was executed for handing out subversive literature, but since he is too poor to feed the rooster, some townspeople work out an arrangement to provide food until after the big fight. The political background is introduced subtly as the story opens with the funeral of the first person to die of natural causes in this town for a long time. Violence, censorship, and political repression are a given, as is the pervasive poverty. The colonel continues passing out the literature in his son’s place and waiting for his pension. His dignity sustains him in the face of starvation.
The dialogues between the colonel and his practical wife of many years are woven through the...
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