The Autumn of the Patriarch Summary
by Gabriel García Márquez

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The Autumn of the Patriarch Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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The Autumn of the Patriarch, published eight years after Gabriel García Márquez’s highly praised Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), was a novel for which both general readers and critics had waited. It was, however, a project that García Márquez had put aside earlier to write One Hundred Years of Solitude because, as he has commented, he was writing it at first without any clear idea of what he was doing. García Márquez has said that he got the idea for writing the work two or three days after the fall of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, when the ruling junta met. He was in the anteroom of the presidential office with other journalists when an officer in battle fatigues came out walking backward with a machine gun in his hand and mud on his boots. It was at that moment, García Márquez reveals, that he had a sudden insight into the mystery of power.

Consequently, he wanted to write a “poem on the solitude of power,” in which a mythical Latin American dictator would be used as an embodiment of many such dictators, from “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti to Juan Vicente Gómez of Venezuela. His first attempt at the structure of the book—a long monologue by the aged dictator as he is waiting to be executed—he abandoned for the existing polyphonic structure of a multitude of blending voices in six sections that make the book begin and end in a spiral fashion with the discovery of the patriarch’s body. The result is a difficult book to read, for each of the six episodes of which it is composed is a single paragraph. There are no other breaks in the novel, and many of the sentences go on for several pages in a run-on, seemingly rambling and disconnected fashion, much like some of the novels of William Faulkner or the stream-of-consciousness works of James Joyce. The stylistic experiment of the book goes even further than Faulkner or Joyce, however, for the point of view of the work shifts constantly, sometimes even within a single line, from first-person participant to third-person author to first-person-plural choral response. García Márquez has called The Autumn of the Patriarch the most experimental of his novels and the one that interests him most as a poetic adventure; it is, he says, a book that he wrote like a poem, word by word, sometimes spending weeks on a few lines.

The novel begins with the discovery of the body of the aged patriarch pecked at by vultures and sprouting parasitic animals. Yet because he has not been seen by anyone in many years, and because this is the second time he has been found dead (the first time was with the death of Patricio Aragonés, his exact double), those who find him are not sure if he indeed is the dictator. Although the patriarch’s entire life—from birth, to ascendancy to power, to marriage, to suspected coups, to examples of his autocratic and magical rule—is recounted in the six chapters of the work, the primary plot line (if that is possible in such a multifaceted novel as this) focuses on the twenty-four-hour period from the discovery of the body to the final celebration and jubilation at the end of the book.

There is no real sense of chronological time in the novel, for the various voices which recount the events that characterize the patriarch’s life blend into a kind of grotesque tone-poem in which time becomes a mythical cycle, ranging throughout the supposed two centuries of the patriarch’s mythic life and even beyond to one scene when the patriarch looks out the window and sees the ships of Columbus beside a battleship of modern-day marines. Yet this world of mythic reality, like the world of many of García Márquez’s other...

(The entire section is 996 words.)