Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Certainly The Autumn of the Patriarch is a political novel concerning the nature of the paradigmatic Latin American dictator. Yet it is less a novel that focuses on particular political realities than it is about the most universal truth that underlies the nature of all political reality: the truth of absolute power. Moreover, it is about the need of the people to create a supernatural leader, a kind of demigod who, although his decisions are often arbitrary, still represents a sense of destiny and a source of control or responsibility for all the seemingly unpredictable absurdities that dominate life. It is a book about power and the ultimate solitude of power: He is ultimately alone, less in control than controlled by the demands and expectations of those who created him to fulfill their own needs.

Although there are indeed social themes in this novel—where petty corruption is magnified to the gigantic, where there are dark hints at the threat of American imperialism, and where the fundamental unjustness of the rigid economic and class distinctions in Latin America are revealed— The Autumn of the Patriarch is ultimately not a political novel. Rather, it is a grotesque lyric poem, a richly metaphoric and mythical experience that overpowers the reader who has the fortitude and the dedication required to read it and become lost in its comic absurdity and its horrific reality. Reading the book is like being caught up in an obsession of the invisible presence that has created it, for the reader who allows the rhythm of the poetic prose of the work to engulf him becomes carried away by the continuous and unrelenting assault on his sense of reality. The Autumn of the Patriarch is a book so richly and completely imaginative that it seems to be a palpable embodiment of the mind of García Márquez; indeed, the author has called it an autobiography in code, a confession, “the only book I always wanted to write and never could.”