Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1954
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...
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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 novella and reach a climax at the very end of the story. She presses him to sell the rooster, asking plaintively and persistently what they will eat:It had taken the colonel seventy-five years—the seventy-five years of his life, minute by minute—to reach this moment. He felt pure, explicit, invincible at the moment when he replied: “S—!”
Los funerales de la Mamá Grande
The image of dignity is developed again in the first story of Los funerales de la Mamá Grande, entitled “La siesta del martes” (“Tuesday Siesta”) and also set in Macondo. Said to be García Márquez’s favorite, it tells of a woman and her young daughter who arrive by train in the stifling heat at siesta time. The woman asks the priest to be allowed to visit her son in the cemetery. The young man was shot for being a thief, but she proudly claims him as her own with quiet self-control: “I told him never to steal anything that anyone needed to eat, and he minded me.”
The title story, “Los funerales de la Mamá Grande” (“Big Mama’s Funeral”), still set in Macondo, breaks the tone of the other stories into a technique of hyperbole, which García Márquez later used in One Hundred Years of Solitude to good effect. The opening sentence sets the tone:This is, for all the world’s unbelievers, the true account of Big Mama, absolute sovereign of the Kingdom of Macondo, who lived for ninety-two years, and died in the odor of sanctity one Tuesday last September, and whose funeral was attended by the Pope.
The panorama and parody of the story mention Mama’s power and property in high-sounding phrases, many from journalism. The pageantry is grandiose to the point of the absurd for this powerful individual, a prototype of the patriarch who appears in García Márquez’s later work. She is a legend and local “saint,” who seemed to the local people to be immortal; her death comes as a complete surprise. The story criticizes the manipulation of power but also skillfully satirizes the organized display or public show that eulogizes the holders of power with pomp and empty words. The story ends when the garbage men come and sweep up on the next day.
Innocent Eréndira, and Other Stories
Fantastic elements characterize the collection entitled Innocent Eréndira, and Other Stories. Two of the stories, “Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes” (“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”) and “El ahogado más hermoso del mundo” (“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”), have adult figures who are like toys with which children, and other adults, can play. With the second story, García Márquez also tries a technique of shifting narrators and point of view to be used later in the novel The Autumn of the Patriarch.
A political satire is the basis for another story, “Muerte constante más allá del amor” (“Death Constant Beyond Love”). The situation that forms the basis for the satire is also incorporated into the longer “Innocent Eréndira.” Geographically, in this collection García Márquez has moved inland to the barren landscape on the edge of the Guajiro desert. Here, he sets a type of folktale with an exploited granddaughter, a green-blooded monster of a grandmother, and a rescuing hero named Ulises. Combining myth, allegory, and references from other works, García Márquez weaves a story in which “the wind of her misfortune” determines the life of the extraordinarily passive Eréndira. Treated as a slave and a prostitute by her grandmother, Eréndira persuades Ulises to kill the evil woman—who turns out to be amazingly hard to kill. Throughout the story, García Márquez demonstrates the ability to report the most monstrous things in a matter-of-fact tone. Some critics have pointed out that the exaggeration that seems inherent in many of his tales may have its roots in the extraordinary events and stories that are commonplace in his Latin American world.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, García Márquez blends his experience in journalism with his mastery of technique to tell a story based on an actual event that took place in 1955 in Sucre, where he lived at the time. Using records and witness testimony, he unfolds his story on the lines of a detective story. The incident is based on the revenge taken by Angela Vicario’s brothers on their friend Santiago Nasar, who supposedly took Angela’s virginity (although some doubt is cast on this allegation). The story is pieced together as the townspeople offer their memories of what happened, along with excuses for not having warned the victim. Tension builds as the reader knows the final outcome but not how or why it will occur. The use of dreams (ironically, Nasar’s mother is an interpreter of dreams), the feeling of fatalism, and submission to the code of honor, all of which form a part of this society’s attitudes, play a central role in the novella, as do García Márquez’s use of vision and foreshadowing. Although the basis for the story is a journalistic report of a murder, the actual writing captures the themes of love and death as well as the complex interplay of human emotions and motives in a balanced and poetic account, which reveals García Márquez’s skill as a writer.
Strange Pilgrims picks up the Magical Realism of the earlier short stories, orchestrating twelve works written between 1976 and 1982 so that seven stories, having to do with the death-force of life, are followed by five stories which evoke the vitality of death. The opening story portrays a septuagenarian ex-president whose imminent death proves to be illusory; the seventh story portrays a septuagenarian woman, to whom the approach of death proves to be illusory. In both stories, dying is detailed as a form of intensified living. The second and sixth stories deal with the supernatural, one through a corpse that does not putrefy and the other through a haunted bedroom, and both include Italian settings. The third and fifth stories carry fairy-tale variations: a sleeping beauty who, unkissed, awakes of her own volition, and a lady in distress who, imprisoned in a madhouse, transcends her incarceration. In the fourth story, the umbilicus of the seven, a woman, whose life consists of dreaming, awakens from her dreams only through death. The concluding five stories present, first, two stories of murder—between which is a story of suicide—and two stories dealing with strange fatalities. In one, the wave function of light drowns persons without diving gear; in the other, an apparently negligible rose-thorn prick on a young bride’s ring fingertip inexorably causes her death.