Gabriel García Márquez Márquez, Gabriel García (Vol. 27) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gabriel García Márquez 1928–

Colombian novelist, short story writer, journalist, and screenwriter.

Nobel laureate García Márquez is among the Latin American writers who rose to prominence during the 1960s, a flowering referred to as "El Boom." Like Julio Cortázar and Ernesto Sábato, García Márquez had been writing fiction for a number of years before gaining international attention. The almost simultaneous publication of major works by these three authors, along with the appearance of skillful first novels by Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa and the established importance of Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda, led to a recognition of Latin American letters as a potent force in modern literature. The enthusiastic popular and critical reception of García Márquez is based on the social realism and the political implications of his works along with his narrative technique of "magic realism." While setting his stories within a socially realistic framework, García Márquez embellishes them with surreal events and fantastic imagery, blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality.

García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia, and lived there the first eight years of his life with his grandparents. The storytelling of his grandmother, the long decline and subsequent decay of Aracataca, and the myths and superstitions of its citizens all played roles in shaping García Márquez's imagination. While in college he became a journalist, which led to travels throughout South America, Europe, and the United States. During these years he composed short shories in which he laid the foundations of Macondo, a mythical village based on Aracataca. Macondo, with its richness of local color and characters, is comparable to William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Years later, in his acceptance speech for the 1982 Nobel Prize in literature, García Márquez acknowledged Faulkner as his master. García Márquez's early short stories, considered his least successful work, are experiments of a Kafkaesque nature that fail, according to Vargas Llosa, simply because they do not tell a story. But with "Los funerales de la Mamá Grande" (1962; "Big Mama's Funeral"), he successfully fused realism with myth and fantasy, lending a social and political dimension to fantastic events.

García Márquez first won critical recognition with El coronel no tiene quién le escriba (1968; No One Writes to the Colonel). This novella was especially praised for its insight into the condition of solitude as depicted in the character of a retired colonel who waits in vain but with unflagging determination for his pension, sustained by dreams which eventually become illusions. La mala hora (1962; In Evil Hour), García Márquez's first novel, was a major event in Colombian literature. Its montage-like presentation of a backwater town torn both by political oppression and moral corruption was an artistic success, while also documenting la violencia, a state of violence that raged through Colombia in the 1950s.

With the publication of Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude), García Márquez won immediate international acclaim. The novel depicts the history of Macondo, from its founding by José Arcadia Buendía to its decline through six generations of his descendants. Solitude presents Macondo as a microcosm of the country of Colombia, the continent of South America, and, by symbolic extension, as representative of the history of the world "from Eden to Apocalypse." As well as reflecting the political, social, and economic ills of South America, replete with fantastic events like the birth of a baby that has a pig's tail, the novel's labyrinthine structure, achieved in part by nonlinear development, long, free-flowing sentences, and epic scope, helped make Solitude a stylistic tour de force. El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch), his next novel, depicts the evils of despotism as embodied in a commanding and unloved dictator, with solitude again emerging as the theme. Patriarch proved to be a powerful political statement on totalitarianism. In addition, it was another stylistic triumph for García Márquez, presenting a phantasmagoric narrative through frequent shifts of viewpoint and extensive use of hyperbole to further enhance both comedic and horrific effects.

Following the publication of Patriarch, García Márquez vowed not to publish any new fiction until the Pinochet regime of Chile was either disbanded or overthrown. After six years, he published Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1982; Chronicle of a Death Foretold), a journalistic investigation of a murder twenty-seven years in the past that involved people with whom García Márquez was acquainted. With its constant juxtaposing of eyewitness accounts that ultimately prove unreliable, its shifting time sequences, and the surreal quality of its setting, Chronicle recounts the dreary presentiment of a tragedy that is fostered rather than averted by the inhabitants of a backwater community. Critics believe the novella reveals a people trapped in their own myths, unable to overcome the outmoded customs of their forebears or, perhaps, unable to triumph over fate. Chronicle provides another example of García Márquez's successful innovations in style and structure combined with the presentation of social realities.

With his successful fusion of social issues and magic realism, the universal implications he draws from events that occur in Macondo, and his successful experiments, García Márquez helped to reinvigorate the novel at a time when its death had been foretold.

(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 8, 10, 15; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 10; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1982.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At a time of dire predictions about the future of the novel, García Márquez's prodigious imagination, remarkable compositional precision, and wide popularity provide evidence that the genre is still thriving. Although his dramatizations of the sinister forces threatening twentieth-centùry life imply strong moral indignation, his works are illumined by flashes of irony and the belief that human values are perennial. The amazing totality of his fictional world is also achieved through the contrapuntal juxtaposition of objective reality and poetic fantasy that captures simultaneously the essence of both Latin American and universal man. (p. 6)

García Márquez's approach to fiction indicates that he has come full circle in at least one respect, namely, in his depiction of subjective states of mind reminiscent of surrealism. Thus, whereas his early short stories are characterized by hermetic morbidity and fantasy, his [The Autumn of the Patriarch] is the most lyrically conceived to date. During the intervening years he has sharpened his literary tools and emerged as a mature, consummate craftsman, the result of extensive reading and experimentation with a wide variety of styles and techniques. The vision of Macondo set forth in Leaf Storm reveals possible influences of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf; Hemingway's aesthetic ideals are brought to mind by "Tuesday Siesta," "One of These Days," and No One Writes to the Colonel; other fine pieces such as "Baltazar's Marvelous Afternoon" and "Big Mama's Funeral" point the way toward the perfect synthesis of realism and fantasy displayed in the internationally acclaimed masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude; and the most recent works depict a world in which lyricism and fantasy predominate.

García Márquez's fictional universe consists of three major settings: "the town," Macondo, and a seaside village, or, in the case of The Autumn of the Patriarch, a large seaport. Although solitude emerges as his most important theme, "the town" is also the scene of la violencia. The other two settings provide the backdrop for the recurring cycle of birth, boom, decay, and death. Time plays an important role in García Márquez's works, the horrors of lineal history serving to convey the failure of man's political, social, and religious institutions. On the other hand, the repetitive patterns and rhythmic momentum generated by mythical time create a mytho-poetic atmosphere that blurs sordid reality and thrusts the reader into a kind of temporal void where the laws of cause and effect tend to become meaningless.

García Márquez's displays his mastery of irony and wry humor in No One Writes to the Colonel, the protagonist of which emerges as an absurd hero struggling against impossible odds. The subsequent works reveal a trend toward a more Rabelaisian type of humor, with greater emphasis on the absurdities of human existence. These attacks on the tenets of reason are more than likely intended to unveil the other side of reality and in this way question the outmoded conventions that have spawned the disasters of the twentieth century. An antirational outlook on the world is also expressed stylistically through the inordinately long, rambling sentences and jarring shifts in the point of view in "The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship" and "Blancamán the Good, Vendor of Miracles." In addition "The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship" presents a schizophrenic view of reality, depending primarily on contrasting images to reflect the protagonist's extreme alienation. The culmination of these tendencies is reached in The Autumn...

(The entire section is 1498 words.)

Gregory Rabassa

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When Gabriel García Márquez announced that he was abandoning literature for journalism until the Pinochet dictatorship disappeared from Chile, people expected him to keep his word, and many were surprised when he published Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold). He was not really breaking his pledge, however, as can be seen from what he said in an interview with Rosa E. Peláez and Cino Colina published in Granma (Havana) and reprinted in Excelsior of Mexico City (31 December 1977). In the interview he is asked what aspect of journalism he likes best, and his answer is reporting. He is subsequently asked about the crónica genre and answers that it is all a...

(The entire section is 2200 words.)

Salman Rushdie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The opening sentence of Rushdie's essay purposely imitates García Márquez's writing style.]

We had suspected for a long time that the man Gabriel was capable of miracles, because for many years he had talked too much about angels for someone who had no wings, so that when the miracle of the printing presses occurred we nodded our heads knowingly, but of course the foreknowledge of his sorcery did not release us from its power, and under the spell of that nostalgic witchcraft we arose from our wooden benches and garden swings and ran without once drawing breath to the place where the demented printing presses were breeding books faster than fruitflies, and the books leapt into our hands...

(The entire section is 2166 words.)

Bill Buford

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gabriel García Márquez has repeatedly expressed his surprise at being so insistently regarded as a writer of fantastic fiction. That exotic or "magical" element so characteristic of his work is, by his account, not really his own achievement. It is merely the reality of Latin America, which he has faithfully transcribed in more or less the same way that he might write about it in, say, an ordinary article written for a daily newspaper. On a number of occasions, in fact, Márquez has said that for him there is no real difference between the writing of journalism and the writing of fiction—both are committed to the rigours of realistic representation—and his own ideal of the novel involves as much reportage as...

(The entire section is 897 words.)

David Hughes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One hundred pages of quality make [Chronicle of a Death Foretold] a fiction that reverberates far beyond its modest length. The story is a mere incident. In a waterfront town on the Caribbean a self-contained youth called Santiago Nasar will be, was, and indeed is being, stabbed to death with meat knives. This event takes place in gory detail on the last few pages. It is the sole preoccupation of the pages in between. And on the first we more or less know that it has already happened. So the suspense is not acute….

Not so much marching forward as marking time, the narrative continuum continually drifts more back than forth, rescuing the story piece by piece from the memory of policemen,...

(The entire section is 637 words.)

William H. Gass

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Chronicle of a Death Foretold does not tell, but literally pieces together, the torn-apart body of a story: that of the multiple murder of a young, handsome, wealthy, womanizing Arab, Santiago Nasar, who lived in the town where Gabriel García Márquez grew up. The novel is not, however, the chronicle of a young and vain man's death, for that event is fed to us in the bits it comes in. It is instead the chronicle of the author's discovery and determination of the story and simultaneously a rather gruesome catalogue of the many deaths—in dream, in allegory, and by actual count—that Santiago Nasar is compelled to suffer. Had he had a cat's lives, it would not have saved him.

It is his author...

(The entire section is 1125 words.)

Joseph Epstein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

How good is Gabriel García Márquez? "Define your terms," I can hear some wise undergraduate reply. "What do you mean by is?" Yet I ask the question in earnest. Over the past weeks I have been reading García Márquez's four novels and three collections of stories—all of his work available in English translation—and I am still not certain how good he is. If I were to be asked how talented, I have a ready answer: pound for pound, as they used to put it in Ring magazine, Gabriel García Márquez may be the most talented writer at work in the world today. But talent is one thing; goodness, or greatness, quite another.

Valéry says somewhere that there ought to be a world to describe...

(The entire section is 3358 words.)

Anthony Burgess

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have two problems in assessing this brief work [Chronicle of a Death Foretold] by the latest Nobel Prizeman. The first relates to the fact that I've read it in translation, and any judgment on the quality of García Márquez's writing that I would wish to make is necessarily limited. Mr. Rabassa's rendering is smooth and strong with an inevitable North American flavor, but it is English, and García Márquez writes in a very pungent and individual Spanish. The second problem is the one that always comes up when a writer has received the final international accolade: dare one be wholly frank? Dare one set one's critical judgment up against what, though it is really only the verdict of a committee of literati...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Selden Rodman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In much of his work [Gabriel García Márquez] has turned his hometown into a dream kingdom of shattered expectations built on nostalgia; Macondo is bereft of idealism, visions of a better world, calls to arms. These attitudes are seen as part of an old order that must be stripped away to get at the long-concealed truth….

Before [Chronicle of a Death Foretold] came The Autumn of the Patriarch, a monologue of a dying tyrant based on the life of Juan Vicente Gómez of Venezuela, whose crimes had been magnified into myth in the mouths of refugees to Aracataca during the novelist's childhood. The book's highly praised style was baroque and convoluted. García Márquez implausibly defends...

(The entire section is 721 words.)

D. Keith Mano

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Chronicle of a Death Foretold] is, at one level, a simile for the fiction-making process. Here we are given events that, in some genuine sense, exist—lie formed by history—before they occur. And a townful of people—through their action, thought, custom, laziness, pride, willful negligence, through their unconscious art—create this plot-which-was-real. The irony is: that having created it, they cannot avert it. No second draft is possible: even in art, where free will would seem to be most free, a determinism, a manifest destiny, still presides. (p. 699)

A nameless narrator has come back. (Some 27 years, mind you, after Santiago Nasar was turned to human piecework.) Neither he...

(The entire section is 671 words.)