The General in His Labyrinth Summary
The General in His Labyrinth, by Gabriel García Márquez, begins with Simón Bolívar, also known as “the General,” getting ready to leave Colombia for Europe. García Márquez shows a more human, flawed side of Bolívar than is usually seen, and this depiction received a mixed response. Bolívar leaves Colombia, traveling the Magdalena River, and it is obvious that he is deteriorating. His health is poor, and he is not as revered as he once was. During his trip, he meets up with an old friend, is stopped by police (then, when they believe he is still the president, they celebrate him), and learns of the upheaval of the government he has left behind. This is devastating to him and fills him with a sense of futility. Eventually, he dies, his attempt to go to Europe having failed. Throughout the novel (which is a fictionalized version of events that really did take place in the last months of Bolívar’s life), Bolívar reflects on his life and time as President and liberator, giving new depth and imagination to the story of Bolívar’s life.
In keeping with the narrative structure of some of his other works of fiction—One Hundred Years of Solitude in particular—the text of The General in His Labyrinth begins with the story’s ending, when General Simón Bolívar is facing the end of his career and life. The reader is introduced to an aging, frail Bolívar, who is a mere shadow of the legendary figure he once was. Against the backdrop of his own native land, García Márquez weaves the fantastic and grotesque into a fictionalized tale of the hero’s last days, bringing to life a very human portrait of this legendary figure and the culture he helped create.
The story takes place as Bolívar travels along the Magdalena River, his journey along which acts as a metaphor for the hero’s psychological and emotional journey. As he follows the river’s winding path, he reflects—sometimes lucidly, sometimes not—on the events of his life and the achievements and failures he has met. Following his resignation as president, the real-life Bolívar had set out along the Magdalena River to travel to the coast and eventually make his way to Europe. García Márquez’s fictionalized version of the hero follows the same path and with the same results: He never makes it to the end of this journey, dying before he reaches the coast and relieving himself of the impossible decision to leave the land of which he is so much a part.
The story speaks to the cultural lore and legends passed down to García Márquez by his grandfather and others around whom he grew up. Though by the time of García Márquez’s youth Bolívar was no longer the predominant contemporary heroic figure, the legendary status of El Libertador (The Liberator) lives on to this day and helps...
(The entire section is 757 words.)