Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372

This novella is about an elderly colonel in Colombia during a time of martial law and his asthmatic wife. Their son, Augustin, is presumed dead, killed for passing out subversive literature at a cockpit. The colonel and his wife possess a rooster who is doted on by the other villagers....

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This novella is about an elderly colonel in Colombia during a time of martial law and his asthmatic wife. Their son, Augustin, is presumed dead, killed for passing out subversive literature at a cockpit. The colonel and his wife possess a rooster who is doted on by the other villagers. The townspeople are saving their money to bet on the rooster.

As the story opens, the colonel is about to attend a funeral that is the first for a person who died of natural causes in many years. Every Friday, the colonel collects his mail, hoping for the arrival of his pension check, but it never arrives. Collecting his mail, he meets the local physician, who lends him the government-sanctioned newspapers. The physician comes to the colonel's house to treat the colonel's wife but refuses to take money for his services. He hands the colonel clandestine news in an envelope and asks the colonel to pass it along to Augustin's compatriots in the anti-government movement. Each week, the colonel goes to collect his pension, but he waits in vain, as he has been doing for fifteen years. Sixty years before, the colonel had been a revolutionary officer who had laid down his arms against the government.

The colonel is forced to try to sell his belongings, including his clock and picture, to support himself, his wife, and his rooster. Sabas, a local corrupt politician who is Augustin's godfather, tells the colonel that he can arrange to sell the rooster for nine hundred pesos. However, when the colonel returns to Sabas, the politician says he can only get the colonel four hundred pesos. The colonel then sees a man named Alvaro, who passes him a clandestine note from Augustin, who is alive but in hiding. The colonel passes by a cockfight in which he realizes his rooster is fighting, and when the rooster emerges from the fight, people applaud. The colonel decides not to sell the rooster, as he believes it belongs to the entire town. He decides to wait forty-four days until the cockfight to collect the twenty percent owed to him as owner of the rooster. When his wife asks what they will eat until that point, the colonel answers, "shit."

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591

The plot of this short novel is quite simple. The elderly and impoverished colonel has been waiting for fifteen years to receive a pension check for his service in the army. The cultural context of the story is during what is known as la violencia, a civil war between liberals and conservatives in Colombia that lasted from the late 1940’s into the 1960’s. Nine months previous to the opening of the story, the colonel’s son, Agustín, had been killed at a cockfight for distributing secret political literature. The colonel is torn between his desire to keep his son’s prizefighting cock in order to enter it into the cockfights in January and his need to sell it to provide food for himself and his wife. The story focuses primarily on the colonel’s pride in trying to conceal his indigent state and his often ironic and bitterly humorous response to his situation.

The central metaphors in the story are the pension, which never arrives, but for which the colonel never ceases to hope, and the fighting cock, which also represents hope, as well as his son’s, and thus the whole village’s, political rebellion. In desperation, he does decide to sell the cock to the exploiter Sabas, who gives him considerably less money than he originally promised. When the villagers snatch the bird and enter it in the trial fights and the colonel sees that it lives up to its reputation as a prizefighter, he decides to give the money back and keep the bird. Even though his wife nags him to change his mind, he holds out, realizing that the animal belongs to the whole community. When his wife asks him what they will eat until the time of the cockfights, he replies with an expletive that ends the story.

Although the story is lacking in plot—mainly concerned as it is with the colonel’s stoic pride, his wife’s nagging, the venality of Sabas, the tense political situation of a people under martial law—the character of the colonel sustains the reader’s interest. The atmosphere of the story is also arresting, for it seems summed up by the colonel’s intestinal complaints—“the colonel experienced the feeling that fungus and poisonous lilies were taking root in his gut”—and his wife’s remark—“We’re rotting alive.”

Moreover, no summary of the events of the story can adequately account for the sense of a fully contained fictional world created here—a world as completely realized as that of William Faulkner, one of García Márquez’s admitted influences. It is not the plot that makes this story powerful, but rather the combination of understated realism with a sense of a folklore reality that creates a unique combination which has been called “magical realism” by some critics. Although there is little background for the simple events which make up the story, García Márquez’s recognized masterpiece, Cien años de soledad (1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), provides a complete picture of the mysterious world of superstition, fantasy, and stark reality which the colonel inhabits. Finally, what characterizes the story is the understated style of the third-person limited point of view, which filters the fictional world through the mind of the characters, and the laconic speech of the colonel, who, innocent though he may be, is wise in his stoic acceptance of an immediate reality that he cannot change and an ultimate reality that he can only encounter with wit and wry humor.

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