Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although the background for the story is la violencia, the protracted civil war in Colombia, and although the colonel’s problems stem from being a member of the losing party in that civil war, this is not a political novel except in an indirect way. Although García Márquez is a committed leftist, he is by no means a propagandist. His interest in this novel is in the heroic dignity of his protagonist and in his work’s carefully controlled style—the style of the colonel himself. The atmosphere of the story is more pervasive than the social world of political repression and futile underground resistance would seem to suggest. It is a world of decadence and decay as concretely felt as the world of William Faulkner, yet it is a world of individual pride and understatement as pure as the style of Ernest Hemingway.

Although the past in the story is as distant as the sixty years previous when the colonel was a young man in the army, it is as close as the moth-eaten old umbrella which the colonel’s wife won in a raffle many years earlier. The only thing that it is good for now, says the colonel, is “counting the stars,” but he has only two stars to count, and to count on—the hoped-for pension check and the prizewinning rooster. The bird becomes the most immediate symbol of hope for the colonel. Although he knows that it is his only source of capital, he also knows that it has more important value than staving off hunger for a few more months. Because it belonged to his dead son and because it increasingly represents the emotional hope of the village, he holds on to it and waits for the coming cockfights.

Although this short novel is more realistic than One Hundred Years of Solitude, it is nevertheless distinguished by the hybrid of fable and fact, dream and gritty reality which characterizes that epoch-making work and which led to the Nobel Prize for García Márquez in 1982.