Last Updated on September 1, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 890
Gabriel García Márquez is known for his use of solitude as an overarching motif in his work. This motif most famously occurs in the fictional South American town of Macondo, the setting of several of Márquez’s short stories and of the author’s landmark novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Macondo is depicted as a once magical place that has been gutted by modern capitalist practices—a town isolated, or left in solitude, by the modern world.
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While not explicitly stated in the text, the setting of “One of These Days” may be Macondo or a similar town. Certainly, it feels isolated from the rest of the world, and an atmosphere of solitude pervades it. There are only three characters: Aurelio, Aurelio’s unnamed son, and the unnamed mayor, but—apart from the mention of Aurelio’s neighbor’s house—there is little indication of the other townsfolk’s existence. While there are three characters, the central conflict is between only the mayor and Aurelio. Aurelio’s son appears for a brief period in the story, and even then he only serves as a means for readers to gauge Aurelio’s combative yet resigned relationship with the mayor. The detached way in which Aurelio’s son is treated makes it seem almost as though he is not there, or at least of no consequence.
Solitude is further developed throughout the narrative via several images associated with death. Early in the story, Aurelio notices two buzzards on the roof of the house next door to his own. Buzzards are carrion birds whose presence often indicates that something or someone has recently died, and they are often found in barren, arid places. As the mayor leaves the office, he notices a cobweb with dead insects suspended in it. The most prominent indicator of death occurs as Aurelio is pulling the mayor’s tooth and states that the mayor will pay for the deaths of twenty men. These images suggest that while the town may have once been a thriving place, like Macondo, this sense of life has been replaced with death and nothingness. All that exists in the story is the dilapidated dentist’s office and the bitter relationship between the dentist and his patient, as well as the marginal presence of a nameless son.
This sense of solitude is amplified by a mood of resignation exemplified by all the characters in the story. The characters do not seem entirely aware of their surroundings, almost as though they are lost in their own thoughts. This idea begins to develop early in the story, when Aurelio is described as being like one who is deaf, enveloped mindlessly in the work of polishing teeth. When he charges his son with telling the mayor to come in and shoot him, he has protection—a gun in his desk drawer—but does not embellish his challenge to the mayor with strong words. There is no indication of worry or heightened emotion in the dialogue, just as Aurelio’s son does not change his expression or tone when he comes in to tell his father of the mayor’s threat. It is as though Aurelio is shrugging his shoulders when he issues the challenge, at once aware that the mayor will not follow through on the threat and also not particularly concerned with the possibility of dying. The dead insects in the cobweb and the crumbling ceiling are not only a reminder of death and decay, but show that Aurelio may not be aware of everything happening in his office, or more precisely, that he does not care.
Like Aurelio, the mayor is not concerned with keeping up appearances. He does not button his tunic when he leaves the office, and his final line—that his money and the town’s are “the same damn thing”—might also be said with a shrug of the shoulders. He is not flaunting his wealth. The use of the word “damn” can be read as dismissive or angry, as though the mayor himself is fed up with the town’s circumstances, even if he does not seek to change them. These characters who seem slightly “off” contribute to the story’s mood of solitude, as readers may find it difficult to relate to them or to fully grasp their sparsely described interactions. The characters’ thoughts, for the most part, are their own, and their actions seem almost to stem from a form of resigned nihilism rather than from any concrete or explicable motivation.
The title of the story is also worth considering, as it is not entirely clear to what the title refers. The phrase “one of these days” typically refers to something anticipated but deferred until an unknown time. In this case, it may be that the dentist (or the town) is awaiting better leadership or the fall of a regime, or it may refer to the mayor receiving his comeuppance. In either case, the title indicates that both are deferred. The mayor goes free, appropriating the town’s money for his own personal use, and Aurelio’s briefly exacted revenge has not changed the mayor or made up for the twenty dead men. If justice is to be served, it is put off by the end of the story until “one of these days.”