Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407
Chronicling the history of a family that begins with José Arcadio Buendía and ends with Aureliano Babilonia one hundred years later, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the history of the fictional town of Macondo. One Hundred Years of Solitude is also, in a sense, one hundred years’ history of Colombia as well. The work mixes the magical and the factual in a manner that is as true to human experience as the purely factual is.
José Arcadio Buendía marries his cousin, Úrsula, despite their fear of engendering a child with a pig’s tail. They have three healthy children: Aureliano, José Arcadio, and Amaranta. Each of these names reappears in subsequent generations, but Aureliano predominates, the first Aureliano fathering eighteen Aurelianos of his own, one with his wife and seventeen others with seventeen different women encountered during his stint as Colonel Buendía in the Colombian civil war.
José Arcadio develops a friendship with a traveling gypsy, Melquíades, who often brings the future to Macondo with him. He introduces José Arcadio to the magnet, the telescope, and ice. Melquíades also leaves a manuscript written in a strange language. Succeeding generations of Buendía men return to this manuscript, seeking to decipher it. The manuscript’s meaning is not clear until the birth of the last Buendía, son of Aureliano Babilonia, grandson of Aureliano Segundo, and Amaranta Úrsula, whom Aureliano discovers is his aunt. Their child is born with a pig’s tail, and as predicted in Melquíades’ manuscript, is carried off by ants. The last living Buendía, Aureliano, spends his final moments reading the manuscript, written in Sanskrit, which turns out to be the entire history of the Buendía family, written by the gypsy a hundred years before it happened. The novel closes with Macondo, and Aureliano Babilonia, disappearing in a biblical whirlwind along with the once-future history of the family.
Identity is at the center of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Characters often share the same name, and names change to suit personal identity. Colonel Aureliano Buendía, for example, ceases to be Aurelito when he becomes a soldier. Nicknames, such as Remedios the Beauty, become more memorable than full names. The living talk with the dead, whose identities endure. One Hundred Years of Solitude remains a central work of Latin American literature and one of its most appreciated novels, encompassing all Latin America in its pages.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 663
One Hundred Years of Solitude traces the Buendía family dynasty through six generations of chaotic decline. Family patriarch José Arcadio Buendía founds the almost-perfect town of Macondo with three hundred inhabitants, all under age thirty. A man of “unbridled imagination” who always goes “beyond the genius of nature and even beyond miracles and magic,” José Arcadio devotes his life to the quest for knowledge, but he is finally overwhelmed by the intensity of his own pursuit and spends his last days chained to a chestnut tree, preaching in Latin against the existence of God.
José Arcadio’s son, Colonel Aureliano, shepherds Macondo into a period of political rebellion and conflict reminiscent of the civil wars that were part of the lore and culture of García Márquez’s youth. A giant American fruit company develops the town, but worker exploitation erupts in a violent strike, and thousands are killed in a secret massacre. Úrsula, matriarch of the family and José Arcadio’s wife, struggles to save the family from an evil destiny for more than 130 years. Her death, however, signals the demise of the family and of Macondo. At the end, the two surviving Buendías together conceive a child, who is born with the prophesied curly tail of a pig. Both the child and his mother die, leaving the father alone.
Until its final pages, the novel seems to be written from the perspective of an omniscient author. At the conclusion, the reader learns that the story has been the unfolding of the prophecy made by the old gypsy Melquíades, who had long ago recorded the history of the Buendías family in Sanskrit. As his final act, the father—sole survivor of the family, as well as of the town of Macondo—deciphers the parchments of Melquíades. He begins to read of the very instant that he is living, “prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last pages of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror.” He realizes that at the precise instant that he finishes reading, the entire story will be wiped from the memory of humankind and that it will never be repeated, because “races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
Thus, the novel becomes a world that both gives birth to, and consumes, itself. The main theme is solitude, humankind’s destiny in a universe that it can never completely comprehend or control, and the novel has been interpreted as a family saga, as a history in microcosm of Colombia, and even as an epic myth of the human experience moving from the paradise of Eden to the apocalypse. With majestic irony and magic, García Márquez interweaves details of everyday life with the fantastic to create such memorable images as a plague of insomnia that afflicts the whole town; Remedios the Beauty, who rises to heaven still clutching the bedsheets that she was hanging out to dry; and a cloud of yellow butterflies, which follow Mauricio Babilonia everywhere he goes. Although grounded in Latin American history, this work employs facts and figures to suit poetic purposes. For example, García Márquez expands the number of people who actually died in the United Fruit Company strike of 1928 from seventeen to more than three thousand to reflect popular Latin American legend, and as a hyperbole reflecting a vast number of bodies—enough bodies to fill a train.
This novel circles and recircles. García Márquez describes José Arcadio Buendía as one with enough lucidity to sense that time can stumble and have accidents, and therefore splinter and leave an “eternalized fragment” in a room. In this novel, darting back and forth between visions and memories of generations, García Márquez bends both time and space to create his own eternalized fragment of reality. Critics worldwide have hailed this masterpiece as Magical Realism at its best.