Layers of Meaning in One Hundred Years of Solitude
Henningfeld is an associate professor at Adrian College. In the following essay, she explores the layers of meaning in the novel, noting the ways in which Garcia Marquez intertwines myth, history, and literary theory to create a work that is at once readable and complex.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterpiece, Cien anos de soledad was published in Buenos Aires in 1967. The English translation, One Hundred Years of Solitude, prepared for Harper and Row by Gregory Rabassa, appeared in 1970. Several noted Latin American writers applauded the book even before its publication, and post-publication response was universally positive. The novel has been translated into twenty-six languages and continues to enjoy both popular and critical acclaim.
Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, on March 6, 1928. For the first eight years of his life, he lived with his grandparents. He credits his grandmother for his ability to tell stories, and for giving him the narrative voice he needed to write One Hundred Years of Solitude.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel that is at once easily accessible to the reader and, at the same time, very difficult to analyze. The book has an effective plot that propels the reader forward. Simultaneously, the book functions on no less than five or six different levels. Any reading concentrating on one level may not do justice to the others. Consequently, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that demands careful and multiple readings.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer, calls One Hundred Years of Solitude a "'total' novel, in the tradition of those insanely ambitious creations which aspire to compete with reality on an equal basis, confronting it with an image and qualitatively matching it in vitality, vastness and complexity." Other critics have commented on the multi-layered nature of the book, noting that Garcia Marquez intertwines myth, history, ideology, social commentary, and literary theory to produce this "total" novel. Although the book needs to be considered as a whole creation, it may also be helpful to examine a few of these layers individually in order to deepen appreciation for the whole.
One of the most common ways of viewing the novel is through myth. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez weaves references to classical and Biblical myths. Myths are important stories that develop in a culture to help the culture understand itself and its relationship to the world. For example, nearly every culture has a myth concerning the origin of the world and of the culture. In addition, myths often contain elements of the supernatural to help explain the natural world. One Hundred Years of Solitude opens with the creation story of Macondo. Certainly, there are echoes of the Biblical Garden of Eden in the opening lines: "The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point." In addition, the years of rain that fall on Macondo and the washing away of the village recall myths of the great flood, when all civilization was swept away.
Scholars who study myth have identified characters who fulfill certain functions in myths across cultures. These character-types are often called "archetypes" because they seem to present a pattern. For example, the patriarch is a male character who often leads his family to a new home and who is responsible for the welfare of his people. Jose Arcadio Buendia is a representative of this type. Other archetypal characters in the novel include the matriarch, represented by Ursula, and the virgin, represented by Remedios the Beauty. Petra Cotes and Pilar Ternera, with their blatant sexuality and fertility as well as their connection to fortune-telling, serve as archetypal witches.
Further, many myths have patterns that repeat themselves over and over. Likewise, the novel presents pattern after pattern, from the language Garcia Marquez uses to the repetitive nature of the battles fought by Colonel Aureliano Buendia, to...
(The entire section is 7,487 words.)