Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655
At the center of this extraordinarily vast yet oddly claustrophobic novel is the Buendia family, whose fortunes--or, more commonly, misfortunes--Garcia Marquez chronicles for the one hundred years of the title and whose story ultimately encapsulates the entire history of mankind, from genesis to apocalypse.
Appropriately, this novel of five generations of Buendias begins with an original sin, the murder of Prudencio Aguilar by the family patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, whose subsequent wanderings lead to the founding of Macondo.
The patriarch’s vision of Macondo as a city of ice situated in a tropical landscape inimical to man never comes to pass. Instead, the city suffers through an insomnia plague, endless revolutions, exploitation by a banana company (modeled on United Fruit), as well as more familiar disasters, including thwarted ambitions and unrequited love. The novel’s central character is not only one family member--not the patriarch enthralled by the wonders of the world beyond Macondo, nor his superstitious yet utterly practical wife Ursula, nor their son, the legendary rebel leader Colonel Aureliano Buendia, nor Remedios, the Beauty who is assumed into heaven while hanging out the wash--but the incestuous family itself, whose history is cyclical, rather than progressive. The same names, personalities, dreams, and failures repeat from generation to generation until both the book and the family come to their fated and sadly lyrical end. Their end is in their beginning, however, in the patriarch’s original sin and, as it turns out, in the (for a time) undecipherable parchments on which the gypsy Melquiades has inscribed the lives that the Buendias have been condemned to live.
Condemned to such an end, they are condemned as well to the love which drives them blindly together and to the solitude that is both their worst punishment and their sole refuge. Time eventually destroys them, but in solitude they defeat time, using their memories to recall and so reclaim the past, to savor what once was and, in the savoring, still is. Solitude isolates each of them from the others, but it also leads them to compassionate understanding of one another. The novel’s characters share this powerful nostalgia as in their more frenetic moments they share the same dreams, obsessions, and loves.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE is a stylistically extravagant tour de force, at once matter-of-fact and magical. Although much praised as the epitome of postmodernist writing, it is also a deeply compassionate novel in which the exuberant storytelling celebrates man’s creative abilities in the face of inevitable catastrophe.
Bell-Villada, Gene H. Gabriel García Márquez: The Man and His Work. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. Definitive book-length study of García Márquez and his work for the North American reader. Contains a twenty-eight-page chapter about One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Gallagher, D. P. “Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia, 1928-).” In Modern Latin American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Gallagher covers several aspects of the work and in the process presents a fine and very readable overview of the novel.
McMurray, George R. Gabriel García Márquez. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977. One Hundred Years of Solitude is the subject of a forty-page chapter discussing diverse topics, including the story’s connection to Colombian history, the use of cyclical and mythical time, humor, and the significance of the novel’s final three pages.
Vázquez Amaral, José. The Contemporary Latin American Narrative. New York: Las Américas, 1970. Topics covered in the chapter on One Hundred Years of Solitude include the novel’s focus on the subject of revolution, the theme of the “solitude of the warrior” once he has attained power, and the possible influence on García Márquez of Mexican writers Elena Garro and Juan Rulfo.
Williams, Raymond L. Gabriel García Márquez. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A twenty-three-page chapter on One Hundred Years of Solitude presents an excellent overview of García Márquez’s masterpiece.