One Hundred Years of Solitude operates in several dimensions, and “solitude” can occupy a central place in any of them. Macondo is a tiny town with a heavy burden: a microcosm of the author’s native Colombia, of Latin America, and even the entire “underdeveloped” world, its name has become a metaphor for post-independence, neocolonial neglect and exploitation. At the other extreme, each character experiences solitude in particular ways, so it can be taken literally as their physical condition. Emotionally and psychologically as well, solitude can stand for alienation as the existential status of modern humans.
Macondo experiences the changes of modern society, but irregularly. When García Márquez introduces modern elements, he often presents them as fantastic, or exaggerates some of their qualities in the eyes of the people who first behold but do not understand them. As time passes and capitalism, epitomized by the banana plantation, takes firm hold, its benefits do not reach everyone. The people experience the tantalizing frustration of the fruits of the modern world. The author tells us that “the inhabitants of Macondo [were] in a permanent alteration between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation . . . ,” that is, an incomplete modernity. That disappointment and doubt also equate to their solitude.
Some of the specific characters are isolated in their ignorant bliss. Remedios the beauty, for example, is so disconnected and otherworldly that she actually floats away. Others, such as Col. Buendía, experience solitude through his constant, unsuccessful efforts at leadership, and the losses of those around him. The two parts of the title are most poignantly joined, however, in Dona Ursula. As she outlives most of her family and becomes irrelevant to the younger members, and loses her vision so she can no longer behold this world, she literally experiences solitude. In living to be 100 years old herself, she is a human metaphor for the nation’s history in much the same way Macondo is a geographical metaphor.