One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez

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What does solitude symbolize in One Hundred Years of Solitude?

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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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.

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Solitude takes on many forms in Marquez's novel.  The Buendia family retreats into solitude for various reasons.  Jose Arcadio Buendia becomes obsessed with science and isolates himself from his family, an obsession that eventually leads to his being tied to a tree.  His son the Colonel becomes isolated by his power.  He draws a circle around him that he allows no one to enter.  His other son Jose Arcadio marries Rebecca, and Ursula forces him to live apart from the rest of the family because she considers his marriage incestuous.

But these are only a few examples.  Each Buendia in his or her own way eventually becomes isolated or alienated either from choice or from circumstances beyond his or her control.  Ursula is example of the latter.  Her old age causes her to shrivel up and eventually become a plaything for her great children.  Throughout the novel, Marquez explores various ideas of expansion and isolation, or solitude.  He shows the need to connect with others, but he also shows the compelling urge to withdraw.  Each Buendia exhibits various motivations for withdrawing from others--disillusionment (Jose Arcadio Segundo), sickness (Jose Areliano Segundo), trauma (Meme), purity and extraordinary beauty (Remedios the Beauty), pretensions (Fernando), incest and lust (Amaranta Ursula), depravity (Jose Arcadio II).  And this compulsion to withdraw eventually has devastating effects on the individual.

Incest is one of the key ways Marquez shows this tendency.  Even though incest is not actually committed except in the first generation of Buendias and in the last, it becomes a metaphor throughout the novel for the family's withdrawal from connecting with the outside world--their solitude.  Colonel Aureliano falls in love with a girl who could be his daughter.  His brother marries a girl whom his mother and father raised.  Amaranta's nephew wants to marry her.  We see the family begin to reject outsiders and retreat into themselves.  When incest does occur at the end of the book between Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula, the family line ends and the baby who is born with a pig's tail dies and Macondo is destroyed.

So, in the novel, solitude means withdrawal, alienation, retreat, and isolation.

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