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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,070 words.)