Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude is, at its heart, a meditation on change. The way people, towns, and landscapes change, or do not change is the novel’s main interest. Marquez himself was living in Colombia at the time when the “La Violencia” conflict (which is described in the novel) was raging and altering the country frequently. He accurately imparts, in this novel, the awareness of the fluidity of apparently stable things. Through the genre of magical realism, which puts impossible occurrences right next to the mundane, Marquez uses imagery and many characters to tell his story in a unique way. The passing of time, the nature of memory, and the persistence of solitude are all themes that play into the novel’s exploration of change. One Hundred Years of Solitude effectively conveys these themes through its vivid story of the town of Macondo and the Buendia family that resides there.
The plot of One Hundred Years of Solitude is both varied and simple. It follows the Colombian village of Macondo over a century, and the members of the Buendia family that are born and die there. Because of this vast scope, however, any actual description of the plot is inadequate. Generally speaking, the novel consists of many individual stories and characters. For instance, there is the tale of Remedios the Beauty, who “treated the men without the least bit of malice and in the end upset them with her innocent complaisance” (231). The girl is so alluring that every man who comes into contact with her feels “possessed by a strange fascination, menaced by some invisible danger” (233). This continues until, in true magical realist fashion, Remedios the Beauty is lifted into the air, and flies away. There is also the story of Jose Arcadio Buendia, the founder of Macondo. He is obsessed with the “magical instruments” (8) he believes are right across the river, and spends his life searching to understand the mysteries of life. When he dies, his ghost resides by a chestnut tree in the backyard where his wife comes to speak to him sometimes. Through these interconnected tales, the novel achieves a sort vignette-like quality, but still retains the semblance of a complete novel. By reading many different but subtly similar stories, one gets a larger sense of the people and the town of Macondo, as they grow and wither over time.
The overarching idea of change that is presented in the novel is not apparent at first. It is only towards the middle of the book, once one has read through several generations, gained a perspective of Macondo, and grown familiar with the Buendias that change becomes recognizable. One of the building blocks of change is the theme of the passing of time. The novel covers a long period of time, in which many events and characters alter parts of the town and its inhabitants, while other parts stay constant, as lingering reminders of the past. The sons and grandsons of Aureliano Buendia, for instance, continue to display traits that he and his brother separately had. The old mother Ursula eventually catches on to this pattern. Those named Aureliano turn out to be enterprising, curious, lonesome men, while the Jose Arcadios become physically and emotionally strong men who love passionately. Even the momentous changes of death are sometimes subverted in the form of ghosts, who continue on, silently repeating the acts they performed while alive. The passage of time also explores the idea of birth and death which occurs on a micro scale with the townspeople, and on a macro scale with the town itself which rises and falls throughout the course of the book.
Another theme presented in the novel is the nature of memory. Memory skips around the timeline, connecting far apart moments. The novel’s opening, for instance, begins, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” (1). The two distant events are connected by memory, and once explored, reveal the vast difference in character between who they used to be, and who they become.
Importantly, the persistence of solitude is also exhibited in the novel, and becomes an instrument to show change. One of the symbols of solitude is the workshop in the Buendia household. Various men in the family spend the end of their lives cooped up in the small room, rarely ever leaving. The change shows itself in adulthood when both Jose Arcadio Buendia earlier, and Aureliano Buendia later, suddenly become reclusive. Ironically, there is a consistency to the change, as it occurs every generation. Also ironic are the other occurrences of solitude. Many times the characters feel the weight of solitude unexpectedly, liker after the act of sex, or during celebration. The truth of solitude is, we are always alone in our bodies, and no sense of community or pleasure can hide that. Ultimately this theme reveals the constancy and alteration of the Buendias by their reclusive similarities and differences.
Overall, One Hundred Years of Solitude is effective in its conveyance of one town and family over the years. The vivid imagery used by Marquez strengthen the reader’s view of the story, while the magical realist style gives the novel its tone of wonder and amazement at the everyday occurrences in life. It is a creatively fulfilled novel because, through the portrayal of a century in one town, it manages to contain the entirety of the human condition in its characters and story.
Leslie Joseph, December 3, 2008 (view all comments by Leslie Joseph)
I couldn't put this book down. I picked it up in a time of needing some reassurance about life, and I've been rewarded with a humorous, insightful, and amazing tale of human relationships.
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by William Kennedy, New York Times Book Review,
"One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race....Mr. García Márquez has done nothing less than to create in the reader a sense of all that is profound, meaningful, and meaningless in life."
by Harper Collins,
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women — brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul — this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
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