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“One Hundred Years of Solitude” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Annotation by Gail Vida Hamburg
Author of The Edge of the World (Mirare Press)

Whereas in the West, one thinks of “solitude” as a desired state, a reward for putting oneself through the daily machinations of industry and commerce; solitude as I understand it in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s epic novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, speaks of a different, sadder condition—not the European notion of existentialism, but a profound loneliness, a sentence of exile.

Jose Arcadio Buendia and his men, and their families were wanderers who had crossed the mountains to find the sea. When two years had gone by and they had still not located it, they stopped at the bank of a river. Because they could go no further, nor return to the past, they settled on the ground beneath their feet. They called it Macondo—the city of mirrors or mirages. Far from civilization, without a history, and in a world they had not made, “that was so recent that many things lacked names,” the Buendias assumed a shape of character, and a cast of mind—a sense of dispossession, a chronic fatalism. They are deceived by the city of mirages—which is both a dream and a disillusionment, one that prevents them from taking control of their lives. Jose Arcadio Buendia “punished himself for the absolute lack of sense” with which he had chosen Macondo. “We’ll never get anywhere … We’re going to rot our lives away here without the benefits of science.” This hopelessness is a departure from what we know to be the immigrant sensibility—a confidence in the ability to reshape a destiny through will and action. However, the paralyzing effects of displacement like those found in the Buendia men, have been borne out by recent research on migration and Sudden Death Syndrome; particularly in immigrant men from the Third World.

The Buendias sense of unease and fear mirrors the evolution of post-colonial Latin America, specifically Colombia after its independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century. Marquez’s tale shows how the erosion of a people’s history through colonization, disorients the colonized, Jose Arcadio Buendia raised Macondo from the ground into “a village that was more orderly and hard-working than any known … a truly happy village where no one was over thirty years of age and where no one died.” Yet he is also the first Buendía male to be driven to madness and a life of solitude. It is his wife, Ursula –-uneducated, pragmatic, sane — who keeps the family secure and rooted to the ground. When her husband announces yet another of his scientific discoveries: “The earth is round, like an orange,” she loses her patience: “If you have to go crazy, please go crazy all by yourself!”

Ursula’s son, Colonel Aureliano Buendia inherits his father’s proclivity for madness and solitude. An important military leader with a large following, he returns to the family home and gives “strict orders that no one should come closer than ten feet, not even Ursula … When he sits in a room a circle is drawn around him that no one is allowed to cross.” Later Ursula realizes, “Colonel Aureliano Buendia had not lost his love for the family because he had been hardened by war, but that he had never loved anyone … she reached the conclusion that the son for whom she would have given her life was simply a man incapable of love.” Perhaps it was also the secret to his survival, despite overwhelming odds: “thirty-two wars, fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad."

Each generation of the family births a male heir and christens him Aureliano, in honor of the indestructible Colonel, who eventually dies [without drama], while urinating! Yet, though they are members of a large clan and tribe, the Buendias are unable to outgrow their madness, or resist the magnetic pull of solitude.

There are two factors that loom large in isolated Macondo. The first is Ursula’s terrible fear of someone in the family breaking the taboo of incest —that she carries with her throughout her life and the century—and that she intuits, will destroy the Buendias. While pregnant with her first child, “she heard him weeping” in her womb, and “shuddered from the certainty that the deep moan was a first indication of the fearful pig tail [endowed on children of incest] and she begged God to let the child die in her womb.” After nearly a century, when the family has all but perished, the two remaining Buendias—Amarantha Ursula and her nephew Aureliano—fall in love and conceive a child to carry on the line. The son they christen Aureliano [after the Colonel] is a child of sorrow, born to weep. The infant is born with Ursula’s fear, the dreaded thing; his mother Amarantha Ursula, dies within hours of his birth, and his father, out of his mind with grieve, leaves the child unattended. The baby, the last Aureliano and Buendia is forced into the solitude of his ancestors, and dies from neglect.

Other intrusions on Macondo’s solitude are foreigners and agents of change. They arrive bringing the latest instruments of technology that incite the Buendia men to restlessness for the world beyond Macondo. The gypsy, Melquiades brings magnets, telescopes, magnifying glasses and navigational instruments that drive Jose Arcadio Buendia mad with hope. The gypsy is followed by government bureaucrats, Catholic priests, military officials, lawyers, the railway, the American capitalists, and Amarantha Ursula’s European husband with a bicycle and talk of airplanes.

Malquiades had earlier prophesied that Macondo “would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”

“The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants,” Malquiades’ parchment confirms the fate of the family. Macondo and the Buendias are wiped off the face of the earth because their solitude and their desires doomed them. But if their destiny was foretold by Malquiades’s parchment, the bigger intrigue remains: “Could the family have avoided what was already their pre-ordained fate?” And if not, the tragedy of it is beyond compare.

   

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