Themes in One Hundred Years of Solitude


Time is one of the major themes in One Hundred Years of Solitude. For the characters, time is alternatively fast paced, and stagnant. When Ursula considers time, she finds it appears to be moving in a circle: “What did you expect,’ murmured Jose Arcadio Segundo. ‘Time passes. That’s how it goes,’ Ursula said, ‘But not so much.’ When she said it, she realized that she had given the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buend’a had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle.” (Marquez: 361) Although the lives of the Buendia family members are quite linear, time is truly moving in a circle as far as the plot of the novel. However, instead of expanding and eventually opening it as in most traditional narratives, the circle in Marquez’s narrative collapses in on the characters.

The cyclical view of time is also supported by the fact that certain characters seem to be amnesiac i.e. they cannot recall the past any more than they can look into the future. In fact, nostalgia and amnesia are the opposites that are recurrent throughout the novel. They act like diseases which afflict the Buendia family keeping them from looking towards the future, and possibly changing their destiny. In this sense, amnesia traps the Buendias into the present as they are unable to relate to their own past, whereas nostalgia locks them up into their own past which they are unable to escape. This is precisely why they are unable to envision, and then move into the future, and end up making the same mistakes and being consumed by the same actions which eventually generate their destruction.

The omniscient narrator refuses to divide time in the novel into past, present and future. His refusal might be explained by the fact that the narration is not focused on the individual lives of the characters; instead, the aim of the novel is to chronicle the collective fate of a community marked by its own decisions and weaknesses. There are at least a few other elements in support of this idea. For instance, the names of the characters return generation after generation which makes it very difficult to distinguish among them. The “Many years later” formula that is repeatedly used throughout the novel is an indication of this fluidity of time and events as many events take place more than once. Moreover, “many years later” is a way of defining cycles without breaking the story into parts, and losing cohesion. This formula also diminishes the role of physical time in the sense that the narration explores the idea of timelessness and circularity within human existence. From this perspective, time does not reduce the inevitability of human fate.

4. The fictitious village of Macondo lies in northern Colombia, somewhere in the great swamps between the mountains and the coast. It was founded by Jose Arcadio Buendia, his wife Ursula, and nineteen other families, and is presented as a happy place to live in: “It was a truly happy village where no one was over thirty years of age and where no one had died.” (Marquez: 21). The novel chronicles the lives of six Buendia generations until technology and modernity are introduced to the town along with political and social turmoil, in other words history itself. This complex tapestry of themes and motifs also incorporates the concept of the inescapability of fate, which eventually brings about the Buendias’ demise.

The town attempts to escape its isolation and forge links with the outside world. Modernity comes to Macondo, and the town progresses. What the inhabitants of Macondo try to achieve is a deletion of their past in favor of a new prosperous future. Nevertheless, prosperity is not the only concern of the town; what they hope to achieve by allowing modernity into their community is, as mentioned before, a deletion of the sinful founding of Macondo, a sort of new beginning which would allow the small Colombian town to write itself a new history which would not incorporate guilt and sin. However, Macondo is not equipped with what is necessary in order to survive this change because the period of isolation cannot be simply wiped out. History is a continuous process which cannot be interrupted hence the present is always connected to the past.

The solitude endured by the Buendias is a kind of curse which cannot be broken. However, the omniscient narrator gives us the impression that the responsibility for the outcome is shared. From one side of the spectrum, the fate of Macondo is the direct consequence of its founding, and the ways in which its inhabitants chose to lead their lives. However, one must also consider the fact that destiny is presented as implacable hence any efforts to change it are redundant:.”.. For it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) 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.” (Marquez: 422).

On the one hand, solitude whether individual or collective, physical or emotional, is a condemnation to self-destruction because man was not made to live alone, but to interact with others. The fact that this family was unable to forge meaningful links with the outside world made its survival impossible. On the other hand, however, incest was also an important cause for the decline and self-destruction of the Buendia family. The Buendia family build its existence on a sinful premise hence their destruction is imminent throughout the novel. Both individual, and collective punishment is inflicted upon the members of the Buendia family, as well as on the family and town as a whole.

7. Technological development and modernity enter the small fictitious town of Macondo with devastating effects. In this context, modernity is a double agent; firstly, it is through technological advancement that the town is able to progress. However, at the same time, it is modernity that also brings madness, strife, civil war, all of which will generate the destruction of Macondo because its inhabitants lack the ethics needed to handle this technological progress.

The town starts as a very rigid and backwards community but quickly develops in a matter of only a few years. The influence of technology and strangers i.e. The outside world, is overwhelming. The town becomes acquainted with the outside world, and embarks on a journey marked by technological advance and progress. However, the town is not capable of changing its course so abruptly. On the contrary, its inhabitants seem unable to cope with the progress or change as represented by the foreigners who bring their rituals and traditions to Macondo.

The railroad is an important motif because it represents the arrival of modernity to the town of Macondo. After the railroad is built, a banana plantation is developed nearby, and shortly after, three thousand workers are massacred. This massacre symbolizes the downward spiral that the town is on; modernity is not handled well by the inhabitants of Macondo. Nonetheless, the existence of the railroad represents a very strong link between the small isolated town and the real world i.e. The world outside. The massacre leads to the closing down of the plantations which in turn, is followed by the slow disappearance of the railroad which culminates when trains cease to even stop in Macondo. It is highly relevant to note here that for Macondo, the railroad is definitely a turning point. Before its advent, Macondo was developing at a fast pace; afterwards, the town quickly disintegrates and goes back to its isolation which will eventually lead to its complete demise.

10. The characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude are quite schematically organized in the sense that the focus of the novel is not on a certain inner personal drama, but on the fate of an entire family over the course of time. From this perspective, both the men and the women belonging to the Buendia family are not thoroughly explored because their main purpose is to make a certain thematic point. In order to analyze the characters in the novel, it is important to make a few considerations regarding the traditional role of men and women, as well as the ways of functioning of the household in Latin America. Men are traditionally portrayed as machos i.e. men who pursue many women, oftentimes outside of marriage. The Latin American man exercises complete authority over the other family members; his authority is acknowledged and respected. Latin American women are regarded as the core of the family; in this sense, Latin American society is matriarchal. Women run the household, raise and educate the kids but traditionally, are not endowed with much decision-making power, or authority. Families are united and in many cases, all family members live under the same roof which also applies to the case of the Buendias.

The men in the novel, from Jose Arcadio who founds, together with his wife, the town of Macondo, to Aureliano Babilonia i.e. The last generation, are marked by a homogenous fate in the sense that none of them are able to escape the repetitiveness of their ancestors’ fate. Despite the fact that they all express amazing energies, and are doted with intelligence and passion, they are all unable to concretize their dreams and projects, and to achieve any kind of long-term success. Violence is an important part of these men’s temperament; they are all prone to anger and violent behavior. Even when these episodes of anger do not occur, their lives are overtaken by irrational violence which interrupts their lives.

The male characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude can be loosely divided into two categories. The first is made up of the Aurelianos who to be aloof and disengaged from the family. Some of them, such as Colonel Aureliano, Aureliano Jose or Jose Arcadio Segundo live their lives in isolation from the rest of the family reducing communication to a minimum. They spend most of their time in their workshop either studying ancient manuscripts or working on the little gold fishes which are a symbol of the continuity of the family. The second type of Buendia men is characterized by machismo, the traditional Latin American trait associated with men. The Jose Arcadios are rigid and authoritarian. They do not change their minds, and always stick to their decisions. Many of them have extramarital relationships; for instance, Aureliano Segundo spends most of his time away from his family, with his lover, Petra Cortes. Similarly, Colonel Aureliano has many mistresses, and illegitimate children. There is, however, one conclusion that can be drawn regarding the men in the novel. Irrespective of the category they fall into, none of these men truly run their families, or households. It is the women who carry full authority over the family.

The women in the novel are firmly anchored in the daily life of their family. They express no interest in technological development, or speculative ventures. In other words, the women could be regarded as the total opposite of the Buendia men: they are anchored in reality, and concerned with the routine of their lives. Among the female characters, Ursula stands out. She is the matriarchal archetype of the Latin American society. However, Ursula is a contradictory character because she is aware of the power of incest to simultaneously bind and destroy her family. The inability of the Buendia men and women to find some common ground, and work together towards avoiding the destruction of their family is what eventually brings about their demise. Both men and women are unable to step outside of their world, and integrate into the world around them, and this plunges them into solitude and isolation.

16. The theme of incest is connected to the theme of solitude, and are both consistent throughout the entire novel. Incest marks the Buendia family on two levels, and deepens their feeling of isolation and solitude. Above all else, incestuous relations are to be kept private because they are not sociably acceptable, hence those engaged in such relations must keep to themselves, and are thus unable to develop deep and meaningful relations with the world around them. This also applies to the Buendia family. They are solitary and eventually become disengaged with their surroundings. Also, the prophecy of Ursula in the beginning of the novel comes true, and at the very end of the story, a Buendia is born with the tail of a pig. This is a profoundly metaphorical image: the tail of a pig is a sign of the sin committed by the parents of the child. The fact that the child is born with a tail is both a sign of his parents’ sin and of the fact that he is a result of the sin committed, one which he or she cannot escape; the child is physically marked hence emotionally scarred for life.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, incest is at the beginning of everything as far as the plot of the novel. The first to have an incestuous relationship are Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia whose families will interbreed over decades. Incest shuts the Buendia men inside the boundaries of their own women-mothers-daughters, unable to love anyone else; fratricide is the way in which men finally end up contacting other men, under the mask of death and violence. The Buendia men cannot be saved because they do not learn from their mistakes, and are unable to assume responsibility for their actions. The act of incest has the emotional and psychological effect of making prisoners out of the Buendia men; they are caught in a situation which repeats itself generation after generation. Amaranta Ursula and Aureliano are the sixth – and final – Buendia generation to commit the sin of incest. They actually perform an investigation as to their ancestors in their attempt to determine whether or not they are related. Although no other Buendia has done this before them, they are not thorough and readily “accept the version of the basket” (Marquez: 415) meaning what is convenient to them. The couple are given the chance to break the incestuous cycle but take the easy path instead which leads to their destruction when their child is born with the tail of a pig.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Perennial, 1998

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