Analysis of Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcıa Marquez’s (1927-2014) One Hundred Years of Solitude was first published on May 30, 1967, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The cover of the first edition, which was never repeated, depicted the silhouette of a galleon floating amid trees against a blue background, which contrasts with three geometric yellow flowers on the lower part of the cover in the foreground (Cobo Borda 101). The novel was an immediate best-seller in Spanish: “not since Madame Bovary [by the French author Gustave Flaubert] has a book been received with the simultaneous popular success and critical acclaim that greeted One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Janes 1991, 13). In three and a half years, the book sold almost a half million copies. As a result, previous books by Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez were reprinted in large numbers in the Spanish-speaking world (Vargas Llosa 78). When translations of One Hundred Years of Solitude were published, the novel achieved additional acclaim and honors: in 1969, in Italy, the book won the Premio Chianchiano (Chianchiano Award); the same year, in France, it won the Prix du meilleur livre e ́tranger (Award for best Foreign Book); in 1970, in the United States, it was selected as one of the best twelve books of the year by Time magazine. Although it is difficult to read because of its literary technique, its appeal is that of a classic, which bridges the worlds of academia and popular culture. According to Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine poet, essayist, and short-story writer, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book as “profound as the cosmos and capable of endless interpretations” (quoted in Cobo Borda 106).

Gabriel García Márquez/Pinterest

As many critics have noted, One Hundred Years of Solitude was written in eighteen months, following a period in which García Márquez suffered from a writer’s block. However, One Hundred Years of Solitude was indeed in gestation since the late 1940s, when García Márquez was in his early twenties. One Hundred Years of Solitude had been appearing as if in segments, with the invention of mythical Macondo and Colonel Aureliano Buendıa; the use of a cyclical form of time; and the repetitiveness of events, images of magic realism, and elements of the underworld and the absurd; but suddenly, like pieces of a puzzle, everything was brought together and seemed to fit perfectly. Although Leaf Storm chronologically first introduces the saga of Macondo, One Hundred Years of Solitude encompasses the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the genesis and the apocalypse, of Macondo and its people. The landscape of mythical Macondo and several of the main characters of Leaf Storm (1955), No One Writes to the Colonel (1961), Big Mama’s Funeral (1962), and In Evil Hour (1962) announce the birth of this masterpiece.


Different plot developments may become apparent depending on where the reader focuses his or her attention. The reader may focus on the discovery and Spanish colonization of the Americas; on the wars and fights between the Liberal and Conservative Parties; on American neo-colonialism; on the effects of a dictatorship; on love, the lack of love, eroticism, or incest; or on the solitude and isolation of a town and its people. Any plot the reader chooses has such a plethora of information that he or she would be hard-pressed to organize and recall everything that is taking place.

The lineage and events of the Buendıa family, however, can be seen as the main story in the narrative, regardless of interpretation. However, this still does not make it an easy story to follow. The difficulty in understanding the story can be attributed to the enormous amount of information given in each chapter, and indeed on each page. Literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that his first impression, on reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, was that of an aesthetic battle fatigue, since every page is so full of life that it is beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb (Bloom 1). Mexican author and literary critic Carlos Fuentes, before Bloom, affirmed that One Hundred Years of Solitude should be read at least twice to begin to understand it. Most readers find themselves overwhelmed by the number of events and characters involved and become unable to maintain the plot’s thread. This often leads readers to put the book down unfinished. However, diligent readers will be left with the empowering feeling of having read about a universe filled with strong women and men who dare to dream. One Hundred Years of Solitude is nowadays seen as a classic of contemporary literature, a tour de force of great virtuosity and strength.

One Hundred Years of Solitude begins in medias res (in the middle of events) and covers a wide focus. The omniscient narrative voice introduces great suspense at the very opening of the novel when the reader is faced with a violent image: one of the main characters, Colonel Aureliano Buendıa, is about to be killed by a firing squad. The omniscient narrative voice knows everything that happens to the characters and understands why they behave as they do. The chapter ends and the execution fails to take place. Although the reader is given enough information to imagine the founding of Macondo and the major roles of Ursula and the gypsy Melquıades, the opening chapter does not provide enough information to find out why Colonel Aureliano Buendıa is to be killed. In fact, the colonel never is killed. As readers learn several chapters later, Jose Arcadio saves his younger brother, the colonel, from the firing squad. Within the opening chapter the reader goes back in time and witnesses the “memory” that opens the novel. It concerns the time when the founding father, Jose Arcadio Buendıa, paid for a chance to see, along with his two sons, a block of ice. The contemporary reader may fail to see a block of ice as a great invention, but for a rural Colombian man at the end of the nineteenth century, it was an invention beyond measure. Jose Arcadio Buendia is not naive, he is simply unaware of what is happening outside Macondo. This is a man who does not know about the magnet and sees dentures as a form of magic.

Succeeding chapters introduce Jose ́ Arcadio and give more background on his brother, Aureliano, who grows up to become a colonel. Aureliano marries Remedios Moscote, with whom he has no children; however, he does engender seventeen sons, all named Aureliano, each with different mothers. Amaranta, the only daughter of Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendıa, never marries, preferring to stay home and help around the house. Amaranta’s name reappears at the end of the novel, in that of Amaranta Ursula. Amaranta Ursula gives birth to a son out of wedlock. It is this son, named Aureliano Babilonia, who will be the last of the dynasty of Buendıas. He will fulfill the prophecy that one of the Buendıas would be born with a pig’s tail as a result of incest.

The repetition of names causes confusion to the reader, although the author is simply reflecting the Spanish tradition of passing the father’s name on to his firstborn, a tradition also found in Europe and the United States. Jose Arcadio, by contrast, is recognized by his monumental size and is referred to by the author as Jose ́ Arcadio, while his father is referred to as Jose Arcadio Buendıa. Jose Arcadio, before leaving Macondo to join a group of gypsies, leaves Pilar Ternera pregnant with his son. When the baby is born, he is also named Arcadio, honoring both the father and the grandfather. This chaotic and circular way of repeating the names Arcadio and Aureliano is discussed in depth later in this chapter under the section on character development.

Pilar Ternera is the daughter of one of the founding families, but her social status is beneath the Buend ́ıas. She lives a life of no restrictions, unattached and carefree. She initiates young Aureliano (the legendary colonel) into sexual matters and ends up having a son by him named Aureliano Jose. These two grandchildren of the Buendıas, born to Pilar Ternera, confirm the family’s downfall initiated by the incestuous marriage of their grandparents, founders of Macondo. Both grandchildren are the first Buendıa bastards in a town where illegitimacy is far from the exception. Although Colonel Aureliano Buendıa fathers seventeen sons, plus Aureliano Jose, these eighteen grandchildren’s lives contribute minimally to the way in which the plot of One Hundred Years of Solitude unfolds.

For over half of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the life of Colonel Aureliano Buendıa functions as the leading thread to the plot. Some readers may choose him as the central protagonist of the novel, although he dies—of old age, defeated, without any honors, ignored by the crowds and in complete solitude—while the novel continues. His own family is not aware that he is dead until the next day at eleven in the morning. His whole life seems like one big failure. He loses all the wars he fights, and none of his eighteen sons continues his bloodline. It is through Arcadio, the Buend ́ıas’ grandson, that the lineage and the plot continue. With his lover, Santa Sof ́ıa de la Piedad, Arcadio fathers three children: Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo, and Jose ́ Arcadio Segundo. These great-grandchildren of the original Buend ́ıas continue the emphasis on the circular aspect of the plot. Remedios the Beauty is named after Remedios Moscote, the child-wife of Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa. Remedios the Beauty is free of small-town conventionalisms. Unaware of her eroticism and her beauty, she prefers the solitude of the house, where she goes around nude. However, her beauty is tinged with tragedy, which leads those who become attracted to her to their death.

Like their grandfather (Jose ́ Arcadio) and their grand-uncle (Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa) before them, Aureliano Segundo and Jose ́ Arcadio Segundo also share the same woman (Petra Cotes), but no children are born of her. However, Aureliano Segundo marries Fernanda del Carpio and does have three children with her to carry forward the Buend ́ıa name. Fernanda del Carpio brings to the Buend ́ıas the refinement they lack but also the prejudices they had lacked as well. Although Ursula, the founding mother, accepts the first two bastards (Arcadio and Aureliano Jose ́) as members of the family, Fernanda del Carpio, who was educated “to be a queen” (222), feels compelled by social and moral prejudices to hide the pregnancy of her daughter, Meme. When the child of the love between Meme and Mauricio Babilonia is born, Fernanda del Carpio hides the identity of her grandson. This child, also named Aureliano (Aureliano Babilonia), best describes the confinement and solitude of the Buend ́ıa descendents. By way of his solitude and confinement, he manages to translate the parchments written by Melqúıades in Sanskrit. As Aureliano begins to decipher the parchments, he (the fictional reader) and we (the real readers—those with the book in their hands) somehow come to understand why the plot development is so difficult to follow. He decodes: “Melqu ́ıades had not put events in the order of man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant” (446). As Aureliano Babilonia reads the parchments, he begins to read of his own life. He learns that the object of his love is his aunt, Amaranta Ursula, and that the baby boy they have was supposed to be born with a pig’s tail and eaten by ants. Aureliano Babilonia is thus deciphering the instant he is living.

The labyrinthine plot, viewed through the Buend ́ıas’ lineage, comes to an end as the novel ends. As Aureliano Babilonia deciphers the parchments, he and the reader both come to understand that the end is apocalyptical. He knows he will never leave the room of what is left of the Buend ́ıas’ house. He knows his death is imminent. He reads that the town of Macondo will be wiped out by the twirling wind and erased from the map “when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments” (448). However, Aureliano Babilonia continues to decipher the parchments. Why would anybody continue to read in the knowledge that it would speed up his own death? This is left up to the reader to decide. There are those who say that Aureliano Babilonia continues to read and others who believe that he stops as if in a freeze-frame.

The end of One Hundred Years of Solitude is indeed puzzling. Aureliano, the last of the Buend ́ıa dynasty, is decoding Melqu ́ıades’ parchments. He comes to understand that he will not be able to leave the room in the house where he is reading because Macondo will be erased from the surface of the earth. This is written in Melqu ́ıades’ parchments. Would he then stop reading and thus stop the destruction of Macondo—and his own destruction? Literary critic Emir Rodr ́ıguez-Monegal thinks that is exactly what Aureliano does. “He, Aureliano, is petrified forever in the last line in the act of reading” (Rodr ́ıguez-Monegal 152).


One Hundred Years of Solitude can be considered the magic realist novel par excellence, but only at the expense of simplifying it. In an effort to be objective, some literary critics began referring to novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude as “Novela Total.” The term probably needs no translation—and a translation would probably fail to describe anything. In the late 1960s most critics in Spanish were satisfied with the term Novela Total and Anglo critics with the term New Latin American Novel.

Although stating that the New Latin American Novel could not yet be baptized under a given name, the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes was ready to group the writings of Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez, Vargas Llosa, Jose ́ Donoso, and Manuel Puig with writers such as William Faulkner, Malcolm Lowry, Herman Brock, and William Golding. The last four, wrote Fuentes, went back to the poetic roots of literature. Through the use of language and the self-conscious structuring of the novel, rather than through psychology and intrigue, these writers created a form of reality that attempts to be totalizing inasmuch as it invents a second reality, which is parallel to the one outside the text. Through this totalizing second reality within the text, the reader of One Hundred Years of Solitude may or may not recognize the hidden part of the truth that the novel unfolds, but it exists regardless.

The broad scope of Carlos Fuentes’s analysis encompasses American and European influences or similarities in the way One Hundred Years of Solitude deals with language, time, and space in order to unfold the story of the text.

One Hundred Years of Solitude opens in medias res, but unlike Leaf Storm, where the beginning is also the end, in One Hundred Years of Solitude this is not the case. Discretely divided into twenty chapters (which are not numbered), the time span of the novel is roughly between 1820 and 1927 (hence the title, One Hundred Years of Solitude). However, there are occasional references back to the sixteenth century, as if to suggest the beginning of the colonization of Spanish America. (One example is the episode where Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa finds a galleon.) While the geographic space seems to be limited to the Buend ́ıas’ home and the town of Macondo, if the reader thinks of it as an allegory (a story with a double or multiple meaning: a primary meaning, that of the story itself, plus other meanings), One Hundred Years of Solitude can be seen as taking place wherever the reader imagines.

Unlike Leaf Storm or the short stories “Monologue of Isabel Watching It Rain in Macondo” and “Tuesday Siesta”, where Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez strives to make use of experimental modern techniques such as stream of consciousness or interior monologue, and the flashback, One Hundred Years of Solitude employs what can be referred to as traditional writing: the dominance of make-believe over realism (the representation of life and nature without idealization) and the dominance of an omniscient narrative.

Most critics see One Hundred Years of Solitude as a novel that can be read in a myriad of ways, allowing multiple interpretations including the mythological and historical. Three decades after its publication, the interpretations are countless. Without being exhaustive, the narrative structure of One Hundred Years of Solitude contains the following examples of literary constructs: popular culture through scenes of the daily life of a Hispanic rural town, with sacred rituals and secular celebrations; repetitiveness; hyperbole; a chaotic time frame due to a circular narration; religious elements; eroticism; social and political conflict; and myth.

The narrative voice is that of an omniscient narrator. Through this voice the reader comes to know the life of six generations of the Buend ́ıa family, whose members are founders of Macondo, and both witnesses and participants in the rise, fall, and total destruction of the community through its civil wars, foreign exploitation, plagues, incestuous and non-incestuous love, isolation, death, and solitude.

The omniscient narrator can be seen both inside or outside the text and sometimes even as a character witness, knowing everything that happens to the characters but remaining apart from them. The narrator is outside the text when telling the readers, for example, that Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa is about to be killed by a firing squad at the start of the novel. Shortly thereafter, the omniscient narrator appears as witness when we read the descriptions of the genesis of Macondo and the yearly visits of a family of gypsies lead by Melqu ́ıades. Much later in the novel, the omniscient narrator again appears as witness when noting that the shooting of Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa by the firing squad never took place. The omniscient narration seems to be inhabited by the pervasive presence of the irrational and the supernatural. Melquıades, leader of the gypsies and fictional author of the Buend ́ıas’ story, survives leprosy, beriberi, and the bubonic plague; he eventually dies but then is resurrected. Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa, the founding father, is said to have had an imagination bigger than miracles and magic put together. From the start of the novel, the villagers of Macondo are convinced, as is his wife, Ursula, that Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa “had lost his reason” (5).

The story told in One Hundred Years of Solitude is believable, but the facts that unfold are exaggerated, blown out of proportion, and even irrational, as if to mock the act of storytelling by mocking what is told, the way it is told, and why it is told. The exaggeration becomes comical, and as a result, the reader ceases to see it as irrational and perceives it instead as something possible. The excesses of gluttony, cruelty, virility, sexual potency, violence, death, longevity, and solitude are all treated in an obviously illogical fashion. The fact that the narrative voice recounts such irrational events in a most natural way makes the reader overlook the irrational and therefore agree with what he or she reads, while still accepting its irrationality at some level. Remedios the Beauty, for example, rises to heaven as effortlessly as if she were simply taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. The narrative structure looks at the irrational as daily routine, as matter-of-fact. This, in short, is one way of explaining the rather open-ended concept of magic realism.

Another visible construct of the narrative structure is the concept of two forces in opposition: examples include love and death, the fight between liberals and conservatives, and the juxtaposition of the brothers Jose Arcadio and Aureliano. Jose Arcadio is the first to be born to the Buend ́ıa family and Aureliano is the legendary Colonel Aureliano Buendıa. They can be seen as the antithesis of each other.


Character development in One Hundred Years of Solitude is as complex as the novel itself. This complexity can be observed in the large number of characters inhabiting the novel and the tradition of passing on the first name of the father to his firstborn. The repetition of names creates chaos and confuses the reader. The worlds of Aurelianos and Arcadios (for males), of Ursulas and Amarantas (for females) seem to weave a kind of tapestry where the threads are not as important as the whole picture. Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez does with character development what artist Maurits Cornelis (M. C.) Escher did with optical illusions, creating repeated patterns, impossible constructions, and infinite space. The reader is not always sure of who is being referred to, for these names may carry either a symbolic or an allegoric meaning, depending on the reader’s interpretation.

Trying to describe each character individually would be too time-consuming and complex to be useful. However, the main characters can be grouped by the characteristics they share. Female characters, for example, are developed as emotional beings who experience both love and hate. The female characters are drawn between the love and passion they feel for their men and the sad destiny that surrounds each couple. All female characters in the Buend ́ıa family, with the exception of Ursula and Amaranta Ursula, lead their suitors to either death or defeat. Jose ́ Arcadio, Rebeca’s husband, is mysteriously killed in his own house; the Italian-born Pietro Crespi commits suicide after being rejected by Amaranta; all the suitors of Remedios the Beauty tragically die in an effort to admire her beauty; and Mauricio Babilonia is shot in the back while secretly visiting Meme and left unable to walk.

Ursula (the matriarch), Amaranta (Ursula’s daughter, sister of Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa), and Amaranta Ursula (the last female of the Buend ́ıa’s dynasty) are among the female characters deserving special attention. Ursula is first cousin and wife of Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa, the patriarch of Macondo. She represents perseverance in life, and the cyclical time of the novel revolves around her. She witnesses the founding of Macondo, gives birth to the first Jose ́ Arcadio (the legendary Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa) and the never-married Amaranta, she sees her two sons marry, and she lives to see six generations of Buend ́ıas die, making the one hundred years of the novel her own experience. Ursula is the centerpiece of the Buend ́ıa family. She is, on the one hand, the submissive wife who generally follows her husband’s decisions and wishes, but on the other hand, she manages to leave Macondo for five months in search of her firstborn, Jose ́ Arcadio. She fails to find him, but when she returns to Macondo she seems to be rejuvenated. She comes back bringing a different lifestyle, ready to introduce progress to Macondo. Ursula is conscious of her matriarchal responsibility and exercises it at all levels. She behaves as the patient and faithful wife to her aged and mad husband, who must be tied to a tree to restrain him. She is a loving mother who defies an army to visit her son in jail. She is also the one who, without remorse, throws Pilar Ternera out of the house for her extravagant sexual behavior. She is the loving grandmother who takes care of the illegitimate grandchildren of her two sons. She is self-assured and decisive when others are not, and she always seems to have the last word without sounding like a tyrant. Ursula reminds readers of the power of Big Mama, the central character in “Big Mama’s Funeral”.

Compared with the rest of the female characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ursula stands out because of her strength, both physical and emotional. Fearless in her convictions, she manages to stop a firing squad that, under the corrupt and absurd decision of her son Jose ́ Arcadio, was ready to execute an innocent man. Compared to the egotism of her daughter, Amaranta, she is a generous mother who tirelessly feeds, not only her own large family, but also all those who happen to stop by her house for whatever reason. Compared to Remedios the Beauty, whose scent turns men insane, Ursula is poised and sensible. Compared to Pilar Ternera, whose fertility and sex drive are such that she mothers a child with both of Ursula’s two sons, Ursula is serene and unyieldingly fights to keep her family together. Gabriel Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez himself described Ursula as the ideal woman (Joset 89).

Amaranta, daughter of the founders of Macondo, is a particularly interesting character due to the complexity of her personality. As is common practice with Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez’s characters, her name, Amaranta, foreshadows her personality. Phonetically (relating to sound), Amaranta in Spanish closely resembles the sound of amargura (bitterness). It may also refer, as Jacques Joset points out in a footnote to One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish (Joset 121), to a plant from India, amaranto (amaranth). The plant, in Indian antiquity, was a symbol for immortality, and as such, the Indians consecrated it to the dead.

Amaranta is tall and slim, with an air of distinction. She is portrayed as a jealous woman. She hates Rebeca (who has grown up in the Buend ́ıa household as a member of the family) because they both have fallen in love with the same man, Pietro Crespi. Feeling humiliated by Crespi’s indifference, Amaranta promises him she will never let him marry Rebeca. Ironically, Rebeca marries Amaranta’s brother (her own half-brother), Jose ́ Arcadio, and Pietro Crespi commits suicide. Amaranta’s extreme temperament forces her into self-imposed isolation. She dies lonely and a virgin.

Amaranta fully shares the solitude of the Buend ́ıa family. She grows old rejecting Colonel Gerineldo Ma ́rquez, who has proposed marriage to her. Like the Buend ́ıas, Amaranta also seems to have a special relationship with death. She works on weaving her own shroud for four years, believing correctly that she will die at the moment when she completes it. She also orders the measurements for her own casket and announces that she will die on February 4. In a most carnivalesque way, she offers herself as a messenger for anyone who wishes to send news to the dead. On the day of her death, she bathes, refuses to take confession from Father Antonio Isabel, and forces her mother to give public testimony that she died a virgin.

Another important female character in One Hundred Years of Solitude is Amaranta Ursula. As her name indicates, her great-grandmother, Ursula Iguaran, and her great-grandaunt, Amaranta Buend ́ıa, influence her character. Indeed, Amaranta Ursula is a synthesis of all the female characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Amaranta Ursula is identical to her great-grandmother, the founding matriarch of Macondo. She is dynamic, indomitable, vigorous, and has no prejudices. Also like her great-grandmother, she is happy and centered. The beauty of Remedios the Beauty was also passed on to her. Like Meme, her own sister, Amaranta Ursula uses good judgment and shows great interest in her studies. Amaranta Ursula is the daughter of Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda del Carpio. Like her mother, Amaranta Ursula receives a strong religious training in Brussels, Belgium. She returns from Belgium married to Gasto ́n, an older, Flemish man. Foreshadowing yet another character, Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera, she dresses fashionably, wears expensive jewelry, and shows herself to be a free spirit, liberated of prejudices.

Although Amaranta Ursula dreams of returning to Macondo with a faithful husband, she also wants to change the age-old traditions of the Buend ́ıas. For example, she wants to have two sons named Rodrigo and Gonzalo, not Aureliano and Jose ́ Arcadio. (In real life, Mercedes Barcha, wife of Gabriel Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez, got Amaranta Ursula’s wish—she has two sons, named Rodrigo and Gonzalo.) Amaranta Ursula’s European training, however, does not change her. Like her great-grandfather, Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa (the founding patriarch of Macondo), she does things one day only to undo them the next. Like many of her ancestors, she also loves with abandon. When her husband, Gasto ́n, leaves her, she falls in love with her own nephew, Aureliano Babilonia, the son of her sister, Meme. Aureliano Babilonia and Amaranta Ursula are the only couple in One Hundred Years of Solitude to find true love. This love, however, brings destruction on them, as Amaranta Ursula dies giving birth to the last of the Buend ́ıas, the one with a pig’s tail as feared by the matriarch Ursula Iguara ́n in the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The male characters can also be described by common, salient traits. The male names are repeated unceasingly through the six generations of Buend ́ıas. The names are not picked at random; they relate to the function that each character plays in the plot. The omniscient narrator suggests the meaning of the names by attributing marked characteristics to those bearing a given name. The Arcadios, for example, are large in stature, whereas the Aurelianos are smaller. The Arcadios are fond of loudness, whereas the Aurelianos are introspective. The Arcadios are corpulent, monumental in size; the Aurelianos are bony, thin, and par- simonious. The Arcadios are active, strong-willed, independent, and dictatorial, even to the point of being tyrants. The Aurelianos are solitary, shy, and interested in reading. (One of them deciphers Melquiades’ parchments.) The only instance when this name classification becomes confused is with Aureliano Segundo and his twin brother, Jose ́ Arcadio Segundo, who are so much alike that even they would call each other by the wrong name. However, like a trick of magic realism, the games they play end up confusing them and they are changed for life. The names they use in the game begin to determine their physical characteristics, changing even their biological heritage. Thus, Aureliano Segundo, like all the Arcadios in the family tree, grows to be tall and strong, and Jose ́ Arcadio Segundo, who otherwise would have been tall and strong, is short and bony. Jose ́ Arcadio Segundo shows interest in public affairs and tries to decipher Melqu ́ıades’ parchments, whereas Aureliano Segundo ends up leading a frivolous life. However, the twins die on the same day.

The male characters, more than the female characters, embody the myth of solitude, which permeates the novel. In his solitude, Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa (the founder) initiates a long meditation about the passage of time. His son, Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa, the father of seventeen Aurelianos with seventeen different women and who “survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad” (113), dies of old age, in miserable solitude, next to the same tree where his father had died years before him.


One Hundred Years of Solitude opens with an allusion to war (Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa is about to be shot by a firing squad), but the theme of war is not a primary issue. The solitude shared by every member of the Buend ́ıa family, combined with incest, comprises the central themes of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The solitude endured by the Buend ́ıas is a kind of curse, which they brought on themselves for their inability to fall in love, their strongly held superstitious beliefs, and the foundation of the family from an incestuous marriage. When Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa marries Ursula Iguara ́n, they both know they are first cousins. Although the husband thinks nothing of it, the wife is filled with irrational fears and the fatal superstition that those who marry their own family may give birth to a deformed child with a pig’s tail. She dies of old age without confirming her fear, but it is realized at the end of the novel, when Amaranta Ursula, not knowing she is related to him, falls in love with her nephew, Aureliano Babilonia. They give birth to the last of the Buend ́ıas, who is born with a pig’s tail.

The solitude shared by the Buend ́ıas can be easily observed by the isolation of the town, which appears to have been forgotten by civilization and the outside world. The paths the main characters follow in life also emphasize solitude. Ursula talks to the dead, a form of solitude as nobody but herself can hear them; she also suffers from blindness, thus enduring a life in the dark. Her husband dies in solitude tied to a tree, left to the elements, and ignored as if he were indeed a part of the tree and not her husband, founder of Macondo, father, grandfather, and admired patriarch. Their three children all live and die in solitude, as well. Amaranta, their only daughter, never marries by choice. She rejects the marriage proposals of Pietro Crespi and Gerineldo Ma ́rquez and dies a virgin. The two sons also choose a life of solitude. Jose ́ Arcadio, the firstborn, leaves Macondo to travel around the world as a gypsy. When he returns, although he is not in love, he marries Rebeca, but Rebeca, who brings to Macondo as a child the insomnia plague, a form of solitude that leads to the loss of memory and a state of idiocy that has no past (48), is an adopted daughter to the Buend ́ıas. The illusion of incest is obvious to those outside the Buend ́ıa family. Pietro Crespi, for one, cannot understand how siblings can get married, for he is in love with Rebeca, but she rejects him to marry her own half-brother. The extreme solitude of Pietro Crespi is such that, after being rejected by both Rebeca and Amaranta, he finds refuge in suicide.

Aureliano Buend ́ıa, the second son but the first to be born in Macondo, marries the child Remedios Moscote. Like his brother, he fathers no legitimate children. His decision to marry Remedios Moscote is capricious, not one arrived at out of love. Remedios, who is more interested in playing with dolls, does not feel love for him either. She still wets her bed at the time of the wedding. A silent and solitary man by nature, Aureliano Buend ́ıa lives and dies in solitude. Ursula, his mother, says he is incapable of loving. The two brothers, Jose ́ Arcadio and Aureliano, each have a son with Pilar Ternera but neither one of the babies is born out of love. Pilar Ternera has sex with them for sheer pleasure. In the same vein, the marriage of Fernanda del Carpio and Aureliano Segundo is one of convenience, as are the relationships of Petra Cotes, who is shared as a lover by Aureliano Segundo and Jose ́ Arcadio Segundo.

The solitude of the characters can be brought on by a lack of love between a couple, whether in marriage or otherwise, but solitude can also arise merely as part of the human condition. Indeed, in order to understand life, a person has to think of birth and death as, by their very nature, forms of solitude. However, to experience solitude, the characters in the novel—and the readers outside of it—have to be aware of the other: other people, other societies, and other languages. This confirms, for example, the fact that in the novel, readers witness the discovery of theories that elsewhere have already been discovered and the amazement of the townspeople when they first see an astrolabe, a map, a magnet, a magnifying glass, ice, and dentures. Such solitude, in fact, is one of the themes that can easily distinguish the literary works of Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez.

Returning to the theme of war, which is not the primary issue in One Hundred Years of Solitude, it is nonetheless intimately related to the political turmoil depicted in the novel. The wars between liberals and conservatives lasted nearly twenty years. During this time, the liberals fought thirty-two wars against the government (the Conservative Party) and lost them all. According to the narrative voice, the conservatives come to Macondo to disrupt the harmony and peace in which the town and its inhabitants lived. The discontent starts with the arrival of Don Apolinar Moscote. He comes as a representative of the government to exercise the law, but to Jose ́ Arcadio Buend ́ıa, founder of the town, he only brings chaos. Soon after the arrival of Apolinar Moscote and his family, the ordered universe of Macondo is threatened by confusion, disorder, abuse, and finally war. The wars in the novel end, but the solitude of the Buend ́ıas does not.


One Hundred Years of Solitude portrays a period of time that stretches from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. These years encompass Colombian civil wars, neocolonialism, political violence, corruption, sexuality, death, and solitude, in the midst of other dominant themes. These concerns, however, are treated through myth and fantasy with a magic-realist format that leaves many readers unaware of the historical, political, and ideological content of the novel’s background.

Most critics have pointed out that the social and political turmoil of One Hundred Years of Solitude seems to transcribe the Colombian violence of countless civil wars and particularly the violence of the late 1940s, an epoch noted for its violent tendencies. The foundation of the fictional town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude, as literary critic Joaqu ́ın Marco pointed out, is, in fact, a violent act that finds its roots in the Spanish tradition of “honor,” with clear sexual connotations of “machismo” (Marco 48). Honor and machismo also appear in Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), where both are central themes. The violence of One Hundred Years of Solitude focuses on the historical fight between a pair of opposing political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, which had the greatest rivalry Colombia had ever known. Although all the Buend ́ıa family figures prominently in the narrative, it is through Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa that the reader gets to read of fictionalized events in the wars between the two political parties. It is interesting to note that Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa, a liberal, as governor of Macondo, grows to be as cruel, despotic, and abusive as the conservatives he fights in the novel. In fact, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in its depiction of the Buend ́ıa family, favors the liberals, yet the omniscient narrator is quick to point out their flaws. The Buend ́ıas are seen as liberal leaders, but they are also portrayed as the town’s ruling oligarchy (a type of government where power is exercised by few members, often of the same social class).

Just as interesting to note, in the patriarchal world of the novel, is the fact that a woman—the colonel’s mother, Ursula—is the only one capable of changing his corrupt behavior. Ursula is indeed one of the pillars that sustains the novel. The fictionalized wars of Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa mirror the many civil wars Colombia fought during the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth century.

The novel’s account of how Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa fought thirty- two wars and lost them all seems to capture the exaggeration of magic realism, but the history of Colombia records countless major uprisings between 1821 and 1930. During those years, some historians have documented between seventy and eighty wars. Reality, then, is sometimes as difficult to believe as fantasy itself. If the character of Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa was modeled after General Rafael Uribe Uribe, as some scholars have suggested, then reality once again surpasses fiction. As Regina Janes wrote,

Uribe Uribe outdid Aureliano Buend ́ıa in the length if not the intensity of his military career, since he lasted almost thirty years from his participation at the age of seventeen in the war of 1876–1877 through the other conflicts to 1902. (Janes 1989, 135)

In the same vain, the narrative makes references to American colonialism as expressed through the exploitation of banana plantations. To this effect, the narrative describes the banana strike of 1928, once again mixing fact and fiction.

When reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, the reader misses something if he or she thinks that it recreates only the past of Latin America and ignores the current time when the novel was published—the late 1960s. The violence that Colombia was undergoing in the 1960s is not dealt with in the same way that the “Novel of the Violence” deals with it. From 1948 to 1964, Colombia underwent a number of assassinations that were referred to as La violencia (the Violence). A good number of novels written about such events were published and are often called “Novels of the Violence.” One Hundred Years of Solitude picks up on the events of La violencia but mixes Garc ́ıa Ma ́rquez’s experiences with the civil wars of the nineteenth century and the banana strike of 1928, the three most important historical events according to critics and scholars of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Having mixed these events with a strong emphasis on myth, fantasy, humor, and magic realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude might be attacked for not being politically involved. What readers have to consider, however, is that politics in One Hundred Years of Solitude are in the background and disguised through magic realism while the art of storytelling takes the foreground.

Book World, February 22, 1970: 4.
Choice Journal, September 1970: 7.
Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 1970: 11.
Ciplijauskaite ́, Birute ́.“Foreshadowing as Technique and Theme in One HundredYears of Solitude.”In Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Ed. George R. McMurray. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall,1987. 140–46.
Echevarrı ́a, Roberto Gonza ́lez.“Cien an ̃os de soledad: The Novel as Myth and Archive.” In Gabriel Garcı ́a Márquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 107–23.
Gonza ́lez, Anı ́bal.“Translation and the Novel:One Hundred Years of Solitude.”In Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 271–82.
Janes, Regina.“Liberals, Conservatives, and Bananas: Colombian Politics in the Fictions of Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. In Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,1989. 125–46.
———.One Hundred Years of Solitude: Modes of Reading. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.
Joset, Jacques, ed. Cien an ̃os de soledad. Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Madrid: Ediciones Ca ́tedra, 1997.
Kiely, Robert.“Review ofOne Hundred Years of Solitude.”In Critical Essays onGabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Ed. George R. McMurray. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. 42–45.
Library Journal, February 15, 1970: 95.
Marco, Joaquı ́n. Introduccio ́n. Cien an ̃os de soledad. Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1993. 9–54.New York Review of Books, March 26, 1970: 14.
New York Times Book Review, March 8, 1970: 5.
Newsweek, March 2, 1970: 75.
Ortega, Julio.“Exchange System in One Hundred Years of Solitude.”In Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez and the Power of Fiction. Ed. Julio Ortega. The Texas Pan American Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988. 1–16.
Review: Latin American Literature and Arts. Supplement on Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́r-quez’sOne Hundred Years of Solitude. Ed. Ronald Christ. New York: Centerfor Inter-American Relations, 1976. 101–91.
Rodrı ́guez-Monegal, Emir.“One Hundred Years of Solitude: The Last Three Pages.”In Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Ed. George R. McMurray. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. 147–52.
Saturday Review, March 7, 1970: 53.Time, March 16, 1970: 95.
Valde ́s, Marı ́a Elena de, and Mario J. Valde ́s, eds. Approaches to Teaching Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez’s“One Hundred Years of Solitude.”New York: Modern Language Association, 1990.
Woods, Michael.“Review of One Hundred Years of Solitude.”In Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcı ́aMa ́rquez. Ed. George R. McMurray. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. 36–40.
Yale Review, October 1970: 60.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson.“The Myth of Apocalypse and Human Temporality in Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez’s Cien an ̃os de soledadand El oton ̃o del patriarca.”In Gabriel Garcı ́a Ma ́rquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York:Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 49–63.

Source: Rubén Pelayo – Gabriel García Márquez A Critical Companion (2001, Greenwood)

Categories: Latin American Literature, Literary Criticism, Literature, Magical Realism, Novel Analysis

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