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BookRags Literature Study Guide
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

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In the mid-1960s, journalist and fiction writer Gabriel Jose Garcia Marquez was little known outside his native Colombia, having never sold more than seven hundred copies of a book. Everything changed, however, after he had a sudden insight while driving his family through Mexico. In an instant, he saw that the key to the imaginary village of Macondo he had been creating in short vignettes was the storytelling technique of his grandmother--absolute brick-faced description of extraordinary events. He turned the car around and drove straight home, where he proceeded directly to a back room. There he wrote while his wife, Mercedes Barcha, sold, mortgaged, and stretched credit to keep the family going. Gradually the entire neighborhood was involved in helping to bring forth what has since been recognized as a masterpiece. After eighteen months, a hefty tome of thirteen hundred pages was sent to the publishers. The result was Cien anos de soledad, later translated into English as One Hundred Years of Solitude. The first printings sold out before they could be shelved. Today, the novel has been translated into more than thirty languages and there are a number of pirated editions. The exceptional achievement of One Hundred Years of Solitude was highlighted in the citation awarding Garcia Marquez the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Often compared to William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County in its scope and quality, Garcia Marquez's Macondo is revealed in several of the author's short stories and novels. The most central of these is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which relates the history of several generations of the Buendia family, the founders of this imaginary Colombian town. Interwoven with their personal struggles are events that recall the political, social, and economic turmoil of a hundred years of Latin American history. In addition to establishing the reputation of its author. One Hundred Years of Solitude was a key work in the "Boom" of Latin American literature of the 1960s. Trie worldwide acclaim bestowed upon the novel led to a discovery by readers and critics of other Latin American practitioners of "magical realism." This genre combines realistic portrayals of political and social conflicts with descriptions of mystical, even supernatural events. Garcia Marquez is known as one of its foremost practitioners, although he claims that everything in his fiction has a basis in reality. Nevertheless, it is his inventive portrayals of his homeland which have made him one of the most acclaimed writers in the modern world.
Author Biography

Author Biography

In 1928, the year when more than one hundred local strikers were massacred, Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia. His first years were spent with a large extended family in his grandfather's house in Aracataca. This environment contributed greatly to his future career as a writer. His grandfather. Colonel Nicolas Ricardo Marquee Mejia, took him to the circus, told him stories, and admonished him against listening to the tales of women. His grandmother, Tranquilina Iguaran de Marquez, told him fantastically superstitious stories with such a deadpan style that he was more often scared than not. It was this style that the author used to such great success in his masterpiece. One Hundred Years of Solitude. After his grandfather died, G arc fa Marquez went to live in Sucre, Colombia, with his parents, telegraph operator Gabriel Eligio Garcia (a Conservative frowned on by the family) and Luisa Santiaga Marquez de Garcia.

He won a scholarship to the Liceo Nacional de Zipaquira, a high school near Bogota. He then entered the National University in the capital city of Bogota to study law. After liberal political leader Jorge Gaitan was assassinated in 1948. civil war broke out and he had to transfer to the University of Cartagena. Disliking law and encouraged by the writing of Franz Kafka (especially Metamorphosis), he took up writing. He left school and began working for several newspapers, including El Espectador in Bogota*.

A 1955 serialization of a shipwrecked Colombian almost brought Garcia Marquez journalistic fame. The journalist's account of the sailor's story, however, scandalized the government. Fearing reprisal, the newspaper's editors sent him to Europe but military dictator General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla shut down the El Espectador for other reasons. Bereft of his steady source of income, Garcia Marquez worked as a freelance writer in Paris. Meanwhile, friends rescued his novella La Hojarasca (translated as Leaf Storm from a drawer. Published in 1955, it drew little attention. Although Rojas stepped down in 1957, it was still unsafe for the journalist to return home. He moved to Caracas, Venezuela, and, in 1958, he married the "the most interesting person" he had ever met: Mercedes Barcha, whom he first encountered in 1946, when she was thirteen. Their first child, Rodrigo, was born in 1959; their second, Gonzalo, in 1962.

In 1959, Garcia Marquez went to Cuba, where he befriended its socialist leader, Fidel Castro. He set up Prensa Latino, a Cuban press agency, in Bogota, and reported for them from Cuba and New York. (These Cuban connections later caused visa problems for Garcia Marquez with America as Cuban-American relations soured.) Garcia Marquez then settled in Mexico City in 1961, where he worked in film and advertising. Finally solving his Macondo puzzle in 1965, he sequestered himself for eighteen months and emerged with One Hundred Years of Solitude After its success, the family moved to Barcelona, Spain, where his study of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco contributed to the 1975 novel El otono del patriarca (translated as The Autumn of the Patriarch). After that novel, Garcia Marquez swore he would be silent until Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, leader of a military coup against the elected government in 1973, stepped down. Fortunately, he recanted; subsequent novels, including Cronica del muerte anunciada (1981, translated as Chronicle of a Death Foretold), El amor en los tiempos del colera (1985, translated as Love in the Time of Cholera ), and El general en su laberinto (1989, translated as The General in His Labyrinth ), were published to great acclaim.

In 1982 the exiled native son was awarded the Nobel Prize and was welcomed home to Colombia with honors. Currently, he divides his time between Mexico City and Bogota and continues to write fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays, as well as a weekly news column.
Plot Summary

Plot Summary

The Founding of Macondo

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of the Buendia family and the fictional town of Macondo. The first part of the book's opening line, "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," serves to catapult the reader into the future, while the second phrase pushes the reader into the past. From this point onward, however, the book moves in fairly straight forward chronological order, with only occasional forays into the past or the future.

The first chapter introduces Jose Arcadio Buendia, the founder of Macondo; his wife, Ursula; and the gypsy Melquiades, who brings inventions to Macondo. Jose Arcadio and Ursula also have two sons introduced in the opening chapter. The older, Jos6 Arcadio, is large, strong, and physically precocious. The younger child, Aureliano, is quiet, solitary, and clairvoyant.

One of the more difficult features of the book is that the characters share the same names. That is, in each generation of Buendias, there are characters named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano, just as there are female characters called Remedios, Amaranta, and Ursula. The characters named alike share similar characteristics. For example, the Arcadios are physically strong and active, while the Aurelianos are intellectual, with some psychic ability.

The early chapters also introduce the village of Macondo and its founding. In the days before the founding of Macondo, Jose Arcadio and Ursula (who are cousins) marry. However, Ursula fears that the result of incest will be the birth of a child with a pig's tail. Consequently, she is opposed to consummating their marriage. When Prudencio Aguilar announces to the town that Jose Arcadio's masculinity is suspect, it results in two things: first, Jos6 Arcadio consummates the marriage in spite of Ursula's protests; and second, he Mils Prudencio Aguilar. The dead man continues to visit the Buendias until they decide to leave their town and start anew by founding the town of Macondo.

The Growth of Macondo

In the beginning, the town is young; it is a place where no one is over thirty years old and no one has died yet. Except for occasional visits from Melquiades and his troop of gypsies, the three hundred inhabitants of Macondo are completely isolated from the rest of the world. Although Jose Arcadio leads a band of townspeople on a mission to try to establish contact with the outside world, he is unsuccessful. Later, Ursula sets off to find her son Jose Arcadio, who has unexpectedly run away with the gypsies. Although Ursula does not find her son, she finds a route to another town, connecting Macondo to the world. As a result, people begin to arrive in Macondo, including a governmental representative, Don Apolinar Moscote. Aureliano falls in love with Apolinar's beautiful child, Remedios.

Another new arrival to the town is the orphan Rebeca. The family adopts her and raises her as a sister to their daughter Amaranta and grandson Arcadio, the missing Jos6's illegitimate son by Pilar Ternera. Meanwhile, the village contracts a plague of insomnia and memory loss. The people of Macondo resort to placing signs everywhere to remind themselves of the names of things. Of course, they also forget how to read. Through the intervention of Melquiades (who died in the previous chapter, only to return because he was bored) the town is saved.

Not only does Melquiades return from the dead, the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar returns to keep Jose Arcadio company. Jose Arcadio is overcome with nostalgia and goes mad Ursula ties him to a tree in the courtyard, where he remains, speaking in a language that no one understands

After the insomnia plague, another outsider, Pietro Crespi, arrives. He comes to Macondo to give music lessons. Both Rebeca and Amaranta fall in love with him; the result of this love is tragedy as the two women engage in plots and revenge. Even after Rebeca rejects Pietro in favor of the returned Jose Arcadio, there is bad blood between the two women.

Another tragic love story is that of Aureliano and Remedios. Although no more than a child, Remedios is engaged to Aureliano. He waits patiently for her to mature enough so that they can marry. They do so, but the marriage is short-lived; little Remedios dies of blood poisoning during her first pregnancy.

After Remedios' death, Aureliano becomes Colonel Aureliano Buendia, a soldier for the Liberal Party and a leader in a civil war between the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Colonel loses all of his battles, but seems to live a charmed life otherwise. He survives numerous assassination attempts and one suicide attempt, fathers seventeen sons with seventeen different women, and becomes Commander-in-Chief of the revolutionary forces. In a return to the opening sentence of the novel, the colonel faces a firing squad, but is not killed.

The Buendias at War

The middle portion of the book includes accounts of the seemingly endless civil wars and of the activities of Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo, the twin sons of the late Arcadio. When the wars are finally over, Colonel Aureliano Buendia retires to his home, where he leads a solitary life making little gold fishes. His solitude increases and he is overcome with nostalgia and memories. After recalling once again the day that his father took him to see ice, he dies.

Meanwhile, Americans arrive in the prospering town of Macondo to farm bananas. The farm workers eventually launch a strike against the American company, protesting their living conditions. Soldiers arrive and slaughter some three thousand workers. Jose Arcadio Segundo is present at the slaughter and narrowly escapes with his life When he attempts to find out more about the massacre, however, he discovers that no one knows that it even happened. No one has any memory of the event except for himself, and no one will believe that it really occurred. Likewise, the official governmental account of the event is accepted: "There was no dead, the satisfied workers had gone back to their families, and the banana company was suspending all activity until the rams stopped."

The Decline of Macondo

The rains, however, do not stop. Instead, they continue for another four years, eleven months, and two days. Over this time, the rain washes away much of Macondo. When it clears, Ursula, the last of the original Buendias, dies. She takes with her the memories of the founding of the town and the relationships among people. This failure of memory leads to the union of Amaranta Ursula, great-great-granddaughter of the original Jose Arcadio Buendia, to Aureliano, great-great-great grandson of the same man. Aureliano, the bastard child of Amaranta Ursula's sister Meme, had been raised by the family since his birth. Nevertheless, only his grandparents, Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo, knew the secret of his parentage. His match with Amaranta Ursula recalls the original Ursula's fear of incest: the marriage of one of her aunts to one of her cousins led to the birth of a child with the tail of a pig. Likewise, Amaranta Ursula's relationship with her nephew Aureliano results in the birth of a child with the tail of pig, thus bringing the story of the Buendias full circle.

In the closing chapter, Amaranta Ursula dies giving birth, and her son is left in the street, to be devoured by ants, due to the carelessness of Aureliano. Aureliano's reaction is surprising:

And then he saw the child. It was a dry and bloated bag of skin that all the ants in the world were dragging towards their holes along the stone path in the garden. Aureliano could not move Not because he was paralyzed by horror but because at that prodigious Instant Melquiades' final keys were revealed to him and he saw the epigraph of the parchments perfection placed in the order of man's time and space. The first of the line ts tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants

In the final pages of the novel, Aureliano finally is able to read the manuscripts left by Melquiades years earlier. As he does so, he realizes that what he is reading is the story of his family. As he finishes the text, a giant wind sweeps away the town of Macondo, erasing it from time, space, and memory.
Chapter 1

Chapter 1 Summary

The Buendia family helps found the village of Macondo deep in the Colombian swamps. Over the next one hundred years the sleepy village becomes the seat of a national revolution, is connected to the country by railroad, and grows into a thriving banana plantation. Throughout this period the Buendia family extends through seven generations. Eventually the revolution ends, the banana plantation collapses, and the prosperity of Macondo vanishes as the fortunes of the Buendia family wane. Reduced to a single surviving member, the Buendia family and Macondo come to simultaneous ends as a huge windstorm blows the entire crumbling town away.

The town of Macondo is occasionally visited by a band of wandering gypsies who bring various wonders for the amusement and edification of the isolated town's citizens. One of the leading gypsies is named Melquiades and his objects of wonder include heavy magnets, a telescope and huge magnifying glass, Portuguese instruments of navigation, the laboratory of an alchemist, and - most wonderful of all - false teeth. Without fail the wonders brought by Melquiades are purchased by the ever-curious Jose Arcadio Buendia who experiments with them and attempts, usually unsuccessfully, to integrate them into a universal science. The two men become famous and good friends. Jose Arcadio Buendia's wife Ursula finds her husband's wild penchant for science ridiculous and unfortunately expensive. She becomes increasingly agitated when her husband converts several of her precious gold doubloons into scum while alchemically attempting to double the precious metal's volume.

Ursula is always engaged in productive work. Jose Arcadio Buendia goes through various phases where he will alternate between being the most-productive man in the village and the crackpot cartographer who believes he has discovered that the world must be spherical. Most of the inhabitants of Macondo view him with deferential reverence and his various ideas are commonly accepted without criticism. In any event, his influence on the town is felt in all aspects of society. Thus when he announces an expedition to find another town so that Macondo will no longer be entirely isolated, many men join him. They travel due north for ten days across an endless field of damp volcanic ash, failing to find anything except a spectral Spanish galleon mysteriously located in the middle of dry land. Jose Arcadio Buendia gives up the expedition and mysteriously concludes that Macondo is located on either an island or a peninsula.

Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula have two children--Jose Arcadio, who is fourteen, and Aureliano, who is five. Aureliano is the first child born in Macondo. Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula are cousins who ignored social convention in Riohacha, their home town, and married. The resultant scandal drove them to abandon the town in shame, wander for twenty-six months in search of the sea, and finally found Macondo. Ursula had always feared her children would be iguanas, due to inbreeding. Fortunately they are both physically normal men.

The chapter concludes when the gypsies return once again--this time they are a different troupe and Jose Arcadio Buendia is momentarily dismayed to learn that Melquiades has died from fever and been buried at sea. His grief is immediately forgotten when he is introduced to the gypsies' latest wonder--ice. He considers it the greatest invention of all time.

Chapter 1 Analysis

The novel begins with "Many years later" (p. 1) indicating a complex timeline; the unnamed and unreliable narrator is relating the story after the passage of many years' time. The narrator is quickly established as unreliable--for example, after stating that Jose Arcadio Buendia had very limited geographical knowledge, his rather extensive knowledge is revealed. In fact, throughout the novel almost all factual statements made in the narrative are refuted by other putatively factual statements made somewhere else. The introductory chapter is critical to an understanding of the novel; it establishes the tone of magical realism, the subtle and appealing blend of factual and incredible that makes the novel so entirely engaging. The chapter also introduces the town of Macondo and establishes its very brief but very peculiar history; the original 21 founders all fled Riohacha for various personal reasons--but all of the reasons will eventually be seen to involve some deep-seated sexual and cultural shame. The town is isolated from the world and, in fact, nobody in the town even knows how to get to another town. In other words, the town in its early years is entirely disconnected from larger society. Finally, the chapter introduces the Buendia family started by the double third cousins Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran.

Names within the novel are subtle but critical--many of the characters share the same or similar names and are differentiated by using only a portion of their name. Thus, the son of Jose Arcadio Buendia is named Jose Arcadio, clearly of the surname Buendia--the father is referred to by his full name and the son is referred to as Jose Arcadio. The son Jose Arcadio has a son named Jose Arcadio, also a Buendia, who is referred to as Arcadio. Thus three characters share the same name and a direct lineal descent. Such naming is of course common among families but perhaps not so in fiction; additionally, the narrator will often manipulate the names in subtle ways to confuse exactly which character is performing an action. Biological relationships are similarly complex--Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran are distant cousins--actually double third cousins, sharing the same great-great-grandparents. They have three children, Jose Arcadio, Aureliano, and Amaranta. However, Jose Arcadio leaves home before Amaranta is born and Aureliano's age difference means that Amaranta is raised as a separate generation. She is joined by Arcadio, Jose Arcadio's son, and they are raised as if siblings. Finally, the generation is completed with the addition of Rebeca, apparently not a biological relative at all but nevertheless raised as one. Interestingly, she is closer to Aureliano in age but her childlike demeanor results in her being usually placed with Amaranta and Arcadio. Further complicating matters is Pilar Ternera, not a relative at all but the mother of one child each by the brothers Jose Arcadio and Aureliano; finally, Pilar Ternera is roughly the age of Ursula. These complications are found within the parental generation and their offspring alone, and the novel spans several additional generations! Reference to the pedigree chart preceding chapter one helps but does not entirely free the reader of the need for close attention to detail.
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