In ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, Gabriel García Márquez crafts the story of the Buendía family spanning six generations, with each generation failing to learn from the mistakes of the previous one.
The Cyclical Nature of Man
This is, perhaps, the most prominent theme in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude‘. From the first generation of the Buendía family — José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán. José and Úrsula are related, and Úrsula refused to have sex with José because she feared the outcome of incest would lead to defective offspring. Yet, they did procreate, and several succeeding generations engaged in an incestuous relationship, ultimately culminating in the birth of Aureliano (III), who was born with a pigtail — as feared by Úrsula Iguarán.
Similarly, the obsession of José Arcadio Buendía with the works of the gypsy, Melquíades, ultimately leads to his madness. Yet, succeeding generations of the Buendía family obsessed over the works of Melquíades, and lost their sanity in the process. Márquez uses this to point out the inherent nature of man — hubris and delusions of grandeur, failing to learn from history and doomed to repeat mistakes of the past.
It’s not surprising that Márquez chose to give similar names to the offsprings of the Buendía family — thus emphasizing their propensity to follow the path of their ancestors.
The Nonlinearity of Time
Given the structure and arrangement of the book, it is somewhat difficult to plot the exact timeline of a passage without referencing the preceding pages. This is a deliberate feature on Márquez’s part. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude‘ opens with a flashback and ends with a prophecy that was foretold by Melquíades the gypsy. The past, present, and future become muddled because of the cyclical nature of the characters. Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s recall of the past and Melquíades foretelling of the future, are both pointers to this feature. Márquez makes the case that because of the cyclical nature of reality, the past, present, and futures are all the same.
A literary style known as magic realism tells strange, unsettling, and dreamy stories as though they were everyday occurrences. The “once upon a time” style of storytelling, in which the author emphasizes the unbelievable character of made-up events, is the antithesis of magic realism. The narrator speaks of the fantastical so effortlessly that it becomes real in the world of magic realism.
Márquez employs this literary device in this book. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is an exemplary piece of magical realism, in which the supernatural is presented as mundane, and the mundane as supernatural or extraordinary.
The conception of the town of Macondo was via the ‘perception’ of José Arcadio Buendía. This magical realism is also employed when Remedios the Beauty ascends into heaven, Rebeca infects the town with amnesia, and the ghost of Melquíades the gypsy, among others.
Incest in One Hundred Years of Solitude
Love and passion are closely entwined in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude‘, where familial love is mistaken for sexual love, husbands and wives lack the necessary sexual chemistry to satisfy their urges, and many people keep their paternity a secret, increasing the likelihood of incest.
Despite the widespread fear of a child with a pigtail, Márquez shows that the true danger of incest comes from its social and psychological ramifications, such as generating family conflict and uncertainty about one’s ancestry. The Buendía’s isolation and loneliness are exacerbated, to start with, by their inability to expand their family beyond the original bloodline. In this situation, incest prevents them from intermarrying and expanding their society.
The Role of Violence
The major source of conflict in this novel is between the Conservative government of Colombia and the Liberal rebels. Colonel Aureliano Buendía is the focal point of this conflict, as he is angered by the antecedents of Don Apolinar Moscote — the government-appointed magistrate — and is driven to join the Liberal army. Márquez depicts violence in a very macabre fashion, to accentuate the destructive tendencies of mankind.
The Influence of Imperialism and Neocolonialism in One Hundred Years of Solitude
‘One Hundred Years of Solitude‘ can be interpreted as an allegory of Colombian history, with the book’s 100 years representing the past of the country.
Márquez uses the town of Macondo to describe, in a way, the world of Colombia and Latin America as a whole. With the slow but steady influx of westernization and capitalism, Macondo (and, by extension, Latin America) begins to lose some of its cultural heritage. It is overtaken with greed and gluttony, as evidenced by the antecedents of the Banana company.
Although Márquez initially gives the impression of a civilization on the rise (a town that is expanding and has new technology and opportunities), the town quickly reverses direction and begins to decay due to repeated civil war destruction and a lack of local creativity. The narrative, therefore, implies that civilization’s advancement is a fruitless delusion.
What is the main point of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’?
One Hundred Years of Solitude’s main and most obvious topic is that of memory and the past. The decisions made in the past haunt the protagonists in this story, and multiple times during the book, the previous events overpower the present.
What can one learn from this book?
The book is about accountability. The characters are constantly haunted by their past decisions.
What is the significance of magical realism?
By challenging the socially accepted realities that people live in and contrasting them with supernatural components that are presented as “normal,” magical realism enables Márquez to criticize society.
Why was there incest in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude?’
People are repetitious by nature. One person keeps making the same errors as another. In truth, Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia are not the first members of the Buendia or Iguarán family to indulge in incest. However, they were doomed to keep the vicious cycle going, thus emphasizing the cyclical theme of the book.