At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.
These lines come from the very first page of the novel. They establish Macondo as a kind of Eden, recalling the biblical tale of Adam naming the animals. This parallel to the Old Testament is present throughout the book, as Macondo slowly loses its innocence by seeking too much knowledge. At the same time, however, the reference to prehistoric eggs refers to an entirely different account of the origin of the world: evolution. By beginning the book with references to two entirely different accounts of creation, García Márquez tries to tell us that, in this book, he will invent his own mythology. It will not be based solely on the Bible, nor will it be totally grounded in science. Instead, it will ask us to accept several different myths at the same time.
Aureliano José had been destined to find with [Carmelita Montiel] the happiness that Amaranta had denied him, to have seven children, and to die in her arms of old age, but the bullet that entered his back and shattered his chest had been directed by a wrong interpretation of the cards.
Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, the idea of a predetermined fate is accepted as natural. Because time is cyclical, after all, seeing into the future can be as easy as remembering the past. In this passage from Chapter 8, however, a prediction not only foretells the future, but also actually affects it. The act of reading and interpreting has a magically powerful status in this novel. This power will be seen again in the last few pages of the book, where Aureliano (II)’s reading of the prophecies brings about the destruction of Macondo. In addition to assigning magical power to the fictional act of reading within the story, García Márquez also indicates his awareness of the importance of interpretation in any reading.
It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendía with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.
This quote occurs just after the arrival of the railroad, when dozens of new inventions—the phonograph, the telephone, the electric lightbulb—have flooded Macondo. The citizens of Macondo, who have accepted flying carpets and miraculous rains of yellow flowers as part of the natural way of things, doubt the reality of technological inventions. This passage therefore represents a turning point for Macondo. Whereas the citizens of Macondo once believed in the magical and mythical world as their only reality, they must now accept both science and magic. García Márquez makes use of humor here, since one of the people who cannot believe in the telephone is the ghost of José Arcadio Buendía, who is, himself, much more unbelievable to modern eyes than any technological invention. But, in reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, we are asked to abandon those modern eyes in favor of the perspective of those in Macondo. We must read at all times with an awareness of both points of view.
[Aureliano (II)] saw the epigraph of the parchments perfectly paced in the order of man’s time and space: The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants. . . . Melquíades had not put events in the order of a man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant.
In the final pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Aureliano (II) deciphers the parchments and discovers that they collapse time so that the entire history of Macondo occurs in a single instant. Although García Márquez has written the novel in a mostly chronological fashion, there have been hints of this overlapping of time throughout the book: ghosts from the past appear in the present; the future takes its shape based on the actions of the past; amnesia plunges the citizens of Macondo into a perpetual present with neither past nor future. In other words, time in Macondo has always unfolded strangely. Only in this final moment do we find out that in Macondo, there are two kinds of time: linear and cyclical. Both have always existed simultaneously, and, even as the Buendías move forward along the straight line of time, they are also returning to the beginning of time in an ever-shrinking spiral.
[Aureliano (II)] had already understood that he would never leave that room, 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.
As he reads Melquíades’ writings in the final pages of the novel, Aureliano (II) knows that he will never leave because the destruction of his family is foretold in the prophecies; he believes absolutely in the fate that those prophecies describe. This reference to fate has caused a number of critics to think of One Hundred Years of Solitude as a pessimistic book because it seems to say that man has no free will and that all actions are predetermined.
The description of Macondo as a city of “mirrors (or mirages)” also provides a great deal of food for thought. In the final, prophetic scene, mirrors have already been mentioned once, when Aureliano reads about himself reading about himself and feels “as if he were looking into a speaking mirror.” A “city of mirrors,” then, is a city in which everything is reflected in writing. The written reflection of Macondo exists not only in the prophecies, but also in One Hundred Years of Solitude itself. By coupling mirrors with mirages, which are fictional images, García Márquez invites us to question the reality of Macondo and forces us to be aware of our own act of reading and imagining the story of the town.
This emphasis on reading and interpretation is also very important to this passage. Aureliano has just learned his father’s name and refers to himself for the first time as “Aureliano Babilonia.” The reference to the tower of Babel emphasizes language and Aureliano’s role as a translator and interpreter of the prophecies. García Márquez attaches supernatural power to the act of interpreting a story, and he makes reading an action capable of destroying a town and erasing memory. In doing so, he asks us, as readers, to be aware of the power of interpretation and also to understand that the creation and destruction of Macondo have been entirely created by our own act of reading.