The Liberals have lost the war, and Colonel Aureliano Buendía, along with his friend Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, is captured and sentenced to execution by firing squad. His last request is that the sentence be carried out in his hometown of Macondo. He is saved at the final instant, however, by his brother José Arcadio, and, immediately, Colonel Buendía launches another uprising, one of thirty-two he will lead during his military career. He encounters a long string of failures, however, and is abandoned by the Liberal party’s official representatives. Eventually, though, he enjoys some success and is able to recapture Macondo and other coastal territory. But an assassination attempt leaves him disillusioned with the constant fighting, and he begins to realize that he is fighting not for ideology but for pride alone. He starts writing poetry again, as he used to do during his courtship with Remedios Moscote.
While Aureliano is fighting his wars, Santa Sofía de la Piedad gives birth to twins fathered by her dead husband, Arcadio; they are named José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo. Apart from this happy event, however, tragedy strikes the Buendía family repeatedly. José Arcadio dies mysteriously, and it is unclear whether he has been murdered or has committed suicide. Rebeca, his wife, becomes a hermit, living the rest of her life in solitary grief. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, who is left in command of the town when Aureliano leaves yet again to fight, has been in love for years with the solitary Amaranta, who spurns him as she did Pietro Crespi. And finally, after years of living outside tied to a tree, José Arcadio Buendía, the patriarch of the clan, dies. A rain of yellow flowers from the sky marks his death.
Aureliano José had been destined to find . . . happiness . . . but had been directed by a wrong interpretation of the cards.
Time passes, and Aureliano José, the son of Colonel Aureliano Buendía and Pilar Ternera, grows to maturity. He develops an unhealthy passion for his aunt, Amaranta, which she—in her loneliness—comes dangerously close to requiting. The two touch each other and sleep naked together without ever having intercourse. When they are almost discovered kissing, however, Amaranta breaks off the affair, and Aureliano José joins the army. The official Liberal party signs a peace agreement with the Conservative government, an agreement that Colonel Buendía sees as treacherous. He repudiates the agreement and flees the country, and Aureliano José goes with him. While Colonel Aureliano is traveling throughout the Caribbean, starting Liberal uprisings, Macondo settles into relative peace, thriving in its new status as a municipality under the mayor José Raquél Moncada, who is a Conservative but also a humane and intelligent man.
Aureliano José deserts the rebel army and returns home, hoping to marry Amaranta, who continues to avoid him, repelled by the notion of incest. The situation is brought to a tragic close when Aureliano José is killed by a Conservative soldier during an act of civil disobedience. Soon after Aureliano José’s desertion, the seventeen sons whom Colonel Aureliano Buendía has fathered over the course of his travels are brought to Macondo to be baptized, and all are given the name Aureliano. Not long after Aureliano José’s death, the Colonel himself returns to Macondo as the head of an army. Tall and pale, Colonel Aureliano Buendía has been hardened by his many battles: when a court martial orders that José Raquél Moncada be put to death, he refuses to commute the sentence, despite the longstanding friendship between the two soldiers and the protests of all the town’s matriarchs.
The execution of Moncada is the beginning of the end. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, and then Colonel Aureliano Buendía himself, lose faith in the purpose of the war. Gerineldo Márquez devotes himself instead to Amaranta, who steadily rebuffs his protestations of love even as she becomes more and more used to his presence. Withdrawn into himself, Colonel Buendía becomes a shell of a man, unemotional and utterly solitary, without any memories. It is only when Gerineldo Márquez is condemned to death that Colonel Buendía is forced to confront himself, finally acknowledging the emptiness of the war. Together with the freed Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, he fights the bloody battles against his own forces in an effort to convince the Liberals, at last, to end the war. When he signs a peace treaty that he feels represents the Liberal party’s failure to uphold their ideals, he thinks that he has betrayed both himself and his party. He attempts suicide but survives the bullet wound in his chest. When Úrsula, his mother, sees that he will live, she makes an effort to rejuvenate the house and to rescue it from the creeping decay that descended on it during the war.
This section, describing Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s wars and the concurrent changes in Macondo, is one of the most disturbing in the novel. José Aureliano Buendía dies, and even the heavens mourn his passing, miraculously raining down yellow flowers in his memory. Death, in fact, begins to plague the Buendía family: José Arcadio, Arcadio, and Aureliano José all die prematurely and tragically. But perhaps the most troubling of the misfortunes that fill these pages is the dehumanization of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. Once a sensitive man, the Colonel becomes hardened by war, losing his capacity for emotion and even for memory. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, miracles like the rain of flowers in honor of José Arcadio Buendía coexist with tragedies, and no mercy is shown to the protagonists.
Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, the possibility of forgetting the past threatens the coherence of society and relationships. Amnesia strikes Macondo early in the novel, and later, all memory of a massacre is eliminated. Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s loss of memory is connected to his inability to experience emotion other than sadness and resignation. The cruel necessities of war have scourged him of any sensitivity and even of the tenderness associated with nostalgic longings for his past. His attempt to commit suicide is not so much a result of shame for having surrendered, one senses, but a way of eliminating his solitary sadness. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, emotion lodges in nostalgia and ties of affection spring from memories of the past. “How awful,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía reflects when he returns home after the war, and he finds himself unmoved by seeing his family again and “the way time passes.” The fears of change and of the accompanying dulling of emotion are augmented by the fear of memory loss, and Aureliano can barely remember what the past was like. Rebeca, on the other hand, lives her hermit’s life accompanied only by memories, which walk “like human beings through the cloistered rooms” and bring her a peace that no actual humans have ever brought to her.
In this section, the novel expands to its largest scope, filled with the most characters; it contains the rebellion and other national political events. The novel seems noisy and crowded at this point, filled with a confusing multiplicity of voices and perspectives. But even as we are overwhelmed by these voices, the Buendías seem to be retreating further and further into solitude. We learn that a deep feeling of alienation lies at the core of Arcadio’s obsession with order and his tyranny of the town when he is installed as dictator. Without the ability to connect emotionally with anybody, Colonel Aureliano Buendía retreats into the solitude of his empty mind. Rebeca shuts herself up in her house with memories that take the place of people, and Amaranta refuses all suitors despite her strong desire not to be alone. Úrsula Iguarán, having no one to confide in, talks only to her insane husband, who does not understand her because he now only speaks Latin. Language functions throughout the novel as a barrier between humans, a dilemma inspired by the biblical confusion of Babel.
Not only as individuals, but as a family, too, the Buendías begin to turn in upon themselves. Incest has been bubbling beneath the surface of the story all along: José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán are cousins, and Arcadio wants to sleep with Pilar Ternera, who is his mother. The urge for incest is now at full force as Aureliano José lusts after his lonely aunt, Amaranta, who is tempted by the young man but refuses to sleep with him, horrified by the taboo. This recurring urge, which will reappear again and again among the Buendías, is symptomatic, perhaps, of the family’s alienation. They are isolated both in their remote town and by their solitary personalities. And it should be remembered that the act of incest is an essentially repetitive act: relatives who copulate are essentially reproducing and doubling family relationships that already exist. History, for the Buendía family, repeats itself in ever-tightening spirals, drawing the Buendía family inward upon themselves.