Colonel Aureliano Buendía has withdrawn even further from society, spending his days locked in his workshop making tiny golden fishes and refusing to speak about politics. Meanwhile, in his adolescence, Aureliano Segundo begins to delve into the esoteric mysteries still preserved in Melquíades’s laboratory; he is often visited by the specter of Melquíades himself. José Arcadio Segundo—Aureliano Segundo’s twin brother—on the other hand, begins to show a religious side. Soon, however, he becomes a cockfighter and sometimes engages in sex with donkeys. The two brothers, who share a strong resemblance until they are fully grown, both start sleeping with the same woman, Petra Cotes, who does not realize that they are not the same man. When Jose Arcadio Segundo is scared off by a venereal disease contracted from Petra Cotes, he ends all contact, while Aureliano Segundo decides to stay with her. The two have a fierce passion for each other, and something magical in their union causes their farm animals to be supernaturally fertile. Soon, Aureliano Segundo becomes fabulously wealthy by virtue of his livestock’s productivity. He throws huge parties and engages in colossal displays of wealth. The whole village seems to share in his prosperity.
Driven, like his great-grandfather José Arcadio Buendía, by the impulse to explore, José Arcadio Segundo tries to engineer a navigable river passage to the ocean. He is successful only once in bringing a boat up the river. In his boat are a group of French prostitutes who promote a huge carnival in Macondo. Remedios the Beauty is declared queen of the carnival. She has become the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen, but still she remains blissfully ignorant and totally innocent, like a child. At the carnival, however, disaster strikes. A rival queen, Fernanda del Carpio, arrives, escorted by mysterious men who begin a riot and then begin firing rifles into the crowd, killing many revelers.
The chapter begins by providing us with a history of Fernanda del Carpio. She is raised to believe she is destined for greatness, but her family’s wealth has been fading, and her aristocratic line is dying. Upon seeing her at the carnival, Aureliano Segundo becomes obsessed with her, tracking her down in her gloomy city and carrying her home to marry him. Their personalities, however, clash: she is religious and haughty, while he is a devoted hedonist. Scorning his wife’s rigid moral and social code, Aureliano Segundo continues to sleep with Petra Cotes, both to ensure the fertility of his animals and because of his wife’s prudishness in bed. Meanwhile, Fernanda attempts to transform the once- relaxed Buendía house into a facsimile of her aristocratic home. She rules with an iron hand, and the house becomes rigidly formal and unpleasant. Despite their estrangement, Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda have two children early in their marriage: Renata Remedios (whom everyone calls Meme), and José Arcadio (II). Úrsula, the hundred-year-old matriarch of the clan, says that José Arcadio will become pope.
Soon after the birth of Meme, the anniversary of the armistice that ended the civil war occurs, and the president of the Republic tries to honor Colonel Aureliano Buendía with the Order of Merit, which he declines scornfully. His seventeen illegitimate sons, each named Aureliano, arrive at Macondo to celebrate the anniversary, and Aureliano Segundo greets their arrival with revelry, much to Fernanda’s consternation. When the seventeen Aurelianos receive the cross of ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, they do not wash off, and all seventeen brothers keep the mark until their deaths. One of the sons, Aureliano Triste, discovers that Rebeca, the widow of José Arcadio Buendía’s son José Arcadio, is still living as a hermit in her house. Aureliano Triste and another of the Aurelianos, Aureliano Centeno, decide to remain in Macondo and build an ice factory there, in a sense fulfilling José Arcadio Buendía’s early prophecy of a town made of ice. Finally, funded by Aureliano Segundo, Aureliano Triste builds a railroad connection, decisively linking Macondo with the industrial, modern world.
Character traits are entirely hereditary in One Hundred Years of Solitude; characters are defined largely by how their parents or namesakes behaved. But it appears that the babies in these chapters have been switched at birth: José Arcadio Segundo does not have the size and impulsiveness of his namesake, and Aureliano Segundo is not thin and solitary like the elder man of the same name, Colonel Aureliano Buendía. Instead, José Arcadio Segundo is intense and solitary like the old Colonel, and Aureliano Segundo is given to debauchery and excess, like José Arcadio. With only the names reversed and with such a strong physical resemblance that they are often mistaken for each other, the twins combine the traits of the José Arcadios and the Aurelianos into a single mishmash of identity.
The family is caught in a series of repetitions, with names and personality traits passed down from generation to generation. This pattern, however, is not a cyclical one but, rather, one that has many different lines of progression occurring simultaneously. Indeed, the family never returns to the exact same point that it started from, but instead cycles through moments and situations that are both similar and different from what has gone before.
The village of Macondo, at this point in the book, is beginning its long decline from the blissful innocence of former years. The announcement of the arrival of the train at the end of this chapter shows the sudden clash between Macondo’s old-fashioned simplicity and the modern world: the woman who sees the train first describes it as “a kitchen dragging a village behind it!” The modernity that the train introduces to the isolated town brings a period of growth that only serves to mask the decline of the true spirit of the town, the Buendía family. Úrsula Iguarán, whose common-sense wisdom so often proves correct in this novel, realizes it first: “The world is slowly coming to an end and those things [flying carpets and gypsy magic] don’t happen here anymore.” It is not that marvels do not come to Macondo; indeed, the technology brought by the train is far more miraculous than the magnets and telescopes that the gypsies used to bring. It is instead that the citizens of Macondo are losing their sense of the miraculous, the sense of dreamy wonderment that infused the first pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
While it is clear that the novel values exuberance and energy, in these chapters it becomes apparent that it rebels against the wielding of power and meaningless hierarchies. When Aureliano Segundo marries the beautiful-but-frigid Fernanda del Carpio, the novel seems to frown upon her attempts to infuse the Buendía household with false aristocratic pretensions and hollow religious values. Throughout is a skeptical look at the institution of organized religion. The characters whom the novel celebrates—especially Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Buendía—are not followers of organized Catholicism. José Arcadio Buendía mocks the local priest, and Aureliano Segundo keeps both a wife and a concubine and laughs at the idea of his son becoming pope. It is certainly implied that Macondo was a better place—with more freedom, lightheartedness, and spiritual integrity—before organized religion came to the city. This is not to say that One Hundred Years of Solitude is an anti-religious book. On the contrary, it places great stock in miracles and in faith. But the religion in One Hundred Years of Solitude, like the general moral and ethic value system of the book, rests lightly on its adherents. Religion is a matter, as the earliest inhabitants of the town tell the first priest who comes to Macondo, between man and God, free of intermediaries. One Hundred Years of Solitude suggests that life is best when lived with exuberance and with few inhibitions: certainly, most of the characters in the novel seem to be uninhibited by traditional religious morals, sexual or otherwise. Thus Fernanda del Carpio is made to seem foolish for her strict adherence to Catholic principles, while Petra Cotes, Aureliano Segundo’s lascivious concubine, seems to be rewarded for her promiscuous behavior with fabulous wealth.