During the mourning period for Colonel Aureliano Buendía, Fernanda del Carpio gives birth to her third child with Aureliano Segundo, Amaranta Úrsula. For years, the elder Amaranta, who is the last living second-generation Buendía, has been retreating into her memories. Amaranta lives more in her lonely, regretful past than in the present. Visited with a premonition of her own death, she begins to sew her own funeral shroud. When she finishes, she announces to the whole town that she will die at dusk, and she offers to take with her letters from the living to the dead. Still a virgin, she dies. After Amaranta’s death, Úrsula goes to her own bed and will not get up again for many years. She is often visited by little Amaranta Úrsula, with whom she develops a loving relationship.
Meme, the first daughter of Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda del Carpio, grows up as frivolous as her father, only feigning interest in the clavichord that her mother forces her to study. With her father, Meme develops a companionship based on shared interests and mutual distaste for Fernanda. She befriends a few American girls and starts to socialize with them, even learning a little English. Meme falls madly in love with Mauricio Babilonia, a mechanic working for the banana plantation who courts her bluntly and shamelessly and whose openness and solemnity entrance Meme. He is followed always by yellow butterflies. Fernanda discovers them kissing in a movie theater and confines the lovesick Meme to the house. When she deduces that Mauricio Babilonia sneaks into the house every night to make love to Meme, she posts a guard in the backyard. When Babilonia returns once more, the guard shoots him, shattering his spine and paralyzing him for the rest of his life.
The tragic paralysis of Mauricio Babilonia traumatizes Meme, striking her mute. Scandalized by Meme’s behavior, Fernanda takes her on the long journey back to the city where Fernanda was born. Meme is interred in a convent, where she spends the rest of her life thinking about Mauricio Babilonia. Months after she arrives, one of the nuns from the convent appears at the Buendía house with Meme’s illegitimate child, fathered by Mauricio Babilonia, whom Fernanda keeps hidden in Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s old workshop. Ashamed of Meme’s actions, she pretends that the child is a foundling. He bears the name of Aureliano (II).
Meanwhile, José Arcadio Segundo, the silent and solitary brother of Aureliano Segundo, has been organizing the banana plantation workers to strike in protest of the inhumane working conditions. Macondo is placed under martial law, and the workers respond by sabotaging the plantation. The government reacts by inviting more than 3,000 of the workers to gather for a meeting with the leadership of the province and to resolve their differences. The meeting is a trick, and the army surrounds the workers with machine guns and methodically kills them all. The corpses are collected onto a train and dumped into the sea. José Arcadio Segundo, taken for dead, is thrown onto the train as well, but he manages to jump off the train and walk back to Macondo. There, he is horrified to discover that all memory of the massacre has been wiped out—none of the people of Macondo remember what happened, and they refuse to believe José Arcadio Segundo when he tells them. A heavy, unrelenting rain falls on the town and does not stop, destroying any physical traces of the massacre.
The army and the government continue exterminating any surviving union leaders and denying all reports of a massacre. Finally, José Arcadio Segundo is tracked down at the Buendía house, where he is hiding in Melquíades’ old room. Looking in the room, which seems to all the Buendías exactly as it was in the days of Melquíades, the soldiers see only decay, as if the room has aged immeasurably. They do not notice José Arcadio Segundo. Terrified of the outside world after the massacre, José Arcadio Segundo takes refuge in the gypsy’s old room, studying Melquíades’ incomprehensible manuscripts. Slowly, he becomes dead to the outside world and his obsession leads him to a loss of sanity. José Arcadio Segundo lives only for the study of his texts and to preserve the memory of the 3,000 who died in the massacre.
In addition to signaling the Buendía family’s continuing spiral toward its eventual destruction, the dual tragedies of Meme’s ruined love affair and the massacre of the striking banana workers allow the later generations of Buendías to revisit the events that shaped the lives of their ancestors. After Mauricio Babilonia is shot on Fernanda del Carpio’s command, Meme is forced to become a nun in the same gloomy convent, in the same grim city, where her mother Fernanda lived. It is not difficult to see in Meme’s return to Fernanda’s birthplace an echo of the beginning, in which the child fulfils the grim destiny from which her mother was rescued by Aureliano Segundo’s love. And in José Arcadio Segundo’s allegiance with the strikers, too, lies a parallel—he has taken the place of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who, in an earlier generation, fought for the rights of the working class. Later, after the massacre, he also inherits Colonel Aureliano’s disillusionment with war and solitary nature, locking himself up with Melquíades’s manuscripts, like the Colonel locked himself up with little fishes. With her typical wisdom, Úrsula Iguarán notices the generational similarities: “It’s as if the world were repeating itself,” she remarks.
The contrast between the harrowing nature of the workers’ massacre and the frank manner in which it is told can be explained by García Márquez’s use of personal recollections in the construction of his fictional plots. There is very little sensationalist talk about blood and gore. The machine gun fire is compared to a “whirlwind,” and the crowd of workers to an “onion.” The episode is over in a few pages, and it is almost immediately forgotten by everyone in town except José Arcadio Segundo. But García Márquez’s matter-of-fact tone does nothing to lessen the horror of the incident. On the contrary, the massacre seems all the more brutal for the machine-like quality of its perpetrators and for the concise prose in which it is told, as if the author himself was too horrified to spend much time writing about the incident. This is not surprising, since the massacre was inspired by a horrific episode in García Márquez’s own experience. As a child, García Márquez lived near a banana plantation, and, when the workers at the plantation went on strike, they were killed with machine guns and thrown into the ocean.
It is not only García Márquez’s experiences and memories that are folded into the narrative but his political beliefs as well. In the story of Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s fight for the Liberal party, it is impossible not to notice García Márquez’s sympathy for the Liberals and their cause and his disdain for the corrupt Conservative government. These political parties, and the war between them, are not entirely fictional. Instead, the parties and the uprisings are fictionalized incarnations of the political struggles in García Márquez’s native Colombia. Similarly, it is difficult to read García Márquez’s chapters about the banana company in Macondo without recognizing that the underlying subtext is the history of Western imperialism in Latin America. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez depicts the capitalist imperialism of the banana companies as voracious and harmful to the inhabitants of Macondo. Capitalism and imperialism, supported by the country’s Conservative government, bring corruption and brutality to Macondo and oppression to the inhabitants. García Márquez is not simply writing fiction but is telling a story about politics and life in Latin America, speaking as the representative of an entire culture. One Hundred Years of Solitude is fiction that shoulders the burdens of social and cultural responsibility.