One Hundred Years of Solitude

by: Gabriel García Márquez


Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Subjectivity of Experienced Reality

Although the realism and the magic that One Hundred Years of Solitude includes seem at first to be opposites, they are, in fact, perfectly reconcilable. Both are necessary in order to convey Márquez’s particular conception of the world. Márquez’s novel reflects reality not as it is experienced by one observer, but as it is individually experienced by those with different backgrounds. These multiple perspectives are especially appropriate to the unique reality of Latin America—caught between modernity and pre-industrialization; torn by civil war, and ravaged by imperialism—where the experiences of people vary much more than they might in a more homogenous society. Magical realism conveys a reality that incorporates the magic that superstition and religion infuse into the world.

This novel treats biblical narratives and native Latin American mythology as historically credible. This approach may stem from the sense, shared by some Latin American authors, that important and powerful strains of magic running through ordinary lives fall victim to the Western emphasis on logic and reason. If García Márquez seems to confuse reality and fiction, it is only because, from some perspectives, fiction may be truer than reality, and vice versa. For instance, in places like Márquez’s hometown, which witnessed a massacre much like that of the workers in Macondo, unthinkable horrors may be a common sight. Real life, then, begins to seem like a fantasy that is both terrifying and fascinating, and Márquez’s novel is an attempt to recreate and to capture that sense of real life.

The Inseparability of Past, Present, and Future

From the names that return generation after generation to the repetition of personalities and events, time in One Hundred Years of Solitude refuses to divide neatly into past, present, and future. Úrsula Iguarán is always the first to notice that time in Macondo is not finite, but, rather, moves forward over and over again. Sometimes, this simultaneity of time leads to amnesia, when people cannot see the past any more than they can see the future. Other times the future becomes as easy to recall as the past. The prophecies of Melquíades prove that events in time are continuous: from the beginning of the novel, the old gypsy was able to see its end, as if the various events were all occurring at once. Similarly, the presence of the ghosts of Melquíades and José Arcadio Buendía shows that the past in which those men lived has become one with the present.

The Power of Reading and of Language

Although language is in an unripe, Garden-of-Eden state at the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude, when most things in the newborn world are still unnamed, its function quickly becomes more complex. Various languages fill the novel, including the Guajiro language that the children learn, the multilingual tattoos that cover José Arcadio’s body, the Latin spoken by José Arcadio Buendía, and the final Sanskrit translation of Melquíades’s prophecies. In fact, this final act of translation can be seen as the most significant act in the book, since it seems to be the one that makes the book’s existence possible and gives life to the characters and story within.

As García Márquez makes reading the final apocalyptic force that destroys Macondo and calls attention to his own task as a writer, he also reminds us that our reading provides the fundamental first breath to every action that takes place in One Hundred Years of Solitude. While the novel can be thought of as something with one clear, predetermined meaning, García Márquez asks his reader to acknowledge the fact that every act of reading is also an interpretation, and that such interpretations can have weighty consequences. Aureliano (II), then, does not just take the manuscripts’ meanings for granted, but, in addition, he must also translate and interpret them and ultimately precipitate the destruction of the town.