The founder and patriarch of Macondo, José Arcadio Buendía represents both great leadership and the innocence of the ancient world. He is a natural explorer, setting off into the wilderness first to found Macondo and then to find a route between Macondo and the outside world. In this tale of creation he is the Adam figure, whose quest for knowledge, mirrored in the intellectual pursuits of his descendants, eventually results in his family’s loss of innocence. José Arcadio Buendía pushes his family forward into modernity, preferring the confines of his laboratory to the sight of a real flying carpet that the gypsies have brought. By turning his back on this ancient magic in favor of his more modern scientific ideas, he hastens the end of Macondo’s Eden-like state.

For José Arcadio Buendía, however, madness comes sooner than disillusionment. Immediately after he thinks he has discovered a means to create perpetual motion—a physical impossibility—he goes insane, convinced that the same day is repeating itself over and over again. In a sense, his purported discovery of perpetual motion achieves a kind of total knowledge that may be too deep for the human mind to withstand. Perpetual motion could only exist in a world without time, which, for José Arcadio Buendía, is what the world becomes and, in a sense, is what time throughout the novel becomes: past, present and future often overlap. This overlapping of time allows José Arcadio Buendía to appear to his descendants in the form of a ghost, so that his presence will always be felt in Macondo.