Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Memory and Forgetfulness
While the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude consider total forgetfulness a danger, they, ironically, also seem to consider memory a burden. About half of the novel’s characters speak of the weight of having too many memories while the rest seem to be amnesiacs. Rebeca’s overabundance of memory causes her to lock herself in her house after her husband’s death, and to live there with the memory of friends rather than the presence of people. For her, the nostalgia of better days gone by prevents her from existing in a changing world. The opposite of her character can be found in Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who has almost no memories at all. He lives in an endlessly repeating present, melting down and then recreating his collection of little gold fishes. Nostalgia and amnesia are the dual diseases of the Buendía clan, one tying its victims to the past, the other trapping them in the present. Thus afflicted, the Buendías are doomed to repeat the same cycles until they consume themselves, and they are never able to move into the future.
One Hundred Years of Solitude draws on many of the basic narratives of the Bible, and its characters can be seen as allegorical of some major biblical figures. The novel recounts the creation of Macondo and its earliest Edenic days of innocence, and continues until its apocalyptic end, with a cleansing flood in between. We can see José Arcadio Buendía’s downfall—his loss of sanity—as a result of his quest for knowledge. He and his wife, Ursula Iguarán, represent the biblical Adam and Eve, who were exiled from Eden after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The entire novel functions as a metaphor for human history and an extended commentary on human nature. On the one hand, their story, taken literally as applying to the fictional Buendías, evokes immense pathos. But as representatives of the human race, the Buendías personify solitude and inevitable tragedy, together with the elusive possibility of happiness, as chronicled by the Bible.
Gypsies are present in One Hundred Years of Solitude primarily to act as links. They function to offer transitions from contrasting or unrelated events and characters. Every few years, especially in the early days of Macondo, a pack of wandering gypsies arrives, turning the town into something like a carnival and displaying the wares that they have brought with them. Before Macondo has a road to civilization, they are the town’s only contact with the outside world. They bring both technology—inventions that Melquíades displays—and magic—magic carpets and other wonders. Gypsies, then, serve as versatile literary devices that also blur the line between fantasy and reality, especially when they connect Macondo and the outside world, magic and science, and even the past and present.