Want study tips sent straight to your inbox? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

One Hundred Years of Solitude

  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapters 1–2

Summary Chapters 1–2

This strangely indefinite chronological framework blurs the distinctions between memory, history, and fiction. The arrival of the gypsies in town is framed as Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s memory rather than as an authoritative reframing of history. As a memory, it assumes subjective and dreamlike qualities that are supposed to be absent from textbook history. This is a narrative strategy that is evident throughout the novel—memory is given the same authority as history, and history is subject to the same emotional colorings and flights of fancy as memory. When, much later in the novel, the inhabitants of the town forget about the massacre of the banana workers, their amnesia constitutes an actual erasing of history. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, reality assumes the qualities of human fantasy and memory, and time itself is subject to the same distortions. People in this novel live for impossibly long periods of time, and rain descends for years without stopping; on the other hand, years sometimes pass by without mention or notice from the narrator. The extreme subjectivity of experienced reality is one of the themes of this novel. It is the human tendency toward the fantastic and the absurd that shapes our version of reality: magical realism, then, merely captures a version of reality colored by myth and memory, by human fantasy, and by our own subjectivity.

While we observe that the novel begins with a historical disjunction, however, it is important to note that One Hundred Years of Solitude is deliberately structured to trace a very definite narrative, one of epic—or perhaps biblical—proportions. The novel is indeed, as the critic Harold Bloom has observed, the Bible of Macondo, and, again, at the very beginning of the novel, just as in the Bible, many things have yet to be named. One Hundred Years of Solitude can be seen as a parable for the human quest for knowledge, expressed through the struggles of José Arcadio Buendía—the archetypal man—and his descendents. In the Bible, Adam’s job is to name the animals, exercising his power over them and cataloguing them to conform to his vision of the world. In establishing Macondo, José Arcadio Buendía does the same thing. Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and this novel conveys the same cautionary tale. José Arcadio Buendía’s relentless pursuit of knowledge, arguably, drives him to foolishness and eventual insanity. It should not be forgotten that, in his madness, he is tied to a tree that functions as a clear symbol for the Tree of Knowledge, whose fruit tempted Adam and Eve to their original fall.

García Márquez’s style of writing is commonly referred to as magical realism, which describes, among other things, the way historical events are colored by subjectivity and memory is given the same weight as history. One easily identifiable trait of magical realism is the way in which mundane, everyday things are mingled with extraordinarily wonderful, or even supernatural, things. In Chapter 2, as José Arcadio is seduced by Pilar Ternera, we learn that “he could no longer resist the glacial rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestines, and the bewildered anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever in that exasperated silence and that fearful solitude.” Here, García Márquez describes very specific physical events side by side with huge, abstract emotions. This is typical of magical realism: just as the distinctions between different times are muddled up, the distinction between the real and the magical, or between the ordinary and the sublime, become confused.