Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, the possibility of forgetting the past threatens the coherence of society and relationships. Amnesia strikes Macondo early in the novel, and later, all memory of a massacre is eliminated. Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s loss of memory is connected to his inability to experience emotion other than sadness and resignation. The cruel necessities of war have scourged him of any sensitivity and even of the tenderness associated with nostalgic longings for his past. His attempt to commit suicide is not so much a result of shame for having surrendered, one senses, but a way of eliminating his solitary sadness. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, emotion lodges in nostalgia and ties of affection spring from memories of the past. “How awful,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía reflects when he returns home after the war, and he finds himself unmoved by seeing his family again and “the way time passes.” The fears of change and of the accompanying dulling of emotion are augmented by the fear of memory loss, and Aureliano can barely remember what the past was like. Rebeca, on the other hand, lives her hermit’s life accompanied only by memories, which walk “like human beings through the cloistered rooms” and bring her a peace that no actual humans have ever brought to her.
In this section, the novel expands to its largest scope, filled with the most characters; it contains the rebellion and other national political events. The novel seems noisy and crowded at this point, filled with a confusing multiplicity of voices and perspectives. But even as we are overwhelmed by these voices, the Buendías seem to be retreating further and further into solitude. We learn that a deep feeling of alienation lies at the core of Arcadio’s obsession with order and his tyranny of the town when he is installed as dictator. Without the ability to connect emotionally with anybody, Colonel Aureliano Buendía retreats into the solitude of his empty mind. Rebeca shuts herself up in her house with memories that take the place of people, and Amaranta refuses all suitors despite her strong desire not to be alone. Úrsula Iguarán, having no one to confide in, talks only to her insane husband, who does not understand her because he now only speaks Latin. Language functions throughout the novel as a barrier between humans, a dilemma inspired by the biblical confusion of Babel.
Not only as individuals, but as a family, too, the Buendías begin to turn in upon themselves. Incest has been bubbling beneath the surface of the story all along: José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán are cousins, and Arcadio wants to sleep with Pilar Ternera, who is his mother. The urge for incest is now at full force as Aureliano José lusts after his lonely aunt, Amaranta, who is tempted by the young man but refuses to sleep with him, horrified by the taboo. This recurring urge, which will reappear again and again among the Buendías, is symptomatic, perhaps, of the family’s alienation. They are isolated both in their remote town and by their solitary personalities. And it should be remembered that the act of incest is an essentially repetitive act: relatives who copulate are essentially reproducing and doubling family relationships that already exist. History, for the Buendía family, repeats itself in ever-tightening spirals, drawing the Buendía family inward upon themselves.