Summary: Chapter 16
The rain that begins the night of the massacre does not stop for almost five years. Imprisoned by the rain, Aureliano Segundo lapses into a restful quiet, abandoning the debauchery of his earlier years. He begins to care for the children, Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano (II), Meme’s illegitimate son, who has finally escaped from the room where Fernanda del Carpio had been hiding him. Ursula, bed-ridden, grows more senile and less coherent, becoming merely a plaything for the children, who learn from her the stories of their ancestors. The rain eats away at the house and reduces Aureliano Segundo’s vast fortune to nothing, as all the animals he bred with Petra Cotes die in the flooding. Fernanda occupies herself with contacting the telepathic doctors, who are trying to heal her from a disease of the uterus, and she also occupies herself by tormenting her husband, Aureliano Segundo, who loses his temper and breaks every valuable thing in the house. Aureliano Segundo, in turn, occupies himself with an attempt to find the fortune in gold coins that Úrsula has hidden somewhere in the backyard of the house. When the rains finally end, Macondo has suffered a precipitous decline. The banana plantations have been washed away, and the town is receding backward into memory.
Summary: Chapter 17
With the end of the rains, Úrsula gets out of bed and tries to rehabilitate the Buendía house. She discovers José Arcadio Segundo, who has been sequestered in his room for years, trying to decipher the ancient prophecies of the gypsy Melquíades. Returning to the house of his concubine Petra Cotes and finding all their animals dead, they are forced to struggle as never before to make ends meet. Their parties are merely humble replicas of their old festivals of debauchery, but they are as happy as they have ever been, once again falling madly in love with each other. Aureliano Segundo finds himself spending less and less time with the children, who are swiftly aging. Aureliano (II) falls into the pattern of the family’s tall, thin, solitary Aurelianos. Úrsula continues to regress into her past, eventually dying at more than 120 years old. Rebeca, José Arcadio’s widow, also dies during this time.
A hellish heat wave descends on the town, and the townspeople begin to believe that they are plagued. Birds die in droves, and a strange, semi-human creature, the Wandering Jew, is discovered in the streets. The town assumes a broken-down, abandoned feel, and it fills up with nostalgia of its former prosperity. In the midst of this poverty, Aureliano Segundo devotes himself to raising the money to send Amaranta Úrsula to Europe for her education, but his great strength of former years has left him, and he is dying. José Arcadio Segundo, too, is living his last days, and he is finally making progress in deciphering Melquíades’ prophecies and in initiating Aureliano (II) into both the pursuit of prophetic knowledge and the history of Macondo. Finally, Aureliano Segundo is able to send Amaranta Úrsula to Brussels. His task complete, he dies at the same instant as his twin brother José Arcadio Segundo, whose last words are a reminder to Aureliano (II) about the almost-forgotten massacre of the striking workers. In the confusion of the burial, Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo’s coffins are mixed up, and each is buried in the other’s grave.
Analysis: Chapters 16–17
The nearly five-year flood that deluges Macondo, practically erasing all trace of the banana company from the land, parallels the Biblical flood that covered the earth in the time of Noah. Then, as in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the world had become full of wicked people, and in the Bible the cleansing flood obliterates them. And it is possible to read the years of rain in One Hundred Years of Solitude as ordained by God, in mourning for the massacred workers, and as a cleansing agent in Macondo. Another, more insidious possibility presents itself, however. We have already been told that the banana company has the capacity to bring rain, supplanting the Divine prowess of God Himself, and it is certainly implied that the replacement of God by modern technology is symptomatic of the shattered reality of Macondo. The novel hints that Mr. Brown of the banana company, the man who has replaced both God and the angel of death, has brought the rains in order to wash away all traces of the massacre and to erase memory.
With the death of José Arcadio Segundo at the end of this section, Aureliano (II) becomes the town’s preserver of memories. As Aureliano (II) explores the town in the final pages of the book, he discovers that practically all its history has been forgotten: “the voracity of oblivion,” García Márquez writes, “was undermining memories in a pitiless way.” Úrsula Iguarán, who in her senility and extreme old age has become childlike, serves as a metaphor for the town. Shrunken in its old age and ignorant of its past, Macondo has returned almost to its infancy. As in the beginning of the town’s history, gypsies come to town, and they bring the same technologies—magnets and magnifying glasses—that Melquíades once brought. “The town [is] so defeated and its inhabitants so removed from the rest of the world” that the gypsy gimmicks are once again the source of wonderment for the few inhabitants left in town. Ursula’s statement that “time was not passing … it was turning in a circle” is more and more accurate. Macondo, like the Buendía family, seems to be stuck in a series of circular repetitions, but it is also true that the town, and the family, are moving ever closer to their final end.
As Aureliano (II) begins to tell the story of what really happened to the banana workers, it is clear that his version of the story is quite different from the established one: “one would have thought that he was telling a hallucinated version, because it was radically opposed to the false one that historians had created and consecrated in their schoolbooks.” Fictional history is seen as truth, while truth is seen as hallucination. This reversal mirrors the way in which García Márquez continues to shift the boundaries between reality and fantasy. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, accepted truth is sometimes less real than fantasy, and vice versa.