Summary: Chapter 18

Aureliano (II) remains in Melquíades’s old laboratory, visited occasionally by the ghost of the gypsy himself, who gives him clues and eventually helps him decipher the prophecies. Aureliano learns that the prophecies are written in Sanskrit and that they will be deciphered when they are one hundred years old. The Buendías have become poor, but they are supported by food sent to them by Aureliano Segundo’s old concubine, Petra Cotes. Santa Sofía de la Piedad, the almost-invisible widow of Arcadio, finally gives up on the family, and, after a half-century of patiently tending to them, she simply walks away without any real indication of where she is going. Not long afterward, Fernanda del Carpio, who now does nothing but bemoan her fate and write to her children in Europe, dies, overcome with nostalgia.

A few months after Fernanda’s death, her son José Arcadio (II) returns to Macondo. He has become a solitary, dissolute man. It turns out that he has not been studying in a seminary but has, rather, been counting on inheriting a large fortune. He is trapped in the old, dilapidated house, left with nothing but his memories and his delusions of grandeur. When he discovers the gold that Úrsula Iguarán hid under her bed, he falls into debauchery, sharing with the adolescent children of the town in long nights of revelry. In his loneliness, he begins to become friendly with the solitary Aureliano (II), who is making progress in his pursuit of knowledge. The two Buendías receive a visit from the last remaining son of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who, like his sixteen brothers before him, is shot down by the police as he stands in front of the Buendía house. The developing relationship between Aureliano (II) and José Arcadio (II) is abruptly cut off when four of the children, with whom José Arcadio (II) once celebrated at a party, kill him in his bath and steal his gold.

Summary: Chapter 19

Amaranta Úrsula returns to Macondo from Europe, bringing Gaston, her husband. He has followed her back to Macondo, even though he realizes that her love for her hometown is a nostalgic dream—energetic and determined, she wants to revitalize the house and the town, but Macondo’s decline is irreversible. As Aureliano (II) wanders the rundown town, he discovers that almost no one remembers the Buendías, once the most notable family in the village. Following the family propensity toward incestuous love, Aureliano (II) falls in love with Amaranta Úrsula. He finds partial solace for his unrequited love in his newfound friendship with a wise Catalonian bookseller, and with four young scholars he meets in the bookstore. Together, the scholars prowl the underbelly of Macondo, visiting whorehouses and bars. In one brothel, Aureliano (II) is comforted by the ancient Pilar Ternera, his forgotten great-great-grandmother, who offers him her reliable wisdom and intuition. He also takes a lover, a black prostitute named Nigromanta. Gaston, bored in Macondo, becomes preoccupied with his dream of establishing an airmail service in Latin America. While Gaston is preoccupied, Aureliano (II) takes the opportunity to admit his love for Amaranta Úrsula. Eventually she yields, and they become lovers.

Summary: Chapter 20

[Aureliano] saw the epigraph of the parchments perfectly paced . . . in such a way that they coexisted in one instant.

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Gaston travels to Belgium to follow up on his business plans, and, when he learns of his wife’s affair, he does not return. First, the Catalonian and then Aureliano (II)’s four scholar friends leave Macondo, a town now locked in its quiet death throes. In the midst of the solitude of Macondo, the love affair between Aureliano (II) and Amaranta Úrsula continues, fiercely and happily. The Buendía house falls into total disrepair, destroyed by the couple’s rampant lovemaking and by the red ants that swarm everywhere. In fulfillment of the family matriarch Úrsula Iguarán’s old fears about the dangers of incest, the lovers’ baby, whom they also name Aureliano (III), is born with the tail of a pig. Amaranta Úrsula bleeds uncontrollably after giving birth and soon dies. Aureliano (II) seeks comfort in the arms of Nigromanta and in drink, but he forgets about the newborn baby. When he finds the corpse, ants are feeding on it. He realizes that the line of the Buendías has come to an end. He boards himself up in the house and is finally able to decipher Melquíades’ ancient prophecies. They are a description of the entire history of the Buendía family, from the time of the founding of Macondo. As he reads, he finds that the text is at that very moment mirroring his own life, describing his act of reading as he reads. And around him, an apocalyptic wind swirls, ripping the town from its foundations, erasing it from memory.

[Aureliano] had already understood that he would never leave . . . races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

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Analysis: Chapters 18–20

Suitably, the Buendía family spirals to its final demise with an act of incest: Aureliano (II) and Amaranta Úrsula, aunt and nephew, have a child, whom they predictably name Aureliano. They are the last two surviving members of the Buendía clan, and, like typical Buendías, they have clung to each other in solitude, isolated from the outside world. They are practically the last people remaining in Macondo, a town whose history has run its course and one that is destroyed in the final lines of the book by the wind of the apocalypse. One might get the sense that it is not only Macondo but the entire world that has been destroyed in that final Apocalyptic fury, and one would not be entirely wrong. In this novel, Macondo has become a world closed in upon itself: self-referential and encompassing the full scope of human emotion and human experience. Time has run out for the Buendía family, which, in some sense, has come to represent all of humanity, with the Adam and Eve figures of José Arcadio Buendía and Ursula Iguarán as its source. The suggestion is that humans, too, will have time run out on them when their endless cycles of repeating generations finally draw to a close. “[The] history of the family,” García Márquez writes, “was a . . . turning wheel that would have gone on spinning into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.”

Just as the incestuous relationship between Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano (II) signals the inward collapse of the Buendía family tree, the reading of the prophecies signals time folding up on itself. As Aureliano (II) reads, past, present, and future all happen at once. In a sense, this has been happening throughout the book: ghosts from the past have appeared and disappeared, Pilar Ternera could read the future as well as the past, and the simultaneity through which the Buendías move has made the past, the present, and the future all identical. Aureliano (II)’s final moments are like a miniature version of what’s been happening all along. Time, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, is not a single linear progression of unique events; instead, it is an infinite number of progressions happening simultaneously, in which no event can be considered unique because of its ties to both the past and the future, occurring at the same time somewhere else.

Melquíades’ prophecies also occupy a peculiar place in time, since, although they are written as predictions for what will happen in the future, they are read by Aureliano (II) as an accurate history of the Buendía family. As the wind swirls around him, Aureliano (II) is finally able to decipher Melquíades’ prophecies, and he finds that Melquíades has left behind a prophecy of the history of the town, which is accurate to the last detail. The text of the prophecy mirrors the reality of the town’s history, so that Aureliano (II) is reading about his destruction as he experiences it. The sense of unavoidable destiny is strong: the Buendías, we realize, have long been living lives foretold—and thus, in a sense, ordained—by the all-knowing book. It might even be argued that the text of the prophecy, in fact, is identical to the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, and that Melquíades has served all along as a surrogate for the author, Gabriel García Márquez. Certainly the prophecy has succeeded as literature that simultaneously shapes and mirrors reality, just as One Hundred Years of Solitude tries to shape a fictional world while simultaneously mirroring the reality of García Márquez’s Colombia. Melquíades’s vision, early in the novel, of a city with walls of glass, has come true in a sense: Macondo is a city made of glass and of mirrors that reflect back the reality of the author’s world.