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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The meaning of the thousands of little gold fishes that
Colonel Aureliano Buendía makes shifts over time. At first, these
fishes represent Aureliano’s artistic nature and, by extension,
the artistic nature of all the Aurelianos. Soon, however, they acquire
a greater significance, marking the ways in which Aureliano has
affected the world. His seventeen sons, for example, are each given
a little gold fish, and, in this case, the fishes represent Aureliano’s
effect on the world through his sons. In another instance, they
are used as passkeys when messengers for the Liberals use them to
prove their allegiance. Many years later, however, the fishes become
collector’s items, merely relics of a once-great leader. This attitude
disgusts Aureliano because he recognizes that people are using him
as a figurehead, a mythological hero that represents whatever they
want it to represent. When he begins to understand that the little
gold fishes no longer are symbolic of him personally, but instead
of a mistaken ideal, he stops making new fishes and starts to melt
down the old ones again and again.
The railroad represents the arrival of the modern
world in Macondo. This devastating turn leads to the development
of a banana plantation and the ensuing massacre of three thousand
workers. The railroad also represents the period when Macondo is
connected most closely with the outside world. After the banana
plantations close down, the railroad falls into disrepair and the
train ceases even to stop in Macondo any more. The advent of the
railroad is a turning point. Before it comes, Macondo grows bigger
and thrives; afterward, Macondo quickly disintegrates, folding back
into isolation and eventually expiring.
At first, the English encyclopedia that Meme receives
from her American friend is a symbol for the way the American plantation owners
are taking over Macondo. When Meme, a descendant of the town’s founders,
begins to learn English, the foreigners’ encroachment on Macondo’s
culture becomes obvious. The concrete threat posed by the encyclopedia
is later lessened when Aureliano Segundo uses it to tell his children
stories. Because he does not speak English, Aureliano Segundo makes
up stories to go with the pictures. By creating the possibility
for multiple interpretations of the text, he unwittingly diffuses
the encyclopedia’s danger.
The golden chamber pot that Fernanda del Carpio brings
to Macondo from her home is, for her, a marker of her lofty status;
she believes that she was destined to be a queen. But while the
gold of the chamber pot is associated with royalty, the function
of the chamber pot is, of course, associated with defecation: a
sign of the real value of Fernanda’s snooty condescension.
Later, when José Arcadio (II) tries to sell the chamber pot, he
finds that it is not really solid gold, but, rather, gold-plated.
Again, this revelation represents the hollowness of Fernanda’s pride
and the flimsiness of cheap cover-ups.
Ace your assignments with our guide to One Hundred Years of Solitude!