Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Innocent Erendira

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Innocent Erendira Summary

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1972 novella, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, develops the story of the young prostitute who appears as a peripheral character in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Erendira lives in a Latin American village with her grandmother, who demands that her young charge endlessly clean and cater to her needs. Following a tragic accident that leaves them homeless, the grandmother begins to hawk fourteen-year-old Erendira as a whore. A young man’s love for Erendira finally frees her, but the story, while borrowing fairy tale-trappings, refuses to deliver any “happily ever after.”

Erendira’s grandmother is rotund like a “whale” and tattooed like a sailor. Although her heft impairs her mobility, she so completely dominates Erendira that the young girl passively submits to her grandmother’s every command. They live in a mansion cluttered with strange statuary and baroque ornaments. Erendira spends her days dusting the curiosities, scrubbing the floors and doing so much tiresome drudgery that, sometimes, she sleep-works.

One night, Erendira is so exhausted, she forgets to extinguish her candle before going to bed. The wind blows it over, and the mansion burns to the ground. Erendira and her grandmother survive, along with a few odds and ends and a charred piano, but the grandmother is livid. Her fortune – the spoils of her husband’s smuggling operation – is gone. She declares that Erendira must repay her the cost of the house, which she estimates at nearly 900,000 pesos. Without compunction, she begins collecting on her debt immediately by selling Erendira’s virginity to a village shopkeeper for 150 pesos.

After gathering up her remaining belongings, the grandmother takes Erendira on a tour through the desert, where she peddles the girl’s services to all manner of men, from soldiers to smugglers. Erendira’s charms are soon enticing hundreds of men a day. They form “an endless wavy line” outside her tent, “like a snake with human vertebrae.” So popular is Erendira, her grandmother becomes selective about whom she will receive. Ulises, a young virgin with “an unreal aura about him,” waits in line, but is turned away at the door because the grandmother senses he is “bad luck.” Unbeknownst to the grandmother, Ulises later sneaks into Erendira’s tent and falls deeply in love with her.

While the grandmother enriches herself off her granddaughter’s flesh, the local missionaries grow increasingly outraged. Finally, they kidnap Erendira, secluding her in a convent. To recover her moneymaking grandchild, the grandmother appeals to the local law enforcer. She finds him shooting his rifle “at a dark solitary cloud” in order to release its rain. He pauses to tell her “the priesties […] have the right to keep the girl until she comes of age. Or until she gets married.” In short order, the grandmother finds a husband for Erendira. The girl, obedient as always, returns to her grandmother and resumes turning tricks.

Meanwhile, Ulises has returned to his father’s plantation. He discovers that his touch now turns glass blue. When he demonstrates his newfound power to his mother, she explains this happens “only because of love” and asks, “Who is it?” Later that night, Ulises, too restless to sleep, takes his father’s revolver and truck. He drives to the orange grove and picks three of his father’s oranges, each worth 50,000 pesos because, curiously, diamonds grow inside them. After locating Erendira in the desert, he convinces her, on the merits of his oranges and revolver, to run away with him.

Brandishing a letter of recommendation from Senator Onésimo Sanchez, the grandmother rallies the military commandant and his men to chase down the fugitive lovers. Once Erendira is captured and restored to her grandmother, the old woman chains the girl’s leg to a bed, and she continues her sex work. Prostitutes from a nearby village, angry that Erendira monopolizes all the men, conspire to humiliate her. They carry her off, naked, and parade her bed through the streets to show everyone how she is chained like a dog.

Having suffered this indignity, Erendira can tolerate no more and defiant thoughts finally surface. Summoning “all the strength of her inner voice,” Erendira calls for Ulises. Her plea reaches him, and he immediately leaves the plantation. When he finds her, she asks him to kill her grandmother. He agrees, as he is desperate to secure their future with one another.

Ulises first attempts to poison the grandmother. On the pretense of making amends with her, he presents her with a cake on her birthday. It’s loaded with rat poison, but she’s so obese that after eating the whole thing, she goes to bed singing. It does cause her hair to fall out, so she buys a wig. Next, Ulises wires her piano with explosives, but when it blows up, she survives, although the new wig is singed.

Stung by Erendira’s “expression of absolute disdain,” Ulises gathers his courage to dispatch the grandmother with his own hands. He attacks the old woman with a knife while Erendira watches impassively. The grandmother puts up a fight, but Ulises finally slices open her “vast” body and green blood gushes out. Jumping into action, Erendira grabs the vest where the grandmother hid the bars of gold Erendira has earned. She runs off into the wind, abandoning Ulises, and “she was never heard of again.”

Garcia Marquez’s stories often epitomize literary magic realism. In The Cambridge Companion to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stephen Hart explains that this narrative style presents “the deadpan description of […] magical events as if they were real.” Thus, in Innocent Erendira, it’s unremarkable that diamonds grow in oranges or that Erendira can silently summon Ulises from across the desert. While these magical elements appear in fairy tales, too, Erendira ultimately disrupts comparisons with “rescued” heroines like Cinderella when she runs off without her prince. A film adaptation of the novel was released in 1983 with the title, Erendira.