No One Writes To The Colonel Summary

Gabriel García Márquez

No One Writes To The Colonel

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No One Writes To The Colonel Summary

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An unnamed Colonel, well into his seventies, lives with his wife in a small village under marshal law during Columbia’s “La Violencia” era. The Colonel is a veteran of the Thousand Day’s War, a civil war fought in Colombia between the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and other radical groups. The Colonel and his wife are struggling financially.

It is a challenging time for everyone in the village. The novella opens with the Colonel attending the funeral of an old man who has died from natural causes. This is noteworthy because no one has died of natural causes in recent memory.

As a result of his service in the war, the Colonel was promised a pension. He has waited fifteen years to receive notice of his pension, the amount of which would be more than enough to support him and his asthmatic wife. Like others who fought on the side of the rebels, the Colonel’s pension was promised as part of a deal to lay down his arms and end the revolution. The local politicians are shown to be impossibly corrupt, however, and many of the pensioners fail to receive their promised money.

No money seems to be forthcoming, and despite the constant disappointment, the Colonel maintains his hope. Every Friday, he journeys to the post office, looking for his letter. The postmaster maintains a cynical amusement at the old man’s seemingly endless routine. Upon arriving home to his wife each Friday, empty-handed, he encourages his wife that since the envelope did not arrive that Friday, it is sure to arrive the next. Or the Friday after that.

In order to eat, the Colonel and his wife begin selling their possessions, including treasured family heirlooms. Compounding the sad situation, the Colonel and his wife have a son who is presumed dead, killed in the civil war and ensuing martial law. The Colonel knows this is not actually true; the son is, in fact, merely in hiding. But the son’s absence weighs heavily on the married couple.

Additionally, the son has left behind a fighting rooster. The Colonel is consistently hopeful that the rooster will win his next match, despite the possibility that the rooster would fetch a handsome price if he chose to sell it.

Eventually, a local politician and soldier buys the rooster at a significantly lower price than he should. The Colonel gets it back, however, and when townspeople arrive at their home to reclaim the bird, the wife defends it. They leave empty-handed, the rooster with its leg tied to the stove.

The story ends with the Colonel and his wife eating a meager meal. The wife is upset that the Colonel will not part with the rooster. Though he says he would sell it if he knew for sure the doctor would be able to cure her asthma, the Colonel remains unmoved. Upset, the wife asks what will happen when they have nothing left to sell, no way to make money? What will they eat while the rooster eats real food? The Colonel replies simply, “Shit.”

Márquez draws upon his family and national history to tell the story of depression, hope, and politics after a country is ravaged by a bitter war. The Colonel struggles to find purpose in his life, having fought on the losing side of the conflict, and now, without money to support his wife and himself. Coupled with the betrayal of not receiving his pension, the Colonel’s hope is just about the only thing he has to hold onto.

The Colonel hopes for his pension, he hopes for his son’s return, he hopes that his life up until this point will be acknowledged and recognized. His optimistic weekly journey to the post office embodies both his struggle and this hope. He’s too proud to completely acknowledge his poverty, though, and this plays into his stubbornness.

When the Colonel and his wife finally decide to sell most of their things, they find their “valuables” are far more valuable to them for their emotional attachment than their monetary value. The same is the case with the rooster, which has much more emotional value to the Colonel than practical value.

No One Writes to the Colonel is one of Márquez’s earlier works, before he began writing what has come to be called “magical realism.” In magical realism, the world is depicted largely as it exists in real life, with small fantastic details added in. No One Writes to the Colonel, however, is completely realistic, despite the Colonel’s unrealistic hopefulness.

Márquez would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. He is recognized as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century, especially among those writing in Spanish, and has been called the “greatest Colombian” by his home country’s leadership.