No One Writes To The Colonel Summary and Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

No One Writes To The Colonel

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No One Writes To The Colonel Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 51-page guide for “No One Writes To The Colonel” by Gabriel García Márquez includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Civil Wars and La Violencia and Government and Bureaucracy.

Plot Summary

Opening withits titular novella, No One Writes to the Colonel is a collection of short stories by Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, published in 1961. The novella and the other eight stories all take place in small Colombian villages, and Macondo, a Colombian town invented by Márquez. The stories take place during La Violencia, a time of political instability, extreme violence, and civil war between the Conservative and Liberal Parties in Colombia, which spanned from 1948 to 1958.

“No One Writes to the Colonel” tells the story of a nameless veteran in his late-70s who was a colonel in the Thousand Days’ War, a Colombian civil war at the turn of the 20th century. The colonel and his wife live in an impoverished village, stricken by repressive political violence and corrupt officials and aristocrats. Though the colonel played a crucial role in the Thousand Days’ War decades ago, delivering “the funds for the civil war in two trunks roped to the back of a mule” (26), the colonel has never received his pension checks.

Despite the hopeless situation, each Friday the colonel walks to the post office at the harbor and waits for the checks. The postmaster has a cynical attitude towards the colonel’s hopefulness, telling him that, “o one writes to the colonel” (21). The colonel’s wife, too, realizes the pension will never come and after years of disappointment and near-starvation, tells her husband that they can’t “eat hope” (39).

The novella opens with the death of a young man, “the first death from natural causes” (6) the village has had for “many years” (6). The colonel and his wife’s son, Agustín, was murdered by soldiers for “distributing clandestine literature” (11). From Agustín, the colonel inherited a rooster, used in cockfighting. The rooster holds a possibility of bringing in money if it fights well, but the colonel and his wife can’t afford to feed the rooster and themselves. The colonel’s wife calls the rooster an “expensive illusion” (11) but the colonel holds out hope for its payoff, similarly to how he holds out hope for his pension.

Though the colonel and his wife live on the brink of starvation, with no hope of income, the colonel’s dignity and pride remain intact. He refuses to let his wife sell their few possessions, lest anyone find out they’re starving. At his wife’s insistence, the colonel sells the rooster to his friend, Sabas, a fellow veteran who became rich through opportunistic political allegiances. The colonel, however, reneges on the deal and reclaims the rooster. At the novella’s end, the colonel’s wife asks the colonel in desperation what they will eat. The colonel replies that they will eat “hit” (62).

The themes of political strife, economic disparity, desperation, and pride recur throughout each of the short stories that follow. A few stories focus on those living in poverty. “Tuesday Siesta” follows a destitute mother trying to track down her son, who is suspected of robbery and shot in a small village. In “There Are No Thieves in This Town,” a young man, Damaso, robs the local pool hall in hopes of getting enough money to support his wife and unborn baby. Balthazar, the titular woodworker in “Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon,” shares a sense of pride with the colonel when he lies about selling “the most beautiful cage in the world” (106) to a local aristocrat.

Other stories focus on the lives on the wealthy. Though they don’t want for food, shelter, or income, in Márquez’s stories, the wealthy are just as miserable as the poor. In “Montiel’s Widow,” the widow of a local aristocrat eats “herself up in desperation” (118). She realizes that though her husband’s wealth was won not by “the killing of the poor but the expulsion of the rich” (119), her husband did nothing to halt the killing of the poor by the mayor and others. “One Day After Saturday” shows how a mysterious plague of dead birds affects a wealthy widow and an aging priest. Finally, “Big Mama’s Funeral” shows the chaos that ensues when a legendary autocrat who derives her power from illegal activities passes away.

The stories in this collection stray from the magical realism for which Márquez became well-known in favor of realism. Márquez uses humor and irony throughout the stories not to lighten the seriousness of the situations he writes about but to imbue them with a depth of humanity.

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