Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude

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One Hundred Years of Solitude Summary

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Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), considered his magnum opus, spans seven generations and chronicles the Buendía family beginning with the life of its patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía. José is remembered for having founded the fictional town Macondo in Colombia. The novel, tied intimately to the real history of Colombia, also incorporates magical realism, positioning itself as an important text of the literary period known as the Latin American Boom in the 1960s and 1970s. This period came into being as a hybrid of Western modernism and the Cuban avant-garde movement.

The novel begins with the first generation of the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía and his cousin Úrsula Iguarán, whom he marries, flee the town of Riohacha, Colombia after Arcadio kills Prudencio Aguilar in response to his public suggestion that Arcadio is impotent. As they travel from the town, they camp on a riverbank one night, where José experiences a dream about a utopian city of mirrors called “Macondo” that reflects its interior and the surrounding world. When he wakes up, he resolves to create this city at his campsite beside the river. He mythologizes the creation of this utopian society as the hope-filled end to an arduous journey, fashioning it as closely as possible to the city in his dream. Soon after Macondo is formed, mysterious people begin to visit, and it becomes a site where strange events take place. Macondo is thus characterized for the following six generations of the Buendía family, through the end of the novel.

As strange stories unfold in the town, the family rejects the notion that they might be inflicting their own misfortunes on themselves. For many years, the town is so insular that it has no contact with the outside world, except for the annual visit of a group of gypsies who introduce new technologies to the people there. These include magnets, ice, and telescopes; each of the “inventions” expands their worldview. Melquiades, the gruff gypsy leader, becomes close friends with José; meanwhile, José recedes further and further away from the public eye as he tries to make scientific discoveries. Eventually, he goes insane and is only able to speak in Latin. His family binds him to a chestnut tree until he dies many years later.

After José’s death, Macondo opens channels of contact with the outside world, which is caught up in the current of modernity. The Conservative and Liberal parties of Colombia hold an election that is deeply rigged. This injustice compels Aureliano Buendía, José’s descendant, to rebel in a civil war against the Conservative party. Aureliano becomes known as an important revolutionary figure, for much of his adult life fighting to improve Colombian justice and democracy. Many people attempt to assassinate him, but he survives. Eventually, he grows tired of waging war, declaring peace with the Conservative faction. Disillusioned, he returns to Macondo to spend the remainder of his life making small goldfish figurines out of gold in his private shop.

After Aureliano’s time, the railroad makes its way to Macondo, accelerating the rate of commerce and information exchange and bringing in immigrants. A fruit company based in the United States grows a banana plantation near the town, creating its own village on the other side of the river. With this economic stimulus, Macondo becomes prosperous by proximity. However, the political tumult in Colombia causes the plantation’s tragic end as the national army kills thousands of workers who join a protest at the plantation (loosely based on Colombia’s Banana Massacre in 1928). The only survivor is José Arcadio Segundo. He seeks evidence to prove that the government carried out the killing, but fails, and is unable to convince Macondo’s people.

At the end of the novel, Macondo has become a derelict mass of houses resembling a ghost town. The only remaining member of the Buendías lineage is Amaranta Úrsula and her nephew, Aureliano. Fernanda, Aureliano’s grandmother, hides his lineage. He and his mother meet and, not knowing that they are related, fall in love. Due to the parents’ genetic similarity, their child is born with a pig-like tail, seemingly confirming the mystical forecast of the first Úrsula. Amaranta dies while giving birth, and the newborn is eaten by ants, leaving Aureliano the family’s only survivor. Aureliano finds an encrypted message by Melquiades left behind many generations before. Decrypting it, he uncovers the name of each person in the Buendía family history along with the fortunes and misfortunes they experienced. Before he can finish decrypting it, a hurricane materializes, wiping Macondo completely off the map.

A novel about the impossibility of utopia and the arbitrariness of personal aspiration in a larger, chaotic, and more powerful world, One Hundred Years of Solitude casts the plight of the Colombian people as part of a larger national story ultimately determined by fate rather than individual or hegemonic powers. The novel thus suggests that the best one can do under these conditions is to live a life of kindness and rationality, suspending judgment about the fate of anyone or anything else.