74 pages 2 hours read

Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1967

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Summary and Study Guide


One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published in Spanish in 1967 as Cien años de soledad, is an internationally renowned work of literature by Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. The most highly regarded English version of the book is Gregory Rabassa’s translation, which was first published in 1970. This guide uses citations from the HarperPerennial Modern Classics Edition, which was released in 2006. García Márquez became the fourth Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 for his novels and short stories. Over 50 million copies of the novel have been sold in 46 languages, and Netflix is adapting the novel as a series, although as of October 2022 no release date is set.

García Márquez’s epic novel examines 100 years through the lens of one fictional rural town, Macondo—the setting of numerous works by the author—and one fictional family, the Buendías. He examines postcolonial Colombia as Macondo experiences plagues, civil war, exploitation by foreign companies, and tensions with the impact of modernity. This is a pivotal text in the development of the technique of magical realism, which commonly uses fantastical narrative and imagery but intertwines these aspects of magic with realist elements, rather than presenting them as extraordinary. This was a frequent narrative device in 1960s and 1970s Latin American Boom fiction—the era when translations of short stories and novels from the region “exploded” onto the global literary scene. This novel is also an extended family saga, telling the story of five generations in the same family as it presents a veiled version of Colombian history.

Content warning: Please note the presence of the following elements in the novel: Chapter 1 for derogatory language used to describe travelers; Chapters 6 and 9 for self-harm; Chapter 15 for mass violence; Chapter 19 for a racist character and a scene of sexual violence; and Chapter 20 for an infant death.

Plot Summary

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of five generations of the Buendía family, from the founding of their lineage and the town of Macondo until both are wiped out by a hurricane. The novel is written in third-person-omniscient past tense. Time shifts constantly: Chapters are narrated out of chronological order, and the relative importance of events has little relation to how much attention they receive on the page. Rather than following a single protagonist through a linear set of events, the novel contains many plots and subplots that revolve around both the central characters of the Buendía family across generations and the side characters who interact with them.

The book opens as Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembers his childhood in Macondo, when his father José Arcadio Buendía was interested in all the inventions brought to town by travelers. Subsequently, José Arcadio Buendía experiments with new inventions, including alchemy and the astrolabe. Úrsula Iguarán, his wife and the Buendía matriarch, becomes frustrated with his behavior and his preoccupation with tinkering instead of completing more practical projects.

Úrsula Iguarán and José Arcadio Buendía have three children: Colonel Aureliano Buendía, José Arcadio, and Amaranta. Colonel Aureliano Buendía lives a vibrant and exciting life as a Liberal general during wartime: He fights for Colombian independence from the Conservative government and survives multiple assassination attempts. He has 17 children by women he meets on his military campaigns, and he spends his retirement making tiny gold fishes in the Buendía house. José Arcadio becomes the father of Arcadio with Pilar Ternera; when she is pregnant, he leaves to become a sailor. He briefly returns, hale and hearty; while he is in Macondo, he marries Rebeca and stops the execution of his brother, the Colonel. Amaranta outlasts her brothers; she dies single and unhappy at home.

Arcadio has three children with Santa Sofía de Piedad: Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. Arcadio dies after becoming a dictatorial ruler of Macondo; Santa Sofía retreats to the background for a few decades and then leaves Macondo to live with a cousin. Remedios the Beauty lives a short but mysterious life before she ascends into the sky. José Arcadio Segundo develops purpose as a leader of a workers' strike at a banana company that is exploiting the people of Macondo; he is the sole survivor when the workers are massacred.

Aureliano Segundo marries Fernanda del Carpio and takes Petra Cotes as a lover. Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda del Carpio have three children: Renata Remedios (Meme), José Arcadio, and Amaranta Úrsula. Meme falls in love with a mechanic, and Fernanda sends her to a convent. A nun drops Meme’s son, Aureliano, off at the family’s home later that year. José Arcadio goes to religious school and meets the Pope; on a visit home, he is murdered in his bed by teenagers looking for gold. Amaranta Úrsula is educated in Europe and returns to Macondo with her Belgian husband, Gaston; they are not completely happy together. When Gaston returns to Europe, Amaranta Úrsula begins a sexual relationship with her nephew, Aureliano, with whom she has the final child of the Buendía family.

At the end of the novel, Macondo and the Buendía family home are in ruins. The child of Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano is born with a pig’s tail because it is the product of incest, the fulfillment of an omen that appeared in the first generation of the Buendía family. Amaranta Úrsula dies in childbirth, and Aureliano takes the infant into the town square, where he drinks and loses the child. Later, he finds it being devoured by ants. He returns to the crumbling Buendía home, where he decodes the ancient writings of the wanderer Melquíades. As he reads the parchments, he realizes that the writings predicted all the events that befell the Buendía family. A windstorm rises as he is reading, and as he reads the last line, the storm wipes Macondo off the face of the earth.

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