One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
It's sort of odd that in a book with so many recurring names there would be any significance tied to the names of individual characters, right? But García Márquez has a pretty good sense of humor, and many of the names do in fact reveal something interesting. It's probably not surprising that it's mostly the women's names that carry this double meaning: after all, they're the ones most likely to come from outside the family and thus have unique names.
Complicating things even further is the fact that, although the book is a translation, the names are left in the original Spanish, so you might miss the many puns that have been embedded into the names, Dickens-style.
Here we go:
- "Buendía" is a combination of the words good (buen) and day (día). It's a reasonably common Spanish name, but, hey, so are Morales and Lopez, and García Márquez didn't go with those. What do you think he's saying by calling these guys a good day? Is it supposed to be ironic?
- "Pilar Ternera" breaks down into two evocative words: pilar is a stone support or a pillar and ternera is a calf or piece of veal. Sounds like a sacrificial lamb to us! Kind of like Pilar?
- Then we have Don Apolinar Moscote, whose last name carries shades of meaning: mosca is a housefly and mascota is a mascot or pet. As a sometimes powerless figurehead, he does live up to both of those names.
- Fernanda del Carpio has a name that fits her personality pretty neatly, since carpir means to tear, scrape, scratch, or scold, and no one does those things better than her.
- Contrast that with her rival Petra Cotes, whose name is ripe for interpretation: petra means rock, and cotes are knots.
- There is Nigromanta, whose name breaks down almost exactly into the phrase "black blanket."
- But the best name of all? The crazed Liberal fake doctor who is secretly a terrorist. Dr. Noguera's name means Dr. "No War." Talk about black comedy!
Can you figure out why these characters have been given such resonant names? Are the naming choices meant to define them? Or to refer to them ironically, pointing out an opposite quality?
Many of the characters have something they carry around – either with them or on their bodies – that marks them as unique and unmistakable. External objects are almost never something wanted or welcome. Think, for example, about the yellow butterflies that surround Mauricio Babilonia, with their strange combination of ethereal romanticism and creepiness. Or the way Rebeca arrives at the Buendía house with the bag of her parents' bones, which proceeds to haunt her for years to come.
Just as unwanted and isolating are the "props" that are actually part of characters' bodies, usually a way of setting the person apart from peers in a fairly negative way. For instance, there is José Aureliano (II), whose body is marked in various ways with his bestial, very physical nature: the combination of his enormous size, his head-to-toe tattoos, and his enormous penis.
Actions (Or Not)
In most novels, even if there isn't a lot happening, the personalities of different characters influence the way they act or react based on whatever situation they happen to be in.
In this novel, though, the characters' actions seem almost random. The way they react – or more often overreact – to news, information, and the actions of others, is so unpredictable that it tells us next to nothing about them. If anything, it actually takes away whatever knowledge of them we think we've acquired.
The narrator and the novel so rarely answer the fundamental question "why" when describing characters' actions that it's next to impossible to get a read on why anyone in this novel acts the way they do. It's a fascinating but totally disorienting approach to character building.