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One Hundred Years of Solitude
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez (trans. Gregory Rabassa)

What’s Up With the Ending?

The ending of this novel kind of feels like one of those snake-eating-its-own-tail symbols. (Fun fact: that symbol is called an ouroboros). Think about it: what's the most annoying thing about coming to the end of a book? If you're like us, it's that you've invested all this emotional energy into these characters, and suddenly they're gone. After getting all caught up in their personalities, stories, and feelings, you're just cut off, cold turkey.

The Ending Predicament

Novelists have all kinds of ways of dealing with the ending problem. There's the time-tested trick of the epilogue that sums up the rest of the main characters' lives. Check out pretty much any Dickens novel, for an example of the mega-happy summary, or the final Harry Potter book. The idea is that readers will rest easy knowing that, after all that commotion (spoiler alert!) Harry and Ginny go on to make beautiful red-headed babies together. Mystery novels do a version of this when they reveal the criminal, the details of the crime, and the punishment. Then there's the Shakespearean trick of tying up loose ends by offing all the main characters. (Think of the bloody ending of Hamlet, which ends with five corpses on the stage, neatly resolving the plot.) A more recent move is to just let things end in midair – sometimes even in mid-sentence, like in Kafka's The Castle.

But even Shakespeare or Kafka couldn't resist hinting at a future. At the very end of Hamlet, Fortinbras steps up from the sidelines as the probable new king. And even Kafka's half-finished sentence suggests that there's more to come. One Hundred Years of Solitude takes this feeling and turns it completely on its head.

Adios, Macondo

How does the novel end? Basically, every single character we have been introduced to is dead or gone. Of the last generation of Buendías, one is murdered by a gang of oversexed teenagers, another hemorrhages to death after childbirth, and a third is killed by a hurricane. When we do get that most universal symbol of the future – a baby, born right at the end of the novel to the last two Buendías – it's abandoned and eaten by fire ants.

Okay so maybe the Buendías are doomed, but what about the rest of the people we've met? There's a whole town outside their crazy family, right? Not so much. The novel's final move is to destroy the whole town by a hurricane, leaving a completely flat, empty space with no sign that there was ever anything there. García Márquez basically takes a giant eraser and wipes the whole slate clean. Nothing in the world of the novel will continue to exist once we've finished reading it. (That means no sequel, sorry.)

So what do you think about this way of wrapping things up? Does it provide some of the same satisfaction that neat endings of fairy tales or mystery novels do? Is it depressing to experience this level of closure? Shocking?

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