José Arcadio (II) is just like any normal brother: after running away to join to the circus, he comes back a brooding tattooed giant of a man and marries his adopted sister Rebeca. Naturally.
Everything about José Arcadio is described as outsized. He's a huge, hulking dude, so big that the house rattles whenever he's walking around in it. He doesn't just have a few tattoos; he's inked from head to toe. He eats and drinks like a stable of horses. And one other thing: he's so well-endowed that for a while he earns a living by sleeping with the curious.
If we stretch a bit, we can even include the whole marrying-his-adopted-sister situation into the larger-than-life description. Something along the lines of him being too huge to be hemmed in by regular-sized morals? (Just humor us.)
What seems like yet another of the fantastical elements that float throughout the novel takes a very sharp turn when we hit the civil wars. It's all well and good to giggle at José Arcadio's extra-large equipment and the fun times he and Rebeca have in bed, flaunting the morals of the stodgy townies. But it's another thing entirely when, working with his nephew Arcadio, José Arcadio starts to use his intimidating size and strength to bully his neighbors out of their property, simply reassigning their land titles to himself. It's such a disturbing development that it kind of takes the reader by surprise.
Why does José Arcadio's life take this turn? Shmoop has one suggestion: maybe this is a way to bring the moral transgressions home to the reader. We might not care so much about the pseudo-incest, but is the novel suggesting that with each antisocial inch comes a sociopathic mile? That the personal will always end up transforming into the political?