The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. (1.1)
Macondo begins as a prelapsarian neo-Eden. It's as if the human memory slate has been completely wiped clean. ("Prelapsarian" means a time before the fall of mankind, as described in the Bible's Book of Genesis. You know, the whole eating the forbidden fruit situation.)
When his father told him about his alarm at having forgotten even the most impressive happenings of his childhood, Aureliano explained his method to him […] with an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: "This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk." Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters. (3.14)
This is a very disturbing inversion of the way Macondo is at the beginning of the novel, when things have no names and have to be pointed at. Then, the state of namelessness was filled with hope, newness, and optimism. Now it's just a horror. What do these two nameless situations say about each other?
When the war was over, while Colonel Aureliano Buendía was sneaking about through the narrow trails of permanent subversion, General Moncada was named magistrate of Macondo. He wore civilian clothes, replaced the soldiers with unarmed policemen, enforced the amnesty laws, and helped a few families of Liberals who had been killed in the war. He succeeded in having Macondo raised to the status of a municipality and he was therefore its first mayor, and he created an atmosphere of confidence that made people think of the war as an absurd nightmare of the past. (8.8)
In <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude, </em>we frequently see memory and history given the status of fiction, and vice versa (i.e. legend and myth given the status of fact). Is this tendency being used by the state as propaganda here? Is this how horrible things are psychologically processed in Macondo?
On the following day Colonel Aureliano Buendía had lunch with [his Conservative archenemy] in Úrsula's house, where he was being held until a revolutionary court-martial decided his fate. It was a friendly gathering. But while the adversaries forgot the war to remember things of the past, Úrsula had the gloomy feeling that her son was an intruder. […] He was preserved against imminent old age by a vitality that had something to do with the coldness of his insides. He was taller than when he had left, paler and bonier, and he showed the first symptoms of resistance to nostalgia. (8.38)
Here we see the difference between Aureliano Buendía the human being and Colonel Aureliano Buendía, the dehumanized man who emerged from the war. This is a pretty common description of hardened soldiers, but notice how García Márquez conveys the change by having Aureliano gradually lose his ability to color his memories with feelings. It isn't that he can't remember; it's that he's unable to feel nostalgia, which is a specific way of thinking about the past while longing for its return.
[Colonel Aureliano Buendía] was weary of the uncertainty, of the vicious circle of that eternal war that always found him in the same place, but always older, wearier, even more in the position of not knowing why, or how, or even when. […] Alone, abandoned by his premonitions, fleeing the chill that was to accompany him until death, he sought a last refuge in Macondo in the warmth of his oldest memories. (9.19)
Again, check out the insistence that the main way we express our humanity is by coloring our memories with feelings. The Colonel wants his memories to be "warm."
The only one who had not lost for a single minute the awareness that [Rebeca] was alive and rotting in her wormhole was the implacable and aging Amaranta. […]Always, at every moment, asleep and awake, during the most sublime and most abject moments, Amaranta thought about Rebeca because solitude had made a selection in her memory and had burned the dimming piles of nostalgic waste that life had accumulated in her heart, and had purified, magnified, and eternalized the others, the most bitter ones. […] Úrsula, on the other hand, who had suffered through a process opposite to Amaranta's, recalled Rebeca with a memory free of impurities, for the image of the pitiful child brought to the house with the bag containing her parents' bones prevailed over the offense that had made her unworthy to be connected to the family tree any longer. (11.36)
Here we get two different versions of what can happen to our memories as we age, while we reconfigure our life stories. What does it say about Amaranta that the main memories left to her are the most bitter ones? Is she a victim? What does it say about Úrsula that she forgets and forgives Rebeca's almost-incest? Does this mean it was a mistake to blame Rebeca in the first place?
In reality, José Arcadio Segundo was not a member of the family, nor would he ever be of any other since that distant dawn when Colonel Gerineldo Márquez took him to the barracks, not so that he could see an execution, but so that for the rest of his life he would never forget the sad and somewhat mocking smile of the man being shot. That was not only his oldest memory, but the only one he had of his childhood. […] [It was] the memory of the executed man which had really set the direction of his life and would return to his memory clearer and clearer as he grew old as if the passage of time were bringing him closer to it. (13.39)
Wow, that's one traumatic memory, right? Also, check out how this is another way that historical fact is transformed when it's held as a memory (rather than, for example, written down in a book or read about in a newspaper article). Memory infuses fact with emotion; it's the only thing that allows the characters to create meaning out of events. Here the memory is so powerful that it's both past and future ("the passage of time is bringing him closer to it"). What do you think that means?
Amaranta was too wrapped up in the eggplant patch of her memories to understand those subtle apologetics. She had reached old age with all of her nostalgias intact. When she listened to the waltzes of Pietro Crespi she felt the same desire to weep that she had had in adolescence, as if time and harsh lessons had meant nothing. […] She had tried to sink [her memories] into the swampy passion that she allowed herself with her nephew Aureliano José, and she tried to take refuge in the calm and virile protection of Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, but she had not been able to overcome them […]. [B]ut what pained her most and enraged her most and made her most bitter was the fragrant and wormy guava grove of love that was dragging her toward death. Just as Colonel Aureliano Buendía thought about his war, unable to avoid it, so Amaranta thought about Rebeca. But while her brother had managed to sterilize his memories, she had only managed to make hers more scalding. (14.7)
It's interesting that in a novel so obsessed with the tragedy of forgetting the past, there is this long passage about all the useless effort Amaranta makes to try rid herself of her memories of Pietro Crespi. Why does García Márquez include the contradictory idea that for this woman it's the presence and not the absence of memory that's so painful?
"There must have been three thousand of [the dead]."
"It must have been all of the people who were at the station."
The woman measured him with a pitying look. "There haven't been any dead here." She said. "Since the time of your uncle, the colonel, nothing has happened in Macondo." In the three kitchens where José Arcadio Segundo stopped before reaching home they told him the same thing: "There weren't any dead." […]
People did not believe the version of the massacre or the nightmare trip of the train loaded with corpses traveling toward the sea either. […]
The official version, repeated a thousand times all over the country by every means of communication the government found at hand, was finally accepted: there were no dead, the satisfied workers had gone back to their families, and the banana company was suspending all activity until the rains stopped. (15.34, 36-38, 40)
Here we have yet another case of what happens when fact is transformed into memory. In this instance, the government has wised up to the fact that memories don't necessarily match the truth. By bombarding people with false facts, it gets to write history the way it wants. But is there some ambiguity here? José Arcadio's experience is that no one believes him from the start. But later, this paragraph says that people "finally" accepted the government's version, making it sound like they were on the fence at first. Which is it? Can we tell?
That was how everything went after the deluge. The indolence of the people was in contrast to the voracity of oblivion. Which little by little was undermining memories in a pitiless way […]. It was also around that time that the gypsies returned, the last heirs to Melquíades's science, and they found the town so defeated and its inhabitants so removed from the rest of the world that once more they went through the houses dragging magnetized ingots as if that really were the Babylonian wise men's latest discovery, and once again they concentrated the sun's rays with the giant magnifying glass, and there was no lack of people standing – open-mouthed watching kettles fall and pots roll and who paid fifty cents to be startled as a gypsy woman put in her false teeth and took them out again. (17.23)
Yikes. Pretty depressing, huh? Compare this passage to the first time the gypsies come around with the magnets. Before, magnets really were the new thing on the block, but now people who have a train running through their town are suddenly back to marveling at this basic technology. It just goes to show how devolved they've become. How does the word choice compare in the two descriptions?
Prudencio Aguilar did not go away, nor did José Arcadio Buendía dare throw the spear. He never slept well after that. He was tormented by the immense desolation with which the dead man had looked at him through the rain, his deep nostalgia as he yearned for living people, the anxiety with which he searched through the house looking for some water with which to soak his esparto plug. "He must be suffering a great deal," he said to Úrsula. "You can see that he's so very lonely." She was so moved that the next time she saw the dead man uncovering the pots on the stove she understood what he was looking for, and from then on she placed water jugs all about the house. (2.14)
Check out how the ante keeps being upped in this passage. We get horror, with the first glimpse of the ghost and the spear. Then we get pity for the ghost. Then empathy, as José Arcadio understands what Prudencio Aguilar is feeling. And finally there's a strange slide into domestic comedy, as Úrsula fills up jars for the ghost to keep his bandage moist. And there in a nutshell you have magical realism: the transformation of the mystical into the mundane.
Aureliano gave her a look that wrapped her in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
"Somebody is coming," he told her.
Úrsula, as she did whenever he made a prediction, tried to break it down with her housewifely logic. It was normal for someone to be coming. (3.2-4)
Why does Úrsula resist Aureliano's predictions? Do the words used in this passage ("wrapped," "uncertainly," "logic," and "normal") give you a clue? What does this say about her?
"Just a moment," he said. "Now we shall witness an undeniable proof of the infinite power of God."
The boy who had helped him with the mass brought him a cup of thick and steaming chocolate, which he drank without pausing to breathe. Then he wiped his lips with a handkerchief that he drew from his sleeve, extended his arms, and closed his eyes. Thereupon Father Nicanor rose six inches above the level of the ground. It was a convincing measure. […] No one doubted the divine origin of the demonstration except José Arcadio Buendía […]
"<em>Hoc est simplicissimus</em>," Arcadio Buendía said. "<em>Homo iste statum quartum materiae invenit</em>." […]
He was so stubborn that Father Nicanor gave up his attempts at evangelization and continued visiting him out of humanitarian feelings. But then it was José Arcadio Buendía who took the lead and tried to break down the priest's faith with rationalist tricks. (5.4-6, 8)
Is the priest's levitation proof of God? Why doesn't José Arcadio Buendía think so? Does it matter whether the levitation is the same kind of magic as the other supernatural events in the novel or whether it's divine? (Oh, and by the way, the Latin translates to: "This is very simple. This man has found the fourth state of matter.")
[Colonel Aureliano Buendía's] efforts to systematize his premonitions were useless. They would come suddenly in a wave of supernatural lucidity, like an absolute and momentous conviction, but they could not be grasped. On occasion they were so natural that he identified them as premonitions only after they had been fulfilled. Frequently they were nothing but ordinary bits of superstition. But when they condemned him to death and asked him to state his last wish, he did not have the least difficulty in identifying the premonition that inspired his answer: "I ask that the sentence be carried out in Macondo," he said. (7.21)
Can we compare Colonel Buendía's efforts to make sense of his clairvoyance with his father's attempts to systematize memory with the memory machine? What's the attitude behind each of these attempts? Neither is successful, but do we feel differently about each of them?
No one had gone into the room again since they had taken Melquíades's body out and had put on the door a padlock whose parts had become fused together with rust. But when Aureliano Segundo opened the windows a familiar light entered that seemed accustomed to lighting the room every day and there was not the slightest trace of dust or cobwebs, with everything swept and clean, better swept and cleaner than on the day of the burial, and the ink had not dried up in the inkwell nor had oxidation diminished the shine of the metals nor had the embers gone out under the water pipe where José Arcadio Buendía had vaporized mercury. On the shelves were the books bound in a cardboard-like material, pale like tanned human skin, and the manuscripts were intact. (10.4)
What's the symbolism of this room being so super-clean? It's like ghost OCD in there! Also, check out the comparison between the books and human skin. It's almost like Melquíades <em>is</em> those books – creepy!
[Aureliano Segundo] became lost in misty byways, in times reserved for oblivion, in labyrinths of disappointment. He crossed a yellow plain where the echo repeated one's thoughts and where anxiety brought on premonitory mirages. After sterile weeks he came to an unknown city where all the bells were tolling a dirge. Although he had never seen them and no one had ever described them to him he immediately recognized the walls eaten away by bone salt, the broken-down wooden balconies gutted by fungus, and nailed to the outside door, almost erased by rain, the saddest cardboard sign in the world: Funeral Wreaths for Sale. (11.10)
Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda have the worst marriage ever. Why do you think he finds her through this crazy supernatural recognition? What does it say about the supernatural in the novel as a whole, if anything?
The Ash Wednesday before [the seventeen Aurelianos] went back to scatter out along the coast, Amaranta got them to put on Sunday clothes and accompany her to church. More amused than devout, they let themselves be led to the altar rail where Father Antonio Isabel made the sign of the cross in ashes on them. Back at the house, when the youngest tried to clean his forehead, he discovered that the mark was indelible and so were those of his brothers. They tried soap and water, earth and a scrubbing brush, and lastly a pumice stone and lye, but they could not remove the crosses. On the other hand, Amaranta and the others who had gone to mass took it off without any trouble. (11.28)
It's so creepy that the Ash Wednesday marks that are supposed to be a protective religious symbol in the novel become targets on the boys' heads. Also, imagine scrubbing your forehead with a pumice stone and lye – ouch!
The supposition that Remedios the Beauty possessed powers of death was then borne out. […] Amaranta noticed that Remedios the Beauty was covered all over by an intense paleness. "Don't you feel well?" she asked her. Remedios the Beauty, who was clutching the sheet by the other end, gave a pitying smile. "Quite the opposite," she said, "I never felt better." She had just finished saying it when Fernanda felt a delicate wind of light pull the sheets out of her hands and open them up wide. Amaranta felt a mysterious trembling in the lace on her petticoats and she tried to grasp the sheet so that she would not fall down at the instant in which Remedios the Beauty began to rise. Úrsula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving goodbye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o'clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her. (12.23)
Again we get this amazing mix of the transcendent and the mundane. On the one hand, we've got the world's most beautiful woman rising naked into the air. It's like a vision out that famous Botticelli painting of Venus rising out of the sea on a shell. On the other hand, we've got two women trying to keep the laundry from going up with her, bringing the scene back down to a mundane, daily level.
It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia. […] One morning, while she was pruning the roses, Fernanda let out a cry of fight and had Meme taken away from the spot where she was, which was the same place in the garden where Remedios the Beauty had gone up to heaven. She had thought for an instant that the miracle was going to be repeated with her daughter, because she had been bothered by a sudden flapping of wings. It was the butterflies. (14.23)
In a way, Fernanda's fears come true. After all, Meme <em>is</em> going to be taken away forever – except it's Fernanda herself who's going to be doing the taking. Also, why yellow butterflies? Why that color and that insect?
It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days. (16.1)
Nothing too brilliant to say here – just, wow, that's a lot of water.
Úrsula suddenly realized that the house had become full of people, that her children were on the point of marrying and having children, and that they would be obliged to scatter for lack of space. Then she took out the money she had accumulated over long years of hard labor, made some arrangements with her customers, and undertook the enlargement of the house. (3.21)
Instead of being psyched at the thought that her adult children are about to move out of the house, Úrsula's instinct is to keep the family together no matter how many generations are on top of each other under the same roof. Maybe this extreme closeness is what leads to the unhealthy kind of family closeness. You know, the incestuous kind.
Amaranta suffered a crisis of conscience. She had begged God with such fervor for something fearful to happen so that she would not have to poison Rebeca that she felt guilty of Remedios' death. […] Amaranta took charge of Aureliano José. She adopted him as a son who would share her solitude and relieve her from the involuntary laudanum that her mad beseeching had thrown into Remedios' coffee. […]
Having lost her bearings, completely demoralized, Rebeca began eating earth again. (5.14-15)
It's interesting how guilt brings out different roles in these two women. Amaranta suddenly becomes maternal, raising Aureliano José (with whom she will later get all inappropriate and incesty). Meanwhile, Rebeca reverts to childhood, the last time she was doing the dirt eating.
Arcadio gave a rare display of generosity by decreeing official mourning for Pietro Crespi. Úrsula interpreted it as the return of the strayed lamb. But she was mistaken. She had lost Arcadio, not when he had put on his military uniform, but from the beginning. She thought she had raised him as a son, as she had raised Rebeca, with no privileges or discrimination. Nevertheless, Arcadio was a solitary and frightened child during the insomnia plague, in the midst of Úrsula's utilitarian fervor, during the delirium of José Arcadio Buendía, the hermetism of Aureliano, and the mortal rivalry between Amaranta and Rebeca. Aureliano had taught him to read and write, thinking about other things, as he would have done with a stranger. (6.12)
This is one of the few places where the novel admits how crucial those first childhood experiences are for shaping the rest of a character's life. Seriously, this little kid has no dad, no mom, no idea who his parents even are in the first place, and of course all the other stuff mentioned in the paragraph. Which other kids grow up totally abandoned in crazytown? What ends up happening to them?
Colonel Aureliano Buendía was alive, but apparently he had stopped harassing the government of his country and had joined with the victorious federalism of other republics of the Caribbean. He would show up under different names farther and farther away from his own country. Later it would be learned that the idea that was working on him at the time was the unification of the federalist forces of Central America in order to wipe out conservative regimes from Alaska to Patagonia. (8.6)
On the surface, this doesn't sound like it's about family. But it kind of struck us as similar to Úrsula wanting to expand the house to accommodate all the kids instead of just letting them move out. Aureliano still has in him the instinct to try to unite everyone into one big community, which is clearly something he grew up with.
A few months after the return of Aureliano José, an exuberant woman perfumed with jasmine appeared at the house with a boy of five. She stated that he was the son of Colonel Aureliano Buendía and that she had brought him to Úrsula to be baptized. No one doubted the origins of that nameless child: he looked exactly like the colonel at the time he was taken to see ice for the first time. The woman said that he had been born with his eyes open, looking at people with the judgment of an adult, and that she was frightened by his way of staring at things without blinking. "He's identical," Úrsula said […]
Nine more sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendía were brought to the house to be baptized. The oldest, a strange dark boy with green eyes, who was not at all like his father's family, was over ten years old. They brought children of all ages, all colors, but all males and all with a look of solitude that left no doubt as to the relationship. (8.17-18)
What do you make of the idea that the genetic link between Colonel Aureliano and his sons isn't a physical marker but instead a way of looking at the world? To us this reads as a kind of warning that their eventual fate is going to be linked to his war days.
The entreaties were useless. Aureliano José, just like Arcadio in other times, had ceased to belong to [Úrsula]. It was as if his return home, the possibility of existing without concerning himself with everyday necessities, had awakened in him the lewd and lazy leanings of his uncle José Arcadio. His passion for Amaranta had been extinguished without leaving any scars. He would drift around, playing pool, easing his solitude with occasional women, sacking the hiding places where Úrsula had forgotten her money. He ended up coming home only to change his clothes. "They're all alike," Úrsula lamented. "At first they behave very well, they're obedient and prompt and they don't seem capable of killing a fly. But as soon as their beards appear they go to ruin." (8.21)
This passage points to that now-outdated notion that men shouldn't have to deal with domestic chores or even take care of themselves. Hey, here's an idea: maybe it would be nice if when they came home, they still had to "concern themselves with everyday necessities." Is it any wonder the Buendía men became lazy? We would, too, if we had someone waiting on us hand and foot!
In almost twenty years of war, Colonel Aureliano Buendía had been at his house many times, but the state of urgency with which he always arrived, the military retinue that accompanied him everywhere, the aura of legend that glowed about his presence and of which even Úrsula was aware, changed him into a stranger in the end. […] Amaranta could not reconcile her image of the brother who had spent his adolescence making little gold fishes with that of the mythical warrior who had placed a distance of ten feet between himself and the rest of humanity. But when the approach of the armistice became known and they thought that he would return changed back into a human being, delivered at last for the hearts of his own people, the family feelings, dormant for such a long time, were reborn stronger than ever. (9.45)
Úrsula and Amaranta are about to be pretty disappointed. This is such a strange and telling description. Why do you think growing into a hardened soldier distances Colonel Aureliano from his family? Is it because he's too used to ordering people around? Because he's seen too much?
In spite of the visible hostility of the family, Fernanda did not give up her drive to impose the customs of her ancestors. She put an end to the custom of eating in the kitchen and whenever anyone was hungry, and she imposed the obligation of doing it at regular hours at the large table in the dining room, covered with a linen cloth and with silver candlesticks and table service. The solemnity of an act which Úrsula had considered the most simple one of daily life created a tense atmosphere […]. Even Úrsula's superstitions, with origins that came more from an inspiration of the moment than from tradition, came into conflict with those of Fernanda, who had inherited them from her parents and kept them defined and catalogued for every occasion. As long as Úrsula had full use of her faculties some of the old customs survived and the life of the family kept some quality of her impulsiveness, but when she lost her sight and the weight of her years relegated her to a corner, the circle of rigidity begun by Fernanda from the moment she arrived finally closed completely and no one but she determined the destiny of the family. (11.21)
How do you think Fernanda is able to impose her rules on the family when no one seems to want to follow them? Ordinarily we tend to appreciate it when chaos is transformed into order (think of all those home makeover shows). So why does it sound so terrible here when Fernanda categorizes her superstitions? Why is it bad that she makes the family eat meals at set times?
Fernanda was able to count on an atmosphere that enabled her to keep [Aureliano II] hidden as if he had never existed. She had to take him in because the circumstances under which they brought him made rejection impossible. She had to tolerate him against her will for the rest of her life because at the moment of truth she lacked the courage to go through with her inner determination to drown him in the bathroom cistern. She locked him up in Colonel Aureliano Buendía's old workshop. She succeeded in convincing Santa Sofía de la Piedad that she had found him floating in a basket. […]
Little Amaranta Úrsula, who went into the workshop once when Fernanda was feeding the child, also believed the version of the floating basket. Aureliano Segundo, having broken finally with his wife because of the irrational way in which she handled Meme's tragedy, did not know of the existence of his grandson until three years after they brought him home, when the child escaped from captivity through an oversight on Fernanda's part and appeared on the porch for a fraction of a second. (15.1-2)
This is one seriously evil, disturbed, crazy woman. Since she is by far the most visibly Catholic character (the rest of the family is either non-religious or has some kind of mixture of Christianity and mysticism going on), are we supposed to connect her religion to her insanity? In general, how does the novel portray Catholicism and its relation to family life?
[José Arcadio (III)] entertained his mother with the endless fable of his pontifical vocation. It never occurred either to him or to Fernanda to think that their correspondence was an exchange of fantasies. José Arcadio, who left the seminary as soon as he reached Rome, continued nourishing the legend of theology and canon law so as not to jeopardize the fabulous inheritance of which his mother's delirious letters spoke. (18.16)
Isn't it crazy that each character here is lying and is yet utterly unaware that the other person is doing the same thing? It's a relationship built entirely on fiction.
Then he [José Arcadio (II)] gave himself over to that hand [Pilar Ternera's], and in a terrible state of exhaustion he let himself be led to a shapeless place where his clothes were taken off and he was heaved about like a sack of potatoes and thrown from one side to the other in a bottomless darkness in which his arms were useless, where it no longer smelled of woman but of ammonia, and where he tried to remember her face and found before him the face of Úrsula, confusedly aware that he was doing something that for a very long time he had wanted to do but that he had imagined could really never be done, not knowing what he was doing because he did not know where his feet were or where his head was, or whose feet or whose head, and feeling that he could no longer resist the glacial rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestines, and fear, and the bewildered anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever and ever in that exasperated silence and that fearful solitude. (2.19)
Here's another one of those mixtures of highbrow and lowbrow, just like with the supernatural. On the one hand, José Arcadio (II) is experiencing this elevated state where all the feelings are heightened. He's not just tired but "in a terrible state of exhaustion." He's doing something that had seemed impossible. Although he and Pilar are together, he realizes the depths of his "solitude," and he even has an Oedipal moment when he imagines his mother's face. On the other hand, "a sack of potatoes"? Feeling like he has to pee and pass gas? We're in lowbrow comedy territory here, too.
Little Remedios had reached puberty before getting over the habits of childhood. In spite of the fact that her mother had taught her about the changes of adolescence, one February afternoon she burst shouting into the living room, where her sisters were chatting with Aureliano, and showed them her panties, smeared with a chocolate colored paste. A month for the wedding was agreed upon. There was barely enough time to teach her how to wash herself, get dressed by herself, and understand the fundamental business of a home. They made her urinate over hot bricks in order to cure her of the habit of wetting her bed. It took a good deal of work to convince her of the inviolability of the marital secret, for Remedios was so confused and at the same time so amazed at the revelation that she wanted to talk to everybody about the details of the wedding night. (5.1)
Okay, minors can't really give consent, so this is basically pedophilia. Still, we just love the extremely naturalistic description of this little kid super-psyched by every new thing she hears about. Menstruation? She's "shouting" about her underwear. Sex? She can't help sharing the crazy details with everyone. These few sentences are enough to convey her bubbling personality and suggest how devastating her death must have been for all those quiet, depressive Buendías.
On a certain occasion José Arcadio looked at [Rebeca's] body with shameless attention and said to her: "You're a woman, little sister." Rebeca lost control of herself. She went back to eating earth and the whitewash on the walls with the avidity of previous days, and she sucked her finger with so much anxiety that she developed a callus on her thumb. She vomited up a green liquid with dead leeches in it. She spent nights awake shaking with fever, fighting against delirium, waiting until the house shook with the return of José Arcadio at dawn. One afternoon, when everyone was having a siesta, she could no longer resist and went to his bedroom. She found him in his shorts, lying in the hammock that he had hung from the beams with a ship's hawser. She was so impressed by his enormous motley nakedness that she felt an impulse to retreat. "Excuse me," she said, "I didn't know you were here." But she lowered her voice so as not to wake anyone up. "Come here," he said. Rebeca obeyed. She stopped beside the hammock in an icy sweat, feeling knots forming in her intestines, while José Arcadio stroked her ankles with the tips of his fingers, then her calves, then her thighs, murmuring: "Oh, little sister, little sister." She had to make a supernatural effort not to die when a startlingly regulated cyclonic power lifted her up by the waist and despoiled her of her intimacy with three slashes of its claws and quartered her like a little bird. She managed to thank God for having been born before she lost herself in the inconceivable pleasure of that unbearable pain, splashing in the steaming marsh of the hammock which absorbed the explosion of blood like a blotter. (5.18)
Two things here. First, Rebeca is a pretty aggressive woman, right? Especially for the time, and especially compared to the much more sexually passive Buendía women. Second, we're thinking that maybe José Arcadio (II) has an incest fetish that he's trying to make work. Think about it: Rebeca isn't actually his sister at all. And more than that, he ran off with the gypsies pretty soon after she showed up at the house with the bag of bones, so they weren't really even raised together as siblings. So it's not really all that perverse, in reality.
It was not fear of the dark that drove [Aureliano José] to crawl in under [Amaranta's] mosquito netting but an urge to feel Amaranta's warm breathing at dawn. Early one morning during the time when she refused Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, Aureliano José awoke with the feeling that he could not breathe. He felt Amaranta's fingers searching across his stomach like warm and anxious little caterpillars. Pretending to sleep, he changed his position to make it easier, and then he felt the hand without the black bandage diving like a blind shellfish into the algae of his anxiety. Although they seemed to ignore what both of them knew and what each one knew that the other knew, from that night on they were yoked together in an inviolable complicity. […] [T]hey not only slept together, naked, exchanging exhausting caresses, but they would also chase each other into the corners of the house and shut themselves up in the bedrooms at any hour of the day in a permanent state of unrelieved excitement. […] She realized that she had gone too far, that she was no longer playing kissing games with a child, but was floundering about in an autumnal passion, one that was dangerous and had no future, and she cut it off with one stroke. (8.3)
Compare this passage to ones where the Buendía boys are having their first experience of sexuality. How is the description here changed by the fact that we are getting an older woman's point of view? How does it stay the same?
While [Aureliano Segundo] was shut up in Melquíades room he was drawn into himself, [but one day] a piece of chance took him out of his withdrawn self and made him face the reality of the world. A young woman who was selling numbers for the raffle of an accordion greeted him with a great deal of familiarity. Aureliano Segundo was not surprised, for he was frequently confused with his brother. But he did not clear up the mistake, not even when the girl tried to soften his heart with sobs, and she ended taking him to her room. […] Aureliano Segundo realized that the woman had been going to bed alternately with him and his brother, thinking that they were the same man, and instead of making things clear, he arranged to prolong the situation. He did not return to Melquíades' room. […]
For almost two months he shared the woman with his brother. [After giving her – and indirectly his brother – an STD] José Arcadio Segundo did not see the woman again. Aureliano Segundo obtained her pardon and stayed with her until his death. (10.17-18)
Here is yet another of the transfers of personality from one twin to the other. After this episode with Petra Cotes, it's Aureliano Segundo who becomes all about physical pleasure, and José Arcadio Segundo becomes a weird silent recluse. Is it just us or is there a strange transfer happening here?
In a few years, without effort, simply by luck, he had accumulated one of the largest fortunes in the swamp thanks to the supernatural proliferation of his animals. His mares would bear triplets, his hens laid twice a day, and his hogs fattened with such speed that no one could explain such orderly fecundity except through the use of black magic. […] The more he opened champagne to soak his friends, the more wildly his animals gave birth and the more he was convinced that his lucky star was not a matter of his conduct but an influence of Petra Cotes, his concubine, whose love had the virtue of exasperating nature. […]
They were a frivolous couple, with no other worries except going to bed every night, even on forbidden days, and frolicking there until dawn. (10.25-26)
This stuff is usually right out on the table in this book, but there's no discussion of why Petra never gets pregnant with Aureliano Segundo. Instead, all her fertility is somehow transferred to the animals.
Fernanda carried a delicate calendar with small golden keys on which her spiritual adviser had marked in purple ink the dates of venereal abstinence. Not counting Holy Week, Sundays, holy days of obligation, first Fridays, retreats, sacrifices, and cyclical impediments, her effective year was reduced to forty-two days that were spread out through a web of purple crosses. Aureliano Segundo, convinced that time would break up that hostile network, prolonged the wedding celebration beyond the expected time. […]
[W]hen the period was over, she opened her bedroom with a resignation worthy of an expiatory victim and Aureliano Segundo saw the most beautiful woman on earth, with her glorious eyes of a frightened animal and her long, copper-colored hair spread out across the pillow. He was so fascinated with that vision that it took him a moment to realize that Fernanda was wearing a white nightgown that reached down to her ankles, with long sleeves and with a large, round buttonhole, delicately trimmed, at the level of her lower stomach. Aureliano Segundo could not suppress an explosion of laughter. "That's the most obscene thing I've ever seen in my life," he shouted with a laugh that rang through the house. (11.12-13)
This novel generally opposes those who stand in the way of human nature and animalistic urges. Fernanda's elaborate attempt to avoid sex is mocked and shown to have the complete opposite effect: her extremely modest nightgown crosses over into the realm of pornography with its pelvic-area hole.
[Remedios the Beauty] did not understand why women complicated their lives with corsets and petticoats, so she sewed herself a coarse cassock that she simply put over her and without further difficulties resolved the problem of dress, without taking away the feeling of being naked, which according to her lights was the only decent way to be when at home. They bothered her so much to cut the rain of hair that already reached to her thighs and to make rolls with combs and braids with red ribbons that she simply shaved her head and used the hair to make wigs for the saints. The startling thing about her simplifying instinct was that the more she did away with fashion in a search for comfort and the more she passed over conventions as she obeyed spontaneity, the more disturbing her incredible beauty became and the more provocative she became to men. […] Until her last moment on earth she was unaware that her irreparable fate as a disturbing woman was a daily disaster. Every time she appeared in the dining room, against Úrsula's orders, she caused a panic of exasperation among the outsiders. It was all too evident that she was completely naked underneath her crude nightshirt and no one could understand that her shaved and perfect skull was not some kind of challenge, and that the boldness with which she uncovered her thighs to cool off was not a criminal provocation, nor was her pleasure when she sucked her fingers after eating. What no member of the family ever knew was that the strangers did not take long to realize that Remedios the Beauty gave off a breath of perturbation, a tormenting breeze that was still perceptible several hours after she had passed by. Men expert in the disturbances of love, experienced all over the world, stated that they had never suffered an anxiety similar to the one produced by the natural smell of Remedios the Beauty. (12.7)
What is it with this girl? She's another example of the novel's natural-is-best theme. Here she has removed all of the socially imposed markers of proper femininity: complicated and restrictive undergarments, long hair, modest behavior and manners. But the absence of these things ends up making her even more alluring.
Although [Gaston] was at least fifteen years older than his wife [Amaranta Úrsula], his alert determination to make her happy and his qualities as a good lover compensated for the difference. Actually, those who saw that man in his forties with careful habits, with the leash around his neck and his circus bicycle, would not have thought that he had made a pact of unbridled love with his wife and that they both gave in to the reciprocal drive in the least adequate of places and wherever the spirit moved them, as they had done since they had begun to keep company, and with a passion that the passage of time and the more and more unusual circumstances deepened and enriched. Gaston was not only a fierce lover, with endless wisdom and imagination, but he was also, perhaps, the first man in the history of the species who had made an emergency landing and had come close to killing himself and his sweetheart simply to make love in a field of violets. (19.5)
Wow, that's some commitment to getting it on, no?
Aureliano smiled, picked [Amaranta Úrsula] up by the waist with both hands like a pot of begonias, and dropped her on her back on the bed. With a brutal tug he pulled off her bathrobe before she had time to resist and he loomed over an abyss of newly washed nudity whose skin color, lines of fizz, and hidden moles had all been imagined in the shadows of the other rooms. Amaranta Úrsula defended herself sincerely with the astuteness of a wise woman, writhing her slippery, flexible, and fragrant weasel's body as she tried to knee him in the kidneys and scorpion his face with her nails but without either of them giving a gasp that might not have been taken for the breathing of a person watching the meager April sunset through the open window. It was a fierce fight, a battle to the death, but it seemed to be without violence because it consisted of distorted attacks and ghostly evasions, slow, cautious, solemn, […] as if they were two enemy lovers seeking reconciliation at the bottom of an aquarium. In the heat of that savage and ceremonious struggle, Amaranta Úrsula understood that her meticulous silence was so irrational that it could awaken the suspicions of her nearby husband much more than the sound of warfare that they were trying to avoid. Then she began to laugh with her lips tight together, without giving up the fight, but defending herself with false bites and deweaseling her body little by little until they both were conscious of being adversaries and accomplices at the same time and the affray degenerated into a conventional gambol and the attacks became caresses. (19.30)
Why does Amaranta Úrsula fight Aureliano (II) off, then stop fighting? Why doesn't she call Gaston?
A burning noonday sun brought out a startling demonstration with the gigantic magnifying glass: they put a pile of dry hay in the middle of the street and set it on fire by concentrating the sun's rays. José Arcadio Buendía […] conceived the idea of using that invention as a weapon of war. Again Melquíades tried to dissuade him, but [José Arcadio Buendía was] completely absorbed in his tactical experiments with the abnegation of a scientist. […] Over the protests of his wife, who was alarmed at such a dangerous invention, at one point he was ready to set the house on fire. He would spend hours on end in his room, calculating the strategic possibilities of his novel weapon until he succeeded in putting together a manual of startling instructional clarity and an irresistible power of conviction. He sent it to the government, accompanied by numerous descriptions of his experiments and several pages of explanatory sketches, by a messenger who crossed the mountains, got lost in measureless swamps, forded stormy rivers, and was on the point of perishing under the lash of despair, plague, and wild beasts until he found a route that joined the one used by the mules that carried the mail. In spite of the fact that a trip to the capital was little less than impossible at that time, José Arcadio Buendía promised to undertake it as soon as the government ordered him to so that he could put on some practical demonstrations of his invention for the military authorities and could train them himself in the complicated art of solar war. For several years he waited for an answer. Finally, tired of waiting, he bemoaned to Melquíades the failure of his project. (1.2)
There are a couple of things going on in this great passage. For one, we're loving this little mini-satire of the military-industrial complex. You've got a half-crazy, half-genius weapons designer, a totally unrealistic and unusable technology, and a government bureaucracy that can't be penetrated. At the same time, you've got an interesting juxtaposition between visionary endeavor and the reality of trying to get anything done (that sad guy struggling to get through to the mail route).
War, in fact, had broken out three months before. Martial law was in effect in the whole country. The only one who knew it immediately was Don Apolinar Moscote, but he did not give the news even to his wife while the army platoon that was to occupy the town by surprise was on its way. They entered noiselessly before dawn, with two pieces of light artillery drawn by mules. And they set up their headquarters in the school. A 6 p.m. curfew was established. A more drastic search than the previous one was undertaken, house by house, and this time they even took farm implements. They dragged out Dr. Noguera, tied him to a tree in the square, and shot him without any due process of law. […] Four soldiers under his command snatched a woman who had been bitten by a mad dog from her family and killed her with their rifle butts. One Sunday, two weeks after the occupation, Aureliano entered Gerineldo Márquez's house and with his usual terseness asked for a mug of coffee without sugar. When the two of them were alone in the kitchen, Aureliano gave his voice an authority that had never been heard before. "Get the boys ready," he said. "We're going to war." […]
Tuesday at midnight in a mad operation, twenty-one men under the age of thirty commanded by Aureliano Buendía, armed with table knives and sharpened tools, took the garrison by surprise, seized the weapons, and in the courtyard executed the captain and the four soldiers who had killed the woman.
[…] Don Apolinar Moscote had trouble identifying that conspirator in high boots and with a rifle slung over his shoulder with the person he had played dominoes with until nine in the evening. "This is madness, Aurelito," he exclaimed. "Not madness," Aureliano said. "War. And don't call me Aurelito any more. Now I'm Colonel Aureliano Buendía." (5.43, 46-47)
Oh yeah, now it's on! This is like the "now it's personal" part of any action movie, when the hero reluctantly saddles up to fight the bad guys.
Another war began [when Colonel Aureliano Buendía and his men] would camp near the towns and one of them, with a small gold fish in his hand, would go in disguise in broad daylight to contact the dormant Liberals, who would go out hunting on the following morning and never return. […] Colonel Aureliano Buendía's men proclaimed him chief of the revolutionary forces of the Caribbean coast with the rank of general. He assumed the position but refused the promotion and took the stand that he would never accept it as long as the Conservative regime was in power. At the end of three months they had succeeded in arming more than a thousand men, but they were wiped out. […] [A] message from the government was sent all over by telegraph and included in jubilant proclamations throughout the country announcing the death of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. But two days later a multiple telegram which almost overtook the previous one announced another uprising on the southern plains. That was how the legend of the ubiquitous Colonel Aureliano Buendía began. Simultaneous and contradictory information declared him victorious in Villanueva, defeated in Guacamayal, devoured by Motilon Indians, dead in a village in the swamp, and up in arms again in Urumita. [Colonel Aureliano Buendía] proclaimed total war against the regime. (7.34)
No matter what these Buendía dudes do, they bring the same m.o. with them. From one perspective, this is some impressive not-giving-up-the-fight attitude. On the other hand, the war is yet another of those high-energy, repetitive, kind of pointless activities that recur throughout the novel. It's also interesting that the myth of Aureliano Buendía has so much to do with him not quite being human, since we know that eventually the war will completely dehumanize him.
Intelligent, pleasant, ruddy-faced, a man who liked to eat and watch cockfights, [General Moncada] had been at one time the most feared adversary of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. He succeeded in imposing his authority over the career officers in a wide sector along the coast. One time when he was forced by strategic circumstances to abandon a stronghold to the forces of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, he left two letters for him. In one of them, quite long, he invited him to join in a campaign to make the war more humane. The other letter was for his wife, who lived in Liberal territory, and he left it with a plea to see that it reached its destination. From then on, even in the bloodiest periods of the war, the two commanders would arrange truces to exchange prisoners. They were pauses with a certain festive atmosphere which General Moncada took advantage of to teach Colonel Aureliano Buendía how to play chess. They became great fiends. They even came to think about the possibility of […] setting up a humanitarian regime that would take the best from each doctrine. (8.7)
It's easy to assume that what we see in Macondo and the Buendía family is meant to represent all of Colombia. But here is a glimpse of morality and ethics that seems more recognizable. It's too bad none of that influence rubs off on Colonel Buendía: remember what ends up happening to Moncada's widow at his hands?
Colonel Gerineldo Márquez was the first to perceive the emptiness of the war. In his position as civil and military leader of Macondo he would have telegraphic conversations twice a week with Colonel Aureliano Buendía. At first those exchanges would determine the course of a flesh-and-blood war, the perfectly defined outlines of which told them at any moment the exact spot where it was and the prediction of its future direction. Although he never let himself be pulled into the area of confidences, not even by his closest friends, Colonel Aureliano Buendía still had at that time the familiar tone that made it possible to identify him at the other end of the wire. Many times he would prolong the talks beyond the expected limit and let them drift into comments of a domestic nature. Little by little, however, and as the war became more intense and widespread, his image was fading away into a universe of unreality. The characteristics of his speech were more and more uncertain, and they came together and combined to form words that were gradually losing all meaning. (9.1)
We're fascinated by the idea that someone's "tone" could be recognized over a telegraph wire. Why are Buendía's words losing meaning? Because he's falling into bureaucratic military jargon? Because he's no longer connected to any events outside the war and troop movement? Does the description of Buendía's disembodied "voice" over the telegraph line have anything in common with Fernanda's invisible doctors?
[Colonel Aureliano Buendía's] orders were being carried out even before they were given, even before he thought of them, and they always went much beyond what he would have dared have them do. Lost in the solitude of his immense power, he began to lose direction. (9.19)
Wow, that's a really astute insight into the way power turns into tyranny and then paranoia. How creepy is the idea that the people around Buendía are so die-hard that they try to anticipate whatever he wants them to do, or whomever he wants them to kill, and then take things a few steps further. This could easily be a description of what happens around any dictator.
For Colonel Aureliano Buendía it meant the limits of atonement. He suddenly found himself suffering from the same indignation that he had felt in his youth over the body of the woman who had been beaten to death because she had been bitten by a rabid dog. He looked at the groups of bystanders in front of the house and with his old stentorian voice, restored by a deep disgust with himself, he unloaded upon them the burden of hate that he could no longer bear in his heart.
"One of these days," he shouted, "I'm going to arm my boys so we can get rid of these shitty gringos!"
During the course of that week, at different places along the coast, his seventeen sons were hunted down like rabbits by invisible criminals who aimed at the center of their crosses of ash. (12.23-25)
The strategy that worked against the corrupt government fails against the capitalist imperialism of the banana company. Maybe because this time the enemy is too diffuse? Too many people stand to profit by what the banana company is doing to really want to fight them?
Martial law enabled the army to assume the functions of arbitrator in the controversy, but no effort at conciliation was made. As soon as they appeared in Macondo, the soldiers put aside their rifles and cut and loaded the bananas and started the trains running. The workers, who had been content to wait until then, went into the woods with no other weapons but their working machetes and they began to sabotage the sabotage. They burned plantations and commissaries, tore up tracks […]. The summons announced that the civil and military leader of the province would arrive on the following Friday ready to intercede in the conflict.
[…] [M]ore than three thousand people, workers, women, and children, had spilled out of the open space in front of the station and were pressing into the neighboring streets, which the army had closed off with rows of machine guns. […] [I]n three articles of eighty words [Major Enrique Garcia Isaza] declared the strikers to be a "bunch of hoodlums" and he authorized the army to shoot to kill.
[…] The captain gave the order to shoot. It seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps.
"Get down! Get down!" The people in front had already done so, swept down by the wave of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down, tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon's tail. […]
They were penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns. (15.17-28)
Okay, this is beyond horrible, especially since it actually happened during a workers' strike in Colombia in 1928. Check out how the language heightens the reading experience. The guns go from being tools of the soldiers to being agents with seemingly no human controlling them. (It's as if the guns had been loaded with caps – but we don't get any sense of by whom.) Finally, the guns are completely anthropomorphized: they are "insatiable" and "methodical," both of which imply thinking and feeling. (Anthropomorphism is when objects or animals are given human qualities.)
Meanwhile, the victims start out as active participants, moving and talking to each other in the square. Then they become part of a mythical animal (a dragon's tail). Then they are described as an inanimate but powerful phenomenon (a gigantic whirlwind). And finally they are reduced to an insignificant onion being peeled. It's a subtle but really resonant way of demonstrating the shifting power dynamic here.
One hot dawn [José Arcadio (III) and Aureliano (II)] woke up in alarm at an urgent knocking on the street door. It was a dark old man with large green eyes that gave his face a ghostly phosphorescence and with a cross of ashes on his forehead. His clothing in tatters, his shoes cracked, the old knapsack on his shoulder his only luggage, he looked like a beggar, but his bearing had a dignity that was in frank contradiction to his appearance. It was only necessary to look at him once, even in the shadows of the parlor, to realize that the secret strength that allowed him to live was not the instinct of self-preservation but the habit of fear. It was Aureliano Amador, the only survivor of Colonel Aureliano Buendía's seventeen sons, searching for a respite in his long and hazardous existence as a fugitive. He identified himself, begged them to give him refuge in that house which during his nights as a pariah he had remembered as the last redoubt of safety left for him in life. But José Arcadio and Aureliano could not remember him. Thinking that he was a tramp, they pushed him into the street. Then they both saw from the doorway the end of a drama that had begun before José Arcadio had reached the age of reason. Two policemen who had been chasing Aureliano Amador for years, who had tracked him like bloodhounds across half the world, came out from among the almond trees on the opposite sidewalk and took two shots with the their Mausers which neatly penetrated the cross of ashes. (18.22)
There's a whole crazy confluence of themes in this passage. You've got the lost memory of the past, with José Arcadio (III) and Aureliano (II) having no idea who the seventeen Aurelianos were, even though that was a pretty significant part of their ancestors' lives. You've got a guy who has practically come back from the dead, having survived against nearly impossible odds. And you've got the unbelievable persistence of the random policemen who have been chasing Aureliano Amador for this many years just to complete the task of killing him, long after whatever danger he might have once posed to the regime or the banana company was gone.
One September morning, after having coffee in the kitchen with Aureliano, José Arcadio was finishing his daily bath when through the openings in the tiles the four children he had expelled from the house burst in. Without giving him time to defend himself, they jumped into the pool fully clothed, grabbed him by the hair, and held his head under the water until the bubbling of his death throes ceased on the surface and his silent and pale dolphin body slipped down to the bottom of the fragrant water. Then they took out the three sacks of gold from the hiding place which was known only to them and their victim. It was such a rapid, methodical, and brutal action that it was like a military operation. (18.23)
You can compare this scene to the way, many years before, Colonel Aureliano Buendía captured the town from the government soldiers who had been sent to control it (see quotation #2 in this section). Why does what looked so heroic then look so pathetic now?
When the pirate Sir Francis Drake attacked Riohacha in the sixteenth century, Úrsula Iguarán's great-great-grandmother became so frightened with the ringing of alarm bells and the firing of cannons that she lost control of her nerves and sat down on a lighted stove. The burns changed her into a useless wife for the rest of her days. [Her husband] spent half the value of his store on medicines and pastimes in an attempt to alleviate her terror. Finally he sold the business and took the family to live far from the sea in a settlement of peaceful Indians. [ . . . ] Several centuries later the great-great-grandson of the native-born planter married the great-great-granddaughter of the Aragonese. Therefore, every time that Úrsula became exercised over her husband's mad ideas, she would leap back over three hundred years of fate and curse the day that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha. (2.1)
There's a philosophy called determinism that, in a nutshell, is based on the idea that everything that happens is destined to happen (all events have been predetermined already). Most famously it was used as one of the underlying tenets of a branch of Protestantism called Calvinism, after its founder John Calvin, who preached that, long before people are even born, their souls are already predestined to go either to heaven or hell – regardless of what they do in life. (This caused a lot of complications, not least of which was: why would you behave in a moral fashion if it doesn't affect where you end up in the afterlife?) This is the strain of thought being made fun of in this paragraph.
The presence of Amparo Moscote in the house was like a premonition. "She has to come with her," Aureliano would say to himself in a low voice. "She has to come." He repeated it so many times and with such conviction that one afternoon when he was putting together a little gold fish in the workshop, he had the certainty that she had answered his call. Indeed, a short time later he heard the childish voice, and when he looked up his heart froze with terror as he saw the girl [Remedios] at the door, dressed in pink organdy and wearing white boots. (4.5)
Bear with us while we pontificate a moment on one of our pet theories about fiction. You know how sometimes when you're reading or watching a movie, you're suddenly struck by the fact that it's just a work of fiction? This happens a lot when a novel or a movie has one too many coincidences. It kind of takes you out of the story. You can't help thinking that the plot could have gone some other way, or a character could have had a totally different personality. It's an issue, is what we're saying.
In <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em>, García Márquez creates a very clever workaround for this problem by centralizing the importance of fate in his characters' lives. Instead of feeling the heavy hand of the author here, we feel the heavy hand of destiny. Rather than blaming the author for this meet-creepy and her eventual terrible death, readers are strongly impressed by the doom fated to everyone who gets within fifty feet of the Buendías.
[T]hey did not dare carry out the sentence. The rebelliousness of the town made the military men think that the execution of Colonel Aureliano Buendía might have serious political consequences not only in Macondo but throughout the area of the swamp, so they consulted the authorities in the capital of the province. On Saturday night, while they were waiting for an answer. Captain Roque Carnicero went with some other officers to Catarino's place. Only one woman, practically threatened, dared take him to her room. "They don't want to go to bed with a man they know is going to die," she confessed to him. "No one knows how it will come, but everybody is going around saying that the officer who shoots Colonel Aureliano Buendía and all the soldiers in the squad, one by one, will be murdered, with no escape, sooner or later, even if they hide at the ends of the earth." Captain Roque Carnicero mentioned it to the other officers and they told their superiors. On Sunday, although no one had revealed it openly, although no action on the part of the military had disturbed the tense calm of those days, the whole town knew that the officers were ready to use any manner of pretext to avoid responsibility for the execution. […]
When [Colonel Aureliano Buendía] heard the shout he thought that it was the final command to the squad. He opened his eyes with a shudder of curiosity, expecting to meet the incandescent trajectory of the bullets. But he only saw Captain Roque Carnicero with his arms in the air and José Arcadio crossing the street with his fearsome shotgun ready to go off. "Don't shoot," the captain said to José Arcadio. "You were sent by Divine Providence." (7.27, 33)
When we're so heavily immersed in the idea that fate has a hand in everything that happens, it's hard to see what other factors might be motivating events. Here, for example, we've already seen that the usually clairvoyant Colonel Buendía doesn't see his death by the firing squad, and now we also find out that the soldiers are superstitious enough not to want to go through with the execution. But what about the fact that José Arcadio (II) stops the execution of his brother? Isn't this kind of action usually used to reveal something about character? Does that happen here, or is José Arcadio (II) just incidental to the plot?
[Pilar Ternera's] five daughters, who inherited a burning seed, had been lost on the byways of life since adolescence. Of the two sons she managed to raise, one died fighting in the forces of Colonel Aureliano Buendía and the other was wounded and captured at the age of fourteen when he tried to steal a crate of chickens in a town in the swamp. In a certain way, Aureliano José was the tall, dark man who had been promised her for half a century by the king of hearts, and like all men sent by the cards he reached her heart when he was already stamped with the mark of death. She saw it in the cards. (8.23)
Pilar's tarot cards might be the only device in the novel that actually leaves something up to chance or unpredictability. Maybe it's because she doesn't actually have any powers of clairvoyance, but the vagueness of the "tall, dark man" is refreshing in the face of the many spoiler-y forecasts about the future we get from other characters.
Carmelita Montiel, a twenty-year-old virgin, had just bathed in orange-blossom water and was strewing rosemary leaves on Pilar Ternera's bed when the shot rang out. Aureliano José had been destined to find with her the happiness that Amaranta had denied him, to have seven children, and to die in her arms of old age, but the bullet that entered his back and shattered his chest had been directed by a wrong interpretation of the cards. Captain Aquiles Ricardo, who was really the one destined to die that night, did indeed die, four hours before Aureliano José. As soon as the shot was heard he was brought down by two simultaneous bullets whose origin was never established and a shout of many voices shook the night. (8.30)
Are there other places in the novel where we get a peek at an alternate future that doesn't come to pass? How does this one compare? Can we compare this to other failed love affairs in the novel?
[Colonel Aureliano Buendía] was never a greater soldier than at that time. The certainty that he was finally fighting for his own liberation and not for abstract ideals, for slogans that politicians could twist left and right according to the circumstances, filled him with an ardent enthusiasm. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, who fought for defeat with as much conviction and loyalty as he had previously fought for victory, reproached him for his useless temerity. "Don't worry," he would say, smiling. "Dying is much more difficult than one imagines." In his case it was true. The certainty that his day was assigned gave him a mysterious immunity, an immortality for a fixed period that made him invulnerable to the risks of war and in the end permitted him to win a defeat that was much more difficult, much more bloody and costly than victory. (9.44)
How does the certainty that his death is a matter of fate free Colonel Aureliano Buendía to be a better commander?
Throughout the long history of the family the insistent repetition of names had made [Úrsula] draw some conclusions that seemed to be certain. While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the José Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign. (10.3)
Do the names of characters predict how they will act, or does the expectation that characters will act a certain way make everyone fit their actions to the preconception? Do the names themselves prevent free will?
Aureliano Segundo was prepared to rescue his daughter with the help of the police if necessary, but Fernanda showed him some papers that were proof that she had entered the convent of her own free will. Meme had indeed signed once she was already behind the iron grating and she did it with the same indifference with which she had allowed herself to be led away. Underneath it all, Aureliano Segundo did not believe in the legitimacy of the proof, just as he never believed that Mauricio Babilonia had gone into the yard to steal chickens, but both expedients served to ease his conscience. (15.10)
Here is a case where a character voluntarily gives up free will to make life easier for himself. Aureliano Segundo could raise a ruckus and try to get his daughter back – and he knows he should – but free will always requires way more effort than going along with destiny. And Aureliano Segundo is a pretty lazy dude.
"What did you expect?" he murmured. "Time passes."
"That's how it goes," Úrsula said, "but not so much."
When she said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle. (17.4-6)
When José Arcadio Buendía starts to go crazy, he thinks time is just standing still, that the same day keeps happening over and over again. Here, too, Úrsula starts to suddenly feel like time isn't linear but circular. Why does the perception of time shift for these characters in old age?
[José Arcadio Buendía] would spend the day walking through the house. "Incredible things are happening in the world," he said to Úrsula. "Right there across the river there are all kinds of magical instruments while we keep on living like donkeys." (1.10)
It's interesting to think about what happens to a very isolated area that receives infrequent updates of world knowledge. José Arcadio Buendía's attempts to invent ways of using the gadgets the gypsies bring make us think of a guy named Srinivasa Ramanujan, who discovered many higher math concepts by himself with no formal mathematical training. Sure, he was obviously a genius, but once a concept has been discovered and explored, its rediscovery is significant only on a personal level.
The idea of a peninsular Macondo prevailed for a long time, inspired by the arbitrary map that José Arcadio Buendía sketched on his return from the expedition. He drew it in rage, evilly, exaggerating the difficulties of communication, as if to punish himself for the absolute lack of sense with which he had chosen the place. (1.20)
You've got to love the humor of the situation here. José Arcadio Buendía gets angry and draws a sarcastic doodle of a Macondo peninsula – basically a tantrum on paper. Then that drawing is actually taken seriously by everyone around him. There's a recurring theme in the novel of emotions getting in the way of facts and of reason being influenced by the irrational.
But at the time when Úrsula went to lament by [José Arcadio Buendía's] side he had lost all contact with reality. She would bathe him bit by bit as he sat on his stool while she gave him news of the family. […] She thought she noticed, however, that her husband would grow sad with the bad news. Then she decided to lie to him. […] She got to be so sincere in the deception that she ended up by consoling herself with her own lies. (6.6)
This moving scene rings so true. There's something touching about the idea that Úrsula makes herself feel better with the spin about the family she's feeding José Arcadio Buendía. Today this kind of approach would be used as a psychological strategy to heal from emotional trauma: tell yourself a story about what happened to you but reframe the experience.
When he finished the book, in which many of the stories had no endings because there were pages missing, Aureliano Segundo set about deciphering the manuscripts. It was impossible. The letters looked like clothes hung out to dry on a line and they looked more like musical notation than writing. One hot noontime, while he was poring over the manuscripts, he sensed that he was not alone in the room. Against the light from the window, sitting with his hands on his knees, was Melquíades. He was under forty years of age. He was wearing the same old-fashioned vest and the hat that looked like a raven's wings, and across his pale temples there flowed the grease from his hair that had been melted by the heat, just as Aureliano and José Arcadio had seen him when they were children. Aureliano Segundo recognized him at once, because that hereditary memory had been transmitted from generation to generation and had come to him through the memory of his grandfather. (10.6)
Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist from the early 20th century, developed a theory of the collective unconscious, which is basically a set of universal, inherited ideas and concepts. Here we've got that happening but on a smaller, genetically determined scale: the knowledge of Melquíades passed down from one generation of Buendías to the next. Why is it only the men that share in this collective memory?
Actually, Remedios the Beauty was not a creature of this world. Until she was well along in puberty Santa Sofía de la Piedad had to bathe and dress her, and […] it was necessary to keep an eye on her so that she would not paint little animals on the walls with a stick daubed in her own excrement. She reached twenty without knowing how to read or write, unable to use the silver at the table, wandering naked through the house because her nature rejected all manner of convention. […]
It seemed as if some penetrating lucidity permitted her to see the reality of things beyond any formalism. That at least was the point of view of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, for whom Remedios the Beauty was in no way mentally retarded, as was generally believed, but quite the opposite. "It's as if she's come back from twenty years of war," he would say. (10.33, 35)
What kind of knowledge does Remedios the Beauty lack? What kind does she have, according to the Colonel? What is it about his experience in the war that makes him think this?
At that moment the town was shaken by a whistle with a fearful echo and a loud, panting respiration. During the previous weeks they had seen the gangs who were laying ties and tracks and no one paid attention to them because they thought it was some new trick of the gypsies, coming back with whistles and tambourines and their age-old and discredited song and dance about the qualities of some concoction put together by journeyman geniuses of Jerusalem. But when they recovered from the noise of the whistles and the snorting, all the inhabitants ran out into the street and saw Aureliano Triste waving from the locomotive, and in a trance they saw the flower-bedecked train which was arriving for the first time eight months late. The innocent yellow train that was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo. (11.42)
This is a pretty technophobic book: generally it seems like the more technology Macondo gets, the worse off it becomes. Check out the difference between the Eden-like place we start with and all the horrible things the train brings with it: government interference, banana plantations, every Buendía that ever tries to get away from Macondo.
[Macondoans] became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears of affliction had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many felt that they had been the victims of some new and showy gypsy business and they decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortune of imaginary beings. Something similar happened with the cylinder phonographs that the merry matrons from France brought with them which for a time had serious effects on the livelihood of the band of musicians. At first curiosity increased the clientele on the forbidden street and there was even word of respectable ladies who disguised themselves as workers in order to observe the novelty of the phonograph from first hand, but from so much and such close observation they soon reached the conclusion that it was not an enchanted mill as everyone had thought […] but a mechanical trick that could not be compared with something so moving, so human, and so full of everyday truth as a band of musicians. (12.1)
There's a great transition here from the funny (people getting mad that actors switch roles from movie to movie) to the philosophical: the question of which is better, an artistic moment caught in time and endlessly, exactly repeatable, or the unpredictability of a live performance which is never the same twice? In a world in which so much is ruled by fate and so little is left up to chance, maybe it makes sense that the Macondoans prefer the mild chaos of live music?
[Úrsula] concentrated on a silent schooling in the distances of things and people's voices, so that she would still be able to see with her memory what the shadows of her cataracts no longer allowed her to. Later on she was to discover the unforeseen help of odors, which were defined in the shadows with a strength that was much more convincing than that of bulk and color, and which saved her finally from the shame of admitting defeat. In the darkness of the room she was able to thread a needle and sew a buttonhole and she knew when the milk was about to boil. She knew with so much certainty the location of everything that she herself forgot that she was blind at times. [ . . . ] Quite simply, while the others were going carelessly all about, she watched them with her four senses so that they never took her by surprise, and after some time she discovered that every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. […]
Nevertheless, in the impenetrable solitude of decrepitude she had such clairvoyance as she examined the most insignificant happenings in the family that for the first time she saw clearly the truths that her busy life in former times had prevented her from seeing. […] She realized that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had not lost his love for the family because he had been hardened by the war, as she had thought before, but that he had never loved anyone, not even his wife Remedios or the countless one-night women who had passed through his life, and much less his sons. […] She reached the conclusion that the son for whom she would have given her life was simply a man incapable of love. […] Amaranta, however, whose hardness of heart frightened her, whose concentrated bitterness made her bitter, suddenly became clear to her in the final analysis as the most tender woman who had ever existed, and she understood with pitying clarity that the unjust tortures to which she had submitted Pietro Crespi had not been dictated by a desire for vengeance [but that her] actions had been a mortal struggle between a measureless love and an invincible cowardice. […] Úrsula began to speak Rebeca's name, bringing back the memory of her with an old love that was exalted by tardy repentance and a sudden admiration, coming to understand that only she, Rebeca, […] the one with an impatient heart, the one with a fierce womb, was the only one who had the unbridled courage that Úrsula had wanted for her line. (13.1,7)
Úrsula has never seen so clearly as in blindness. Her ability to use her other senses to compensate for her loss of sight is heightened into almost a superpower here. What do you think about the way Úrsula reframes her understanding of her children? Do you buy that the Colonel is a completely loveless man? That Amaranta is driven by a mixture of love and fear? And why is José Arcadio absent from these thoughts? It's telling that Úrsula recognizes that change for the Buendías can only come from outside the family, from someone with a new genetic contribution. Unfortunately, this realization comes way too late.
Aureliano Segundo remembered then the English encyclopedia that no one had since touched in Meme's old room. He began to show the children the pictures, especially those of animals, and later on the maps and photographs of remote countries and famous people. Since he did not know any English and could identify only the most famous cities and people, he would invent names and legends to satisfy the children's insatiable curiosity. (16.1)
Maybe Aureliano Segundo isn't displaying much knowledge here, but he sure brings a healthy dose of wisdom to the table, at least in the category of parenting.
Aureliano did not leave Melquíades' room for a long time. He learned by heart the fantastic legends of the crumbing books. The synthesis of the structures of Hermann the Cripple, the notes on the science of demonology, the keys to the philosopher's stone, the Centuries of Nostradamus and his research concerning the plague, so that he reached adolescence without knowing a thing about his own time but with the basic knowledge of a medieval man. (18.1)
This is funny, but it's also closely related to the ideas we discussed in the first quotation of this section. Knowledge isn't static; it's shifting. Its usefulness is connected to time and history. Aureliano's education is broad and far-reaching, but it's totally inappropriate for someone in mid-twentieth-century Macondo.
Úrsula's capacity for work was the same as that of her husband. Active, small, severe, that woman of unbreakable nerves who at no moment in her life had been heard to sing seemed to be everywhere, from dawn until quite late at night, always pursued by the soft whispering of her stiff, starched petticoats. Thanks to her the floors of tamped earth, the unwhitewashed mud walls, the rustic, wooden furniture they had built themselves were always clean, and the old chests where they kept their clothes exhaled the warm smell of basil.
José Arcadio Buendía, who was the most enterprising man ever to be seen in the village, had set up the placement of the houses in such a way that from all of them one could reach the river and draw water with the same effort, and he had lined up the streets with such good sense that no house got more sun than another during the hot time of day. Within a few years Macondo was a village that was more orderly and hard-working than any known until then by its three hundred inhabitants. It was a truly happy village where no one was over thirty years of age and where no one had died. (1.12-13)
You know what strikes us reading the book this time around? (Shmoop reads books more than once. You should, too!) There's a lot of emphasis on just how hard it was to maintain a clean, smooth-running household back in the day. Housework is grueling, repetitive, and thankless. And as soon as anyone lets up even a tiny bit, the house is immediately overrun with dirt, pests, and chaos.
But the stubborn descendants of the twenty-one intrepid people who plowed through the mountains in search of the sea to the west avoided the reefs of the melodic mixup and the dancing went on until dawn. (4.3)
In the early days of the town, determination is a quality in such abundance that you even see it at parties. Here, when the pianola breaks, everyone is determined to have a good time. They just go on dancing to the weird non-music. Contrast this useful purposefulness to José Arcadio Buendía's ongoing mania for photographing God.
Pietro Crespi exhausted all manner of pleas. He went through incredible extremes of humiliation. He wept one whole afternoon in Úrsula's lap and she would have sold her soul in order to comfort him. On rainy nights he could be seen prowling about the house. […] He begged Amaranta's fiends, the ones who sewed with her on the porch, to try to persuade her. He neglected his business. He would spend the day in the rear of the store writing wild notes, which he would send to Amaranta with flower petals and dried butterflies, and which she would return unopened. He would shut himself up for hours on end to play the zither. One night he sang. Macondo woke up in a kind of angelic stupor that was caused by a zither that deserved more than this world and a voice that led one to believe that no other person on earth could feel such love. Pietro Crespi then saw the lights go on in every window in town except that of Amaranta. On November second, All Souls' Day, his brother opened the store and found all the lamps lighted, all the music boxes opened, and all the clocks striking an interminable hour, and in the midst of that mad concert he found Pietro Crespi at the desk in the rear with his wrists cut by a razor and his hands thrust into a basin of benzene. (6.10)
So is Pietro Crespi a quitter? Or is he the opposite, way too overly persevering?
As soon as José Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. (7.38)
That's one determined stream of blood, no? This is another great example of how magical realism works. The initially creepy and horrifying image of the endlessly spreading blood gives way to an almost slapstick comedy effect. The blood becomes like an animated GPS system to find Úrsula. The supernatural and otherworldly is turned mundane and humorous.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía left his room in December and it was sufficient for him to look at the porch in order not to think about war again. With a vitality that seemed impossible at her age, Úrsula had rejuvenated the house again. "Now they're going to see who I am," she said when she saw that her son was going to live. "There won't be a better, more open house in all the world than this madhouse." She had it washed and painted, changed the furniture, restored the garden and planted new flowers, and opened doors and windows so that the dazzling light of summer would penetrate even into the bedrooms. She decreed an end to the numerous superimposed periods of mourning and she herself exchanged her rigorous old gowns for youthful clothing. […] One afternoon when she was trying to put the parlor in order, Úrsula asked for the help of the soldiers who were guarding the house. The young commander of the guard gave them permission. Little by little, Úrsula began assigning them new chores. She invited them to eat. Gave them clothing and shoes, and taught them how to read and write. (9.80)
There's a great moment in Tolstoy's War and Peace when soldiers in the middle of a two-day battle set up camp. They immediately make it homey and domestic, splitting up chores and trying to bring a little family atmosphere into their war lives. Tolstoy's point is that humans are humans wherever they happen to be, and humans thrive in domestic spaces. Here we have a related idea: that soldiers who've been fighting a long war will be able to put aside their warrior persona and readjust to regular life through chores and domestic obligations. For Úrsula, restoring the house is a way to combat old age and depression; for the soldiers, it's a way of hanging on to life and humanity.
When Úrsula realized that José Arcadio Segundo was a cockfight man and that Aureliano Segundo played the accordion at his concubine's noisy parties, she thought she would go mad with the combination. It was as if the defects of the family and none of the virtues had been concentrated in both. Then she decided that no one again would be called Aureliano or José Arcadio. Yet when Aureliano Segundo had his first son she did not dare go against his will.
"All right," Úrsula said, "but on one condition: I will bring him up."
Although she was already a hundred years old and on the point of going blind from cataracts, she still had her physical dynamism, her integrity of character, and her mental balance intact. No one would be better able than she to shape the virtuous man who would restore the prestige of the family, a man who would never have heard talk of war, fighting cocks, bad women, or wild undertakings, four calamities that, according to what Úrsula thought, had determined the downfall of the line. "This one will be a priest," she promised solemnly. "And if God gives me life he'll be Pope someday." (10.19-21)
Now that's dedication. A hundred years old and raising a small child – to be Pope? That's mad commitment to an ideal, right there. So why doesn't it work?
The rumor that [Colonel Aureliano Buendía] did not want to hear anything about the situation in the country because he was growing rich in his workshop made Úrsula laugh when it reached her ears. With her terrible practical sense she could not understand the colonel's business as he exchanged little fishes for gold coins and then converted the coins into little fishes, and so on, with the result that he had to work all the harder with the more he sold in order to satisfy an exasperating vicious circle. Actually, what interested him was not the business but the work. He needed so much concentration to link scales, fit minute rubies into the eyes, laminate gills, and put on fins that there was not the smallest empty moment left for him to fill with his disillusionment of the war. So absorbing was the attention required by the delicacy of his artistry that in a short time he had aged more than during all the years of the war, and his position had twisted his spine and the close work had used up his eyesight, but the implacable concentration awarded him with a peace of the spirit. (10.36)
There's an interesting distinction here between "work" and "business." "Business" implies a forward progress. You make fish to earn a profit, ostensibly to spend in some other aspect of life. But "work" is more like what we've seen with housework: repetitive, demanding, and without much forward progress beyond the immediate accomplishment of the task at hand. "Business" is linear, a straight line, while "work" goes on and on in a circular cycle.
[W]hen [Meme] sat down at the clavichord she became a different girl, one whose unforeseen maturity gave her the air of an adult. That was how she had always been. She really did not have any definite vocation, but she had earned the highest grades by means of an inflexible discipline simply in order not to annoy her mother. They could have imposed on her an apprenticeship in any other field and the results would have been the same. […] During the graduation ceremonies she had the impression that the parchment with Gothic letters and illuminated capitals was freeing her from a compromise that she had accepted not so much out of obedience as out of convenience, [but] her mother still invited to the house every newcomer whom she thought capable of appreciating her daughter's virtues. Only after the death of Amaranta, when the family shut itself up again in a period of mourning, was Meme able to lock the clavichord and forget the key in some dresser drawer without Fernanda's being annoyed on finding out when and through whose fault it had been lost. Meme bore up under the exhibitions with the same stoicism that she had dedicated to her apprenticeship. It was the price of her freedom. (14.2)
Think about this passage the next time you don't feel like practicing your musical instrument. Maybe it will buy you some freedom in the rest of your life!
Fernanda's indignation also grew, until her eventual protests, her infrequent outbursts came forth in an uncontained, unchained torrent that began one morning like the monotonous drone of a guitar and as the day advanced rose in pitch, richer and more splendid. [Aureliano Segundo] did not interrupt her until late in the afternoon, when he could no longer bear the echo of the bass drum that was tormenting his head. […]
Then Aureliano Segundo lost control. He stood up unhurriedly, as if he only intended to stretch, and with a perfectly regulated and methodical fury he grabbed the pots with the begonias one after the other, those with the ferns, the oregano, and one after the other he smashed them onto the floor. Fernanda was frightened because until then she had really not had a clear indication of the tremendous inner force of her singsong, but it was too late for any attempt at rectification. Intoxicated by the uncontained torrent of relief, Aureliano Segundo broke the glass on the china closet and piece by piece, without hurrying, he took out the chinaware and shattered it on the floor. Systematically, serenely, in the same parsimonious way in which he had papered the house with banknotes, he then set about smashing the Bohemian crystal ware against the walls, the hand-painted vases, the pictures of maidens in flower-laden boats, the mirrors in their gilded frames, everything that was breakable, from parlor to pantry, and he finished with the large earthen jar in the kitchen, which exploded in the middle of the courtyard with a hollow boom. (16.14,18)
So what do we make of this scene of methodical, determined, calm ranting, followed by similarly methodical and calm destruction? Are these two people engaged in an argument with each other? With themselves? With life? Why does neither of them stop?
For Santa Sofía de la Piedad the reduction in the number of inhabitants of the house should have meant the rest she deserved after more than half a century of work. Never a lament had been heard from that stealthy, impenetrable woman […] who dedicated a whole life of solitude and diligence to the rearing of children although she could barely remember whether they were her children or grandchildren. [Santa Sofía de la Piedad] liked to stay in the corners, without a pause, without a complaint, keeping clean and in order the immense house that she had lived in ever since adolescence […]. But when Úrsula died the superhuman diligence of Santa Sofía de la Piedad, her tremendous capacity for work, began to fall apart. […] With neither the time nor the resources to halt the challenge of nature, Santa Sofía de la Piedad spent the day in bedrooms driving out the lizards who would return at night. [ . . . ] Santa Sofía de la Piedad continued struggling alone, fighting the weeds to stop them from getting into the kitchen, pulling from the walls the tassels of spider webs which were rebuilt in a few hours, scraping off the termites. But when she saw that Melquíades' room was also dusty and filled with cobwebs even though she swept and dusted three times a day, and that in spite of her furious cleaning it was threatened by the debris and the air of misery that had been foreseen only by Colonel Aureliano Buendía and the young officer, she realized that she was defeated. Then she put on her worn Sunday dress, some old shoes of Úrsula's, and a pair of cotton stockings that Amaranta Úrsula had given her. […]
[Aureliano (II)] saw her cross the courtyard with her bundle of clothing, dragging her feet and bent over by her years, and he saw her reach her hand through an opening in the main door and replace the bar after she had gone out. Nothing was ever heard of her again. (18.6,8)
Here's another account of the struggle to singlehandedly maintain a huge household in the middle of a jungle. Check out the persistence on both sides. On the one hand, Santa Sofía de la Piedad is fighting off lizards, spiders, termites, and weeds. On the other hand, Mother Nature is giving as good as she's getting. Sweeping and dusting three times a day sounds pretty hard to maintain if you ask us.
Remedios went over and asked some questions about the fish that Aureliano could not answer because he was seized with a sudden attack of asthma. He wanted to stay beside that skin forever, beside those emerald eyes, close to that voice that called him "sir" with every question, showing the same respect that she gave her father. […]
That afternoon Aureliano lost the hidden patience with which he had waited for a chance to see her. He neglected his work. In several desperate efforts of concentration he willed her to appear but Remedios did not respond. He looked for her in her sisters' shop, behind the window shades in her house, in her father's office, but he found her only in the image that saturated his private and terrible solitude. He would spend whole hours with Rebeca in the parlor listening to the music on the pianola. She was listening to it because it was the music with which Pietro Crespi had taught them how to dance. Aureliano listened to it simply because everything, even music, reminded him of Remedios. The house became full of love. Aureliano expressed it in poetry that had no beginning or end. He would write it on the harsh pieces of parchment that Melquíades gave him, on the bathroom walls, on the skin of his arms, and in all of it Remedios would appear transfigured: Remedios in the soporific air of two in the afternoon, Remedios in the soft breath of the roses, Remedios in the water-clock secrets of the moths, Remedios in the steaming morning bread, Remedios everywhere and Remedios forever. (4.9-10)
If you can overlook the inappropriateness of a nine-year-old love object, this is about as classic a description of falling in love as you'll find in this novel. That said, the whole can't-eat-can't-sleep thing would make way more sense if Aureliano were, say, fourteen rather than in his 30s. Yeah, gross.
Amaranta's sensibility, her discreet but enveloping tenderness had been weaving an invisible web about her fiancé, which he had to push aside materially with his pale and ringless fingers in order to leave the house at eight o'clock. […] After crossing the ocean in search of it, after having confused passion with the vehement stroking of Rebeca, Pietro Crespi had found love. […]
Pietro Crespi took the sewing basket from her lap and he told her, "We'll get married next month." Amaranta did not tremble at the contact with his icy hands. She withdrew hers like a timid little animal and went back to her work. "Don't be simple, Crespi." She smiled. "I wouldn't marry you even if I were dead." (6.8-9)
This passage is key to understanding the relationships in this novel, namely the part where the narrator tells us that Pietro confused "passion" with "love." He's far from alone: many of the characters in the novel don't seem to understand the difference between sexual attraction and long-term relationship prospects. Can you think of relationships that do and don't fit this model?
Amaranta was really making an effort to kindle in her heart the forgotten ashes of her youthful passion. With an anxiety that came to be intolerable, she waited for the lunch days, the afternoons of Chinese checkers, and time flew by in the company of the warrior with a nostalgic name whose fingers trembled imperceptibly as he moved the pieces. But the day on which Colonel Gerineldo Márquez repeated his wish to marry her, she rejected him.
"I'm not going to marry anyone," she told him, "much less you. You love Aureliano so much that you want to marry me because you can't marry him.
Colonel Gerineldo Márquez was a patient man. "I'll keep on visiting the house." Shut up in her bedroom, biting back her secret tears, Amaranta put her fingers in her ears so as not to hear the voice of the suitor as he gave Úrsula the latest war news, and in spite of the fact that she was dying to see him, she had the strength not to go out and meet him. (7.54-56)
What kind of game is Amaranta playing here? If she's "dying to see" Colonel Gerineldo Márquez,<em> </em>why doesn't she? If you can even halfway explain the box of crazy that is Amaranta, you'll be ahead of us.
Then [Colonel Aureliano Buendía] made one last effort to search in his heart for the place where his affection had rotted away and he could not find it. On another occasion, he felt at least a confused sense of shame when he found the smell of Úrsula on his own skin, and more than once he felt her thoughts interfering with his. But all of that had been wiped out by the war. Even Remedios, his wife. at that moment was a hazy image of someone who might have been his daughter. The countless women he had known on the desert of love and who had spread his seed all along the coast had left no trace in his feelings. Most of them had come into his room in the dark and had left before dawn, and on the following day they were nothing but a touch of fatigue in his bodily memory. The only affection that prevailed against time and the war was that which he had felt for his brother José Arcadio when they both were children, and it was not based on love but on complicity. (9.54)
Check out the transference going on in this passage. Wife to daughter, one-night-stand to fatigue, and even brotherly love to shameful aiding and abetting. The disappearance of love means the dissolving of relationships, to the point that even in Buendía's memory (which in theory deals with facts at least as much as emotions), he can't quite connect people with their roles.
In that way the three of them continued living without bothering each other. Aureliano Segundo, punctual and loving with both of them, Petra Cotes, strutting because of the reconciliation, and Fernanda, pretending that she did not know the truth (11.16)
What does it mean to Aureliano Segundo to "love" both of these women? Why is the companion adjective to "loving" "punctual"? Isn't that a strange juxtaposition?
The relationship of jolly comradeship was born between father and daughter [ . . . ]. Aureliano Segundo postponed any appointments in order to be with Meme, to take her to the movies or the circus, and he spent the greater part of his idle time with her. [ . . . ] The discovery of his daughter restored his former joviality and the pleasure of being with her was slowly leading him away from dissipation. [Petra Cotes] was so annoyed with the comradeship between her lover and his daughter that she did not want anything to do with her. Petra was tormented by an unknown fear, as if instinct were telling her that Meme, by just wanting it, could succeed in what Fernanda had been unable to do: deprive her of a love that by then she considered assured until death. (14.5)
We're digging the comparison between romantic and filial love here. Both kinds of love provide companionship, at least in this situation, where Aureliano Segundo has Petra for wild and crazy party time and Meme for just hanging out. And both kinds of love come with a built-in future. But while sexual love ends with death, as Petra realizes, filial love implies a future beyond death and into the next generation.
</em>[Meme] lost her mind over [Mauricio Babilonia]. She could not sleep and she lost her appetite and sank so deeply into solitude […]. At first his crudeness bothered her. The first time that they were alone on the deserted fields behind the garage he pulled her mercilessly into an animal state that left her exhausted. It took her a time to realize that it was also a form of tenderness and it was then that she lost her calm and lived only for him, upset by the desire to sink into his stupefying odor of grease washed off by lye. A short time before the death of Amaranta she suddenly stumbled into an open space of lucidity within the madness and she trembled before the uncertainty of the future. Then she heard about a woman who made predictions from cards and went to see her in secret. It was Pilar Ternera [who told her with] aggressive realism that the anxiety of falling in love could not find repose except in bed. It was the same point of view as Mauricio Babilonia's, but Meme resisted believing it because underneath it all she imagined that it had been inspired by the poor judgment of a mechanic. (14.29)
Pilar makes a connection between love and sex, which is (ha ha) what Mauricio has apparently been saying to Meme all along. What makes her trust the opinion of a fortuneteller over that of a mechanic? Are there other conversations about romantic love between women in the novel? How do they compare with Pilar's "aggressive realism"?
For Petra Cotes, however, [Aureliano Segundo] had never been a better man than at that time, perhaps because the pity that he inspired was mixed with love, and because of the feeling of solidarity that misery aroused in both of them. […] [T]hey would stay up very late with the innocence of two sleepless grandparents, taking advantage of the time to draw up accounts and put away pennies which they formerly wasted just for the sake of it. […] Those rites of poverty were so pure that they nearly always set aside the largest share for Fernanda, and they did not do so out of remorse or charity, but because her well-being was more important to them than their own. What was really happening to them, although neither of them realized it, was that they both thought of Fernanda as the daughter that they would have liked to have and never did, to the point where on a certain occasion they resigned themselves to eating crumbs for three days so that she could buy a Dutch tablecloth. […] [H]e dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Finally in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs. (17.7)
There are several interesting things in this passage: (1) Fernanda is the daughter Petra Cotes and Aureliano Segundo never had? What on earth? Your guess is as good as ours. (2) What exactly is it that these two end up sharing with each other? For all the talk of a finally discovered love, we also get the odd note that what they really like is the "shared solitude," which certainly doesn't sound very much like companionship. And (3) what do you make of the language at the end of the passage? We've seen this before with descriptions of violence (see the quote about the banana company massacre under "Warfare"), but here it's love that turns mature adults into "little children" and then even "dogs." There are some positive resonances in that description, but it's also a little creepy and disturbing.
Then [Aureliano (II)] thought that Gaston was not as foolish as he appeared, but, quite the contrary, was a man of infinite steadiness, ability, and patience who had set about to conquer his wife with the weariness of eternal agreement, of never saying no, of simulating a limitless conformity, letting her become enmeshed in her own web until the day she could no longer bear the tedium of the illusions close at hand and would pack the bags herself to go back to Europe. Aureliano's former pity turned into a violent dislike. Gaston's system seemed so perverse to him, but at the same time so effective, that he ventured to warn Amaranta Úrsula. She made fun of his suspicions, however, without even noticing the heavy weight of love, uncertainty, and jealousy that he had inside. It had not occurred to her that she was arousing something more than fraternal affection m Aureliano until she pricked her finger trying to open a can of peaches and he dashed over to suck the blood out with an avidity and a devotion that sent a chill up her spine. (19.17)
The relationship here develops into arguably the best one in the book in terms of love and possibility. But from the beginning we get these descriptions that stress the negative undertones underlying what, on the surface, seems to be the real thing. Here, for example, this weird vampiric image of Aureliano (II) sucking out Amaranta Úrsula's blood is an odd foreshadowing of the way she will die and fact that she is a lifeline for him.
Upset by two nostalgias facing each other like two mirrors, [the bookstore owner] lost his marvelous sense of unreality and ended up recommending to [Aureliano (II) and his group of friends] that they leave Macondo, that they forget everything he had taught them about the world and the human heart, that they shit on Horace, and that wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end. (20.6)
There's an argument to be made that this is actually one of the ways to read this book: that all love is necessarily fleeting and that, because of the way memory works, all history ends up being false and flawed. Can you find any counterexamples?
The gypsy was inclined to stay in the town. He really had been through death, but he had returned because he could not bear the solitude. (3.16)
Several times, death – or rather, the afterlife – is shown to be a lonely place, which is ironic since so many of the living characters in the novel crave solitude.
"Prudencio," he exclaimed. "You've come from a long way off! After many years of death the yearning for the living was so intense, the need for company so pressing, so terrifying the nearness of that other death which exists within death, that Prudencio Aguilar had ended up loving his worst enemy. He had spent a great deal of time looking for him. He asked the dead from Riohacha about him, the dead who came from the Upar Valley, those who came from the swamp, and no one could tell him because Macondo was a town that was unknown to the dead until Melquíades arrived and marked it with a small black dot on the motley maps of death. (4.38)
What do you make of the complicated cosmology of the afterlife García Márquez invents here? The dead are shown leading more or less the same kind of existence as the living – they have maps! – just in a sadder and drabber way. Also, apparently there is another death within this afterlife world. Is that the death of a person's memory?
At dawn, after a summary court-martial, Arcadio was shot against the wall of the cemetery. In the last two hours of his life he did not manage to understand why the fear that had tormented him since childhood had disappeared. Impassive, without even worrying about making a show of his recent bravery, he listened to the interminable charges of the accusation. He thought about Úrsula, who at that hour must have been under the chestnut tree having coffee with José Arcadio Buendía. He thought about his eight-month-old daughter, who still had no name, and about the child who was going to be born in August. He thought about Santa Sofía de la Piedad, whom he had left the night before salting down a deer for next day's lunch, and he missed her hair pouring over her shoulders and her eyelashes, which looked as if they were artificial. He thought about his people without sentimentality, with a strict dosing of his accounts with life, beginning to understand how much he really loved the people he hated most. […] In the shattered schoolhouse where for the first time he had felt the security of power, a few feet from the room where he had come to know the uncertainty of love, Arcadio found the formality of death ridiculous. Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia. (6.31)
After Arcadio rethinks his life and realizes how much love he has for the people in it, the finality of his execution seems like a silly formality rather than a momentous occasion. What is Arcadio nostalgic for if his childhood was marked mainly by fear and he is only now at peace?
When he was alone, José Arcadio Buendía consoled himself with the dream of the infinite rooms. He dreamed that he was getting out of bed, opening the door and going into an identical room with the same bed with a wrought-iron head, the same wicker chair, and the same small picture of the Virgin of Help on the back wall. From that room he would go into another that was just the same, the door of which would open into another that was just the same, the door of which would open into another one just the same, and then into another exactly alike, and so on to infinity. He liked to go from room to room, as in a gallery of parallel mirrors, until Prudencio Aguilar would touch him on the shoulder. Then he would go back from room to room, walking in reverse, going back over his trail, and he would find Prudencio Aguilar in the room of reality. But one night, two weeks after they took him to| his bed, Prudencio Aguilar touched his shoulder in an intermediate room and he stayed there forever, thinking that it was the real room. (7.57)
Now we get another view of death and the afterlife as a series of infinite identical rooms: kind of like Chinese boxes or an M.C. Escher drawing. It's an evocative image. What kind of emotional resonance does it bring up for you? Loneliness? Futility? Security?
But actually, during the last two years [Colonel Aureliano Buendía] had paid his final dues to life, including growing old. When he passed by the silver shop, which Úrsula had prepared with special diligence, he did not even notice that the keys were in the lock. He did not notice the minute, tearing destruction that time had wreaked on the house and that, after such a prolonged absence, would have looked like a disaster to any man who had kept his memories alive. He was not pained by the peeling of the whitewash on the walls or the dirty, cottony cobwebs in the corners or the dust on the begonias or the veins left on the beams by the termites or the moss on the hinges or any of the insidious traps that nostalgia offered him. He sat down on the porch, wrapped in his blanket and with his boots still on, as if only waiting for it to clear, and he spent the whole afternoon watching it rain on the begonias. Úrsula understood then that they would not have him home for long. "If it's not the war," she thought, "it can only be death." It was a supposition that was so neat, so convincing that she identified it as a premonition. (9.51)
In this passage, death – or at least mortality – is marked by a decline in determination. We've seen how the novel's insistence on perseverance is linked to the physical upkeep of house and home (see "Perseverance"). Here, because the house is falling apart, and because the Colonel doesn't notice or care, we see how much humanity and life the war has beaten out of him.
When calm was restored, not one of the false Bedouins remained in town and there were many dead and wounded lying on the square: nine clowns, four Columbines, seventeen playing card kings, one devil, three minstrels, two peers of France, and three Japanese empresses. (10.42)
The corpses take on the actual identities that they've only been playing with while alive. Is this transformation funny? Sad? Is it a way of distancing the reader from the massacre?
The only thing that [Amaranta] did not keep in mind in her fearsome plan was that in spite of her pleas to God she might die before Rebeca. That was, in fact, what happened. At the final moment, however, Amaranta did not feel frustrated, but, on the contrary, free of all bitterness because death had awarded her the privilege of announcing itself several years ahead of time. She saw it on one burning afternoon sewing with her on the porch a short time after Meme had left for school. She saw it because it was a woman dressed in blue with long hair, with a sort of antiquated look, and with a certain resemblance to Pilar Ternera during the time when she had helped with the chores in the kitchen. Fernanda was present several times and did not see her, in spite of the fact that she was so real – so human and on one occasion asked of Amaranta the favor of threading a needle. Death did not tell her when she was going to die or whether her hour was assigned before that of Rebeca, but ordered her to begin sewing her own shroud on the next sixth of April. She was authorized to make it as complicated and as fine as she wanted, but just as honestly executed as Rebeca's, and she was told that she would die without pain, fear, or bitterness at dusk on the day that she finished it. Trying to waste the most time possible, Amaranta ordered some rough flax and spun the thread herself. She did it so carefully that the work alone took four years. Then she started the sewing. As she got closer to the unavoidable end she began to understand that only a miracle would allow her to prolong the work past Rebeca's death, but the very concentration gave her the calmness that she needed to accept the idea of frustration. (14.7)
We see two connections or allusions here. First, there is the intratextual (within the book) link to Colonel Aureliano Buendía and the gold fish he makes and melts down over and over again during the war. Less directly, what he's doing is also a way of temporarily keeping death at bay. Second, the image of a woman weaving a shroud of destiny is one that might be familiar from Homer's Odyssey. There, Penelope weaves and unweaves a wedding shroud for herself as a way of postponing her seemingly inevitable remarriage to one of her many suitors. Just like in that text, however long the delay, the shroud must eventually be finished, and the story must eventually go on to the next stage.
When José Arcadio Segundo came to he was lying face up in the darkness. He realized that he was riding on an endless and silent train and that his head was caked with dry blood and that all his bones ached. He felt an intolerable desire to sleep. Prepared to sleep for many hours, safe from the terror and the horror, he made himself comfortable on the side that pained him less, and only then did he discover that he was lying against dead people. There was no free space in the car except for an aisle in the middle. Several hours must have passed since the massacre because the corpses had the same temperature as plaster in autumn and the same consistency of petrified foam that it had. And those who had put them in the car had had time to pile them […]. [H]e saw the man corpses, woman corpses, child corpses who would be thrown into the sea like rejected bananas. (15.29)
This is just pure horror. Hang on, guys, Shmoop needs to go sit down for a sec, there's just a little dust in our eyes.
The condition of the streets alarmed Aureliano Segundo. He finally became worried about the state of his animals and he threw an oilcloth over his head and went to Petra Cotes' house. He found her in the courtyard, in the water up to her waist, trying to float the corpse of a horse. Aureliano Segundo helped her with a lever, and the enormous swollen body gave a turn like a bell and was dragged away by the torrent of liquid mud. Since the rain began, all that Petra Cotes had done was to clear her courtyard of dead animals. During the first weeks she sent messages to Aureliano Segundo for him to take urgent measures and he had answered that there was no rush, that the situation was not alarming, that there would be plenty of time to think about something when it cleared. She sent him word that the horse pastures were being flooded, that the cattle were fleeing to high ground, where there was nothing, to where they were at the mercy of jaguars and sickness. "There's nothing to be done," Aureliano Segundo answered her. "Others will be born when it clears." Petra Cotes […] saw with quiet impotence how the deluge was pitilessly exterminating a fortune that at one time was considered the largest and most solid in Macondo, and of which nothing remained but pestilence. (16.7)
We tend to think of wealth as made up of inanimate things (like money or real estate). This passage reads as a throwback to another time, when wealth could be constituted of living beings. For Aureliano Segundo, these animals are easy come, easy go. Just as he had very little to do with their supernatural abundance, so he has no desire to save them from this supernatural catastrophe.
[Aureliano (II)] went through the dusty and solitary streets, examining with scientific interest the inside of houses in ruin, the metal screens on the windows broken by rust and the dying birds, and the inhabitants bowed down by memories. He tried to reconstruct in his imagination the annihilated splendor of the old banana-company town, whose dry swimming pool was filled to the brim with rotting men's and women's shoes, and in the houses of which, destroyed by rye grass, he found the skeleton of a German shepherd dog still tied to a ring by a steel chain and a telephone that was ringing, ringing, ringing until he picked it up and an anguished and distant woman spoke in English, and he said yes, that the strike was over, that three thousand dead people had been thrown into the sea, that the banana company had left, and that Macondo finally had peace after many years. Those wanderings led him to the prostrate red-light district, where in other times bundles of banknotes had been burned to liven up the revels, and which at that time was a maze of streets more afflicted and miserable than the others, with a few red lights still burning and with deserted dance halls adorned with the remnants of wreaths, where the pale, fat widows of no one, the French great-grandmothers and the Babylonian matriarchs, were still waiting beside their phonographs. Aureliano could not find anyone who remembered his family, not even Colonel Aureliano Buendía, except for the oldest of the West Indian Negroes. (19.9)
Thus the town of Macondo ceases to exist, just as suddenly as it came into existence. The novel isn't satisfied to end with the town's destruction; its very memory has been erased.