Study Guide

One Hundred Years of Solitude Death

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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 N****es. (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.

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