Study Guide

One Hundred Years of Solitude Family

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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.

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