Study Guide

One Hundred Years of Solitude Fate and Free Will

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Fate and Free Will

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?

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