Study Guide

One Hundred Years of Solitude Memory and the Past

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Memory and the Past

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?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...