<em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> is a meditation on the history of an independent Colombia, merging several hundred years of events into an allegorical description of the evolution of Macondo. Pretty impressive feat, we must say. But there's more! At the same time, the novel emphasizes just how prone people are to either willfully or accidentally forgetting their past and their origins, usually with terrible and avoidable consequences. Because it's continuously being lost, time in the novel is cyclical and repetitive, as generation after generation is doomed to either repeat the mistakes of their ancestors or fall into spirals of ineffectual and pointless activity.
Despite the novel's insistence that collective memory loss is tragic, it does serve to protect characters from horrible, life-altering truths they have no control over anyway.
Because the repetitive cycle of time only occurs in Macondo, it's clearly a very specific instance that won't be replicated. So no worries for the rest of us.
Because <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> is a magical realist novel, the supernatural is a strong and ever-present element in its plotting and character development. It's a force like the weather, or time: powerful, unstoppable, and beyond the control of most of the novel's characters. Magical effects usually highlight the emotional side of events, but their consequences are almost always negative and destructive. Even in those few instances where the supernatural seems to be beneficial, it almost always turns out to be a pact with the devil for the characters, who suffer immediate reversals of fortune.
By using a constant stream of predictions, curses, and prophesies that always end up coming true, <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> works against the common perception that revealing twists in the plot (spoiling them, as it were) will make a reader less interested in it.
In the world of Macondo, technology and technological advancement are the true magic. They, and not any of the actual supernatural things that happen, are responsible for all the town's major transformations.
Family is a virtual prison in <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em>. Inherited family characteristics are inescapable. Family life lacks privacy or freedom. And family fate is shared by all relatives regardless of their own personal characteristics or actions. No one who leaves the family can ever really stay away, and those who come into the family from the outside are unable to bring any new perspectives or ideas. Family members are so locked in to the emotional psychodrama that even those human relationships meant to be expressed with non-relatives, like sexual love, are turned incestuous.
Ultimately, family intactness is the book's greatest horror. Those who are able to separate from the family (Rebeca and José Arcadio [II], and briefly Amaranta Úrsula and Gaston) are cut a lot of slack for their foibles. Those that can't are doomed.
The female members of the family are completely secondary in this book. It's all about the men.
In <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em>, sex is shown to be an overwhelming, usually irresistible desire. However inappropriate the object of sexual desire might be (say, your sister or aunt), the drive to consummate the relationship causes characters to cast off any moral or ethical considerations that might hold them back. It follows, moreover, that the sexual experience itself is a transformative sensation so full of physical, emotional, and psychic pleasure that it frequently causes characters to abandon plans and dreams in order to pursue a repeat encounter.
This novel is strikingly progressive in its presentation of female sexuality as an active rather than a passive force.
Characters that stand in the way of sexual desire are necessarily seen as problematic or flawed rather than moral and upstanding.
<em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> uses the real-life civil wars that plagued Colombia for decades as the basis for Colonel Aureliano Buendía's rebellion. It also uses the historically factual massacre of banana plantation workers by soldiers colluding with the United Fruit Company as the basis for the novel's massacre. This historical borrowing allows García Márquez to take a somewhat heavy-handed approach to war. War is branded, at best, as a pointless exercise for showing an unflagging commitment to a cause, and at worst the most brutal and savage kind of violence that humans can perpetrate against each other.
The book is torn between its clear distaste for war as a solution to political problems and its clear admiration of individual feats of bravery performed in battle.
The moment of greatest moral decay in the book comes when the townspeople refuse to believe José Arcadio Segundo's story about the banana workers' massacre. At this point we know that Macondo is completely doomed.
Novels can sometimes overwhelm readers with a steady and growing awareness that what we see on the page is only there because of the whims of the author, who could easily have made other choices. <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> sidesteps this pitfall by creating a world in which free will almost doesn't exist, where fate controls the actions and histories of every major character. Every prophesy and fortune-telling come to pass, and no one can escape the pull of what the cards have in store for them.
Although some characters claim to follow a moral code that ensures ethical behavior, in practice, most are able to convince themselves that whatever they want to do falls within their principles. Thus everyone comes to fulfill whatever fate has in store for them.
One of the reasons the narrator is so detached and nonjudgmental is that in a universe without free will, there can be no guilt or responsibility for any action. After all, whatever happens was fated to happen.
Much like memory, wisdom and knowledge are shown to be cyclically lost and regained in the <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em>. Each successive generation needs to be educated, which requires adults who care enough to facilitate that process. Then there's the willful decision to turn a blind eye to unpleasant facts. By the end of the novel, Macondo has tragically devolved into a state of ignorance, illustrated by the way people are once again fascinated by simple displays of magnets.
Wisdom and knowledge seem to be divided between the genders in this novel. Men have more knowledge (technical knowhow, news of the outside world) but women have wisdom (insight into how things and people work, and how to sustain life).
Knowledge is shown to be entirely useless in the novel unless it's also accompanied by wisdom. Those characters who acquire knowledge (for instance, those who are taught by Melquíades) tend to be useless recluses who cannot apply what they know to their lives.
No Buendía in <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> lacks for energy, and almost none is lazy. One of the novel's overarching themes is the way human activity can be the engine for development, progress, and productive creativity – the kind of perseverance that creates civilization out of nothing. But that same energy can fuel selfish, pointless, repetitive, and fundamentally useless obsessions – the kind of perseverance that nurtures a lifelong hatred or enforces unfair and immoral rules on the less powerful.
One of the ways the novel firmly anchors itself in realism is by showing the tremendous amount of work it takes to keep up the huge Buendía house, which falls into disrepair and ruin at the slightest sign of slack.
Ultimately, productive perseverance (keeping up the house) and unproductive perseverance (making and remaking gold fishes) are shown to be equally useless as all efforts fail in the face of the town's destruction and the Buendía family's implosion.
There are very few examples of real, unselfish, requited love in <em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em> that are not met with the almost instantaneous destruction of the lovers. Although in principle the novel values love and holds it in high regard, the emotional whirlpool of the family and the fundamentally doomed nature of each character conspire to undermine any loving relationship.
The novel is actually a long battle between the desire for solitude and the need for love. Characters veer wildly from longings for other people to an insistence on lonely and solitary pursuits. There doesn't seem to be a happy medium.
There seems to be a rule against love in the novel. The two love affairs that seem genuine – Meme and Mauricio Babilonia and Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano (II) – end through horrific, unexpected, and almost gratuitous intervention. They are among the few things in the novel whose fate seems imposed from above rather than being organic.
<em>One Hundred Years of Solitude</em>'s version of mortality varies depending on who is dying and who is left behind to mourn. Early on, the dead are an important part of the lives of the living: haunting them as ghosts or being dragged along as bones as a form of remembrance. But later – aside from Melquíades, who is somehow able to defeat death – the dying really do disappear forever, especially as they start dying by the thousands rather than individually. Death is shown to be a lonely, isolated condition. Although the dead long for the living, the living soon forget about the dead.
In a world where so much lives on after death (either people themselves, in the form of ghosts; memories of ancestors and their idiosyncrasies; or artifacts and relics that still hold meaning), the only true way for someone to stop existing is to stop being remembered.
Gabriel García Márquez is going against the grain: instead of immortalizing characters through his writing, he is creating them, just to wipe them off the face of the planet.