Of all the works by García Márquez , this novel is the most fascinating and the most complex. From the very beginning, we recognize the same elements — albeit, more elaborate ones — as those of the characters and situations in his shorter fiction. In the words of the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa: "100 Hundred Years of Solitude extends and magnifies the world erected by his previous books." Indeed, the novel is a brilliant amalgamation of elements from all of García Márquez' previous stories, including elements from the fiction of other American novelists, biblical parables, and personal experiences known only to the author.
The basic structure of the novel traces the chronicle of the Buendía family over a century. It is the history of a family with inescapable repetitions, confusions, and progressive decline. Beginning sometime in the early nineteenth century, the novel's time span covers the family's rise and fall from the foundation of Macondo by the youthful patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, until the death of the last member of the line. Throughout the narrative, the fates of the Buendías and Macondo are parallel reflections. In fact, we witness the history of a people who, like the wandering tribes of Israel, are best understood in terms of their genesis from a single family.
100 Hundred Years of Solitude exaggerates events and personal characteristics to such a degree that it is very difficult to define its predominant aim. Sometimes it seems to be satire; at other times it appears to be an evocation of the magical. Perhaps we can be safest in observing that the novel demonstrates that the line between fantasy and reality is very arbitrary. It shows, for instance, that our sense of technical and material progress is relative, and that backwardness, for instance, can be caused as much by social isolation as by historical distance in time. Everything depends upon one's cultural reference. A commonplace telescope is a fabulous instrument to either people isolated from modern civilization, or, at some time or another, to all children.
100 Hundred Years of Solitude consists of twenty unnumbered chapters or episodes. The first chapter narrates the genesis of the Buendía clan in the fictional town of Macondo. The story begins in the memory of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, son of Macondo's founder, as he recalls the first time that his father took him to "discover ice." The Colonel's memory evokes a pristine world, but this moment is overshadowed by the fact that he is facing a firing squad. At once, the omniscient narrator makes us aware that we are in the memory of a character as well as listening to a historical myth. Having lived in physical isolation, as well as psychological solitude, the people of Macondo learn about "progress" from the wandering gypsies — one of whom, Melquíades, possesses a manuscript in Sanskrit code that contains the history and fate of the Buendía family. This narrative will be the manuscript that is being decoded by the last adult Buendía just before he dies. The novel will constantly shift through time, so that memory and linear, chronicle time are mixed together in order to give the action a mournful, ghostly tone.
The Colonel's childhood memory — as he faces an execution squad — introduces us to the irony of Macondo, an ebullient jungle village that time had once forgotten and that was located at a point that seemed "eternally sad." In the beginning, before "progress" came to Macondo, José Arcadio Buendía and his wife, Úrsula, because they were cousins, lived in fear of begetting a child with a pig's tail. We are told that a boy with such a tail had been born to Úrsula's aunt and José Arcadio Buendía's uncle. This fear is later to be realized in the love affair between the only remaining Buendías, the bookish Aureliano Babilonia and his aunt, Amaranta Úrsula. Incest, then, becomes the original sin that threatens six succeeding generations of Buendías. From the fear of having a baby with a pig's tall, the novel's principal theme of solitude is psychological, as much as geographical; their hereditary fear gives them an irrational zeal for the fantastic, and it cripples their ability for sincere love and honest communication.
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