The longest shadow in the novel is cast by José Arcadio's son Colonel Aureliano Buendía. As the most outstanding member of the second generation, so it is through his triumphs and failures that we come to understand the theme of solitude. He fulfills the novel's requirements of circular myth and lineal history. The opening sentence of the first chapter invokes a mythical, as opposed to a lineal, time, so that the plot comes full circle later on: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." In that allusive beginning, the future and past of the novel are linked, so that he is identified as the novel's most palpable presence, an absurd historical figure, with mythical qualities. But García Márquez tricks us; the Colonel is not killed by a firing squad. He dies, finally, in solitude, leaning against the same chestnut tree where his mad father was tied for so many years.
The Colonel, Aureliano Buendía, is the first human being born in Macondo. We learn early that he is already doomed to a kind of cyclical fate in that as leader of the revolutionary forces, he follows the same route from Macondo to Riohacha, discovering the same Spanish galleon as had his father. "Silent and withdrawn," his fetus "weeps" in Úrsula's womb. His eyes are open at birth. Clairvoyant, he is possessed of prophetic powers; he predicts the arrival of Rebeca, his adopted sister, as well as deaths and common household catastrophes. People are inclined to relate his prophetic talent to his having wept in Úrsula's womb, just as later his cousin Aureliano Segundo relates his drive for power to some kind of instinctive fear. The truth comes to his mother, Úrsula, however, just before his death; in fact, the fetal weeping and glorious dreams meant only that he had "an incapacity for love." Before the truth and his death, however, there is already legend, "simultaneous and contradictory information." His affair with Pilar Ternera, who bears his son Aureliano José, ends in tragic results, as does his ill-fated revolution. Already, however, he is stamped with a heroic genius.
As we have noted, we learn that adolescence made Aureliano silent and "definitely solitary." His brooding demeanor strikes both an echo and a foreboding in our minds of action that we know must soon occur. He is always quiet and subdued. He apprehends future events intuitively but his gift of prophecy becomes the motive for all his later misadventures. Rebeca (who wanders into Macondo, carrying the bones of her family in a bag, eating dirt and scraps of whitewash) brings to Macondo the highly infectious plague of insomnia and amnesia. It is Aureliano Buendía, still a child, who strikes on the solution that enables the town to remember things until the plagues pass away. This episode marks him, serendipitously, with legendary powers.
The first mayor of Macondo, Don Apolinar Moscote, brings violence, conservative politics, and beautiful daughters to Macondo. One of the girls, Remedios, is married to the Colonel when she is still so young that she still wets the bed, plays with dolls, and has not yet had her first menstrual period. It is through the Colonel's friendship with Don Moscote that he is introduced to political election frauds and political terror. After witnessing his father-in-law's Conservative troops murder a woman; Aureliano calls his friends, Gerineldo Márquez and Magnífico Visbal, to launch a Liberal revolution.
Here the real saga of Colonel Aureliano Buendía begins. And with the Colonel's rise to leadership of the rebel forces, Macondo moves out of its isolation into political conflict. The cause that Colonel Aureliano serves is progressive but vague; more often than not, he appears to be more rebel than revolutionary ideologue. He organizes thirty-two armed uprisings and loses each and every civil war. Throughout, however, he seems motivated by some kind of insatiable rage that is either altogether a justification for his own cruelties or a delusion. We never know since at the height of his power he becomes as ruthless as his Conservative oppressors. He is so ambiguous that even his would-be executioners mistake the intensity of his rage as praying. He escapes from death — through the intercessions of his brother, the brutal José Arcadio II — only so that he can sign the treaty of Neerlandia, an ignominious surrender which leads to the extermination of the Liberal forces. His military career has taken him through three phases that parallel the three civil wars between Liberals and Conservatives recorded in Colombian history. García Márquez' grandfather, in fact, served under the Liberal leader of the period, General Rafael Uribe. Though exaggerated for ironic effect, Colonel Aureliano Buendía's struggle is a reflection of true historic events. The novel's historical facts, however, become tragic myths within the context of this fantasy novel.
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