Melquíades, the Gypsy
The most important presence in the novel outside of the major Buendía male and female characters is the gypsy Melquíades, whose manuscript turns out to be the narrative of the Buendías. He is the gypsy friend of José Arcadio Buendía I, and he introduces Macondo to a host of fabulous things — flying carpets, magnets, daguerreotypes, ice, telescopes, and so on. He appears at the very beginning of the book and reappears in various ghostly reappearances; he stays around until Aureliano Babilonia begins the task of completing the translation of the parchment manuscripts — which Melquíades gives to José Arcadio Buendía
I. It is important to remember that Melquíades is merely the narrator of the manuscripts — the story itself (in the sense of García Márquez ' use of history as sequential time and existence as a simultaneous time) is created by the reader and author together.
Melquíades is an irrepressible and fantastic spirit. Always superhuman or concerned with the supernatural, he survives numerous scourges and afflictions that would be fatal to ordinary mortals. After numerous false deaths, he reappears in Macondo to report that he "died of fever on the sands of Singapore" and not as falsely narrated earlier, because of a squid attack.
He is a heavy gypsy with a wild beard and "sparrow hands." All of his wonderful inventions can be summed up in his exclamation to José Arcadio Buendía I, when they are introduced for the first time: "Things have a life of their own." It is rumored that Melquíades possesses magical powers and the "keys of Nostradamus." He is supposedly knowledgeable in the ancient writings of the monk Herman the Cripple. In return for his wonderful inventions, José Arcadio I gives him a room to conduct his harebrained experiments, and "his knowledge reaches unbearable extremes." His forty tribes of gypsies, in fact, are said to have been "wiped off the face of the earth because they had gone beyond the limits of human knowledge."
After he dies, the first time, Melquíades returns to Macondo as a ghost (albeit an ambiguous one) "with a dazzling glow of joy" because, so we are told, he could not bear "the solitude of death." A composite of mythical and human elements, he is depicted as "a prodigious creature . . . enveloped in a sad aura, with an Asiatic look that seemed to know what there was on the other side of things." His knowledge is supra-human, but he never laughs because scurvy has caused his teeth to drop out. Years after his "death," he returns to live with the Buendías in a room built especially for him. His second "death" appears to be a natural one. But although his body is buried, he remains in the home as a ghost in Colonel Aureliano's workshop. There, he spends hours on end scribbling his enigmatic literature on parchment sheets — in fact, the history and destiny, already mentioned, of the Buendías and Macondo. He also has time to entertain young Aureliano.
Long after "death" and burial, the ghost of Melquíades continues to be heard, shuffling through the rooms. Aureliano Segundo opens the door of the study a generation later to discover Melquíades "under forty years of age. He was wearing the same old-fashioned vest and the hat that looked like a raven's wings and across his pale temples, there flowed the grease from his head that had been melted by the heat, just as Aureliano and José Arcadio had seen him when they were children." He last appears to Aureliano Babilonia to give advice on which books to locate at the wise old Catalonian's bookstore in order to translate the parchment manuscript. Then he disappears.
Melquíades fulfills a dual function as narrator and mythical archetype. It is he who introduces knowledge to Macondo, by way of his inventions as well as with the stories of his adventures; and it is he who provides the linear historical thread of the town's progression. But the most important aspect of his character is that his manuscript is the novel that chronicles the origins and fates of the Buendlas. Melquíades is the author of the story — written in Sanskrit, in a "Lacedeamonian military code" and in "the private cipher of the Emperor Augustus." In curing Macondo of insomnia, Melquíades takes the townsfolk away from Eden, as it were, into material progress and irreversible history.