100 Hundred Years of Solitude has twenty unnumbered chapters. For the sake of convenience, these CliffsNotes have numbered the sections 1 through 20.
The novel begins in the retrospective present — that is, as Colonel Aureliano Buendía faces a firing squad, he remembers the first time that his father took him to "see ice." The omniscient narrator will describe most of this novel through the memories of its various characters. Thus, we are introduced almost at once to the novel's strong sense of fantasy. Through the Colonel, the narrator evokes the past, and the Colonel's father, José Arcadio Buendía, the Colonel's mother, Úrsula Iguarán, the gypsy Melquíades, and the small band of settlers who founded the tiny village of Macondo.
Macondo is described as a place on no map; in fact, it is more a direction than a location. It is so rooted in the past, where time has stood still, that the town has a prehistoric atmosphere. Note that the "town" bears a close resemblance to the "memory" of a dream, for only in memory does time not move, and only in a dream — when a dream is remembered — is someplace really no place.
In Macondo, there is, seemingly, magic in everything. And solitude pervades and permeates everything. The town is described as lying outside civilization, behind mountains that lead to the ancient city of Riohacha, a place that many, many years ago was home to the Buendía ancestors. Riohacha is renowned as the object of an attack by Sir Francis Drake. This fabulous incident is the catalyst behind the Buendías' fear of incest, and "escaping" from Riohacha is necessary for the founding of Macondo.
The author then narrates the fable-like beginnings of Macondo by recreating scenes from the past. We are experiencing, as it were, a story foretold. When we finish the novel, the final Buendía to reach manhood will realize that Melquíades' manuscripts, written in code and Sanskrit, tell the history — in advance — of the Buendía family, its fortunes, and its collapse. For the present, however, we must listen to hints from the narrator, subtle clues in the narration, and realize that there is a doomed sensitivity within each Buendía, of which each is unaware. Thus, we begin, ironically, with Macondo's being founded as a sort of new Eden. Physically, it resembles Eden, and its patriarch, José Arcadio I, is strong and confident that it will flourish. He is imbued with a sense of destiny, however, that, after one hundred years, it will end in oblivion. He dreams of a town with mirrors for walls; thus he begins the trek that leads to the town's initial site. A mysterious "voice" commands him to found Macondo on one particular site. Already, ordinary relations between things become scrambled and produce an improbable, yet a marvelous sense of magical reality. On the way through the jungle, for example, the pioneers discover an old Spanish galleon adorned with orchids and "smelling of solitude and oblivion." The ship has set rotting in a jungle clearing for centuries, and we are told by the narrator that the ship is the same one which Colonel Aureliano Buendía will discover years later during the long series of civil wars that he commanders. The settlers' encounter with the ship foreshadows the apocalyptic fate of the Colonel and provides the first section with dramatic momentum.
Macondo, with its Eden-like isolation, is a place of solitude. Yet the town-to-be has beckoned the settlers to its extreme isolation. Macondo's remoteness is described in the mytho-poetic language of the book of Genesis, and García Márquez ' language evokes primitive yearnings. Macondo, however, is less a paradise than a limbo. That is, the settlers become so much of the town's raw, pre-human nature that they suffer a psycho-cultural condition in which they are not modern men, nor are they savages. They are simply, uniquely "different," suspended in time. Common things become lost because the names describing their use are forgotten. Things from the civilized world or past history have either been forgotten or are deemed so new that it becomes necessary to point because things have not yet received a name. We may consider this observation a wry and perhaps fanciful one; but, upon reflection, we would have to concede that our lives are, in fact, full of encounters with things for which we lack identifying names — things, which to describe, it becomes necessary "to point."
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