In characteristic Buendía fashion, Meme's affair with Mauricio Babilonia leads to a child. In addition, the infection of Yankee progress has brought with it a strong sense of bourgeois scandal and shame. Fernanda takes the pregnant Meme off to a convent in Cracow. After the boy is born, the nuns in Cracow return him to the Buendía house. Fernanda is, of course, furious. The reader might now expect that Fernanda's intention to conceal the child's origins would stop here. But García Márquez imbues his characters with a manic, disarming pride. Lies and rationalizations serve to make their predicaments only more entertaining. Fernanda tells Santa Sofía de la Piedad that the boy was found in a basket floating among the bulrushes. This outlandish lie is expropriated from the biblical story of the discovery of Moses. But Santa Sofía accepts it without reservation.
The major action now centers around the strike at the banana company. Dissatisfied workers protest working conditions and low compensation. True to South American conditions, the workers are revolutionaries as well as disgruntled cogs within the system. Aureliano Segundo and Colonel Lorenzo Gavilán lead the strikers. In other works of fiction, this situation might be labeled social-protest drama, but the situation here achieves tremendous narrative force and symbolism in the language of García Márquez. The strike and massacre are recalled through the memory of a child. In the language of the child narrator, humor, fantasy, and parody underline the horrors of Yankee exploitation. The workers are protesting real injustices, but their abuse by the Yankee imperialists has been so blatant that their situation seems almost ludicrous. Foremost, the workers do not even receive wages. They are paid in company scrip, a currency that will buy only Virginia ham sold in company commissaries. There are no health benefits for the workers; all illnesses or injuries are treated with copper sulfate pills that the town children collect for bingo games.
The company at first responds to the strikers' demands with humiliating concessions, but the response trivializes the protest objectives. Latrines, for instance, are one of the demands; the company agrees to issue them — but only at Christmastime. Finally, the factory owner "disappears" under a forged death certificate, and the courts determine that the workers are really self-employed and thus do not, as it were, "exist." In all this irony and fraud, there is pain so exaggerated that it almost loses any power to effect the reader's commiseration. Still, the effect of the massacre is brutal; the narrative is rendered in a language brilliant with metaphors and strong rhythms. José Arcadio IV Segundo regains consciousness after being struck down during the massacre. He finds himself lying amid thousands of corpses on a two-hundred car train. Yet when he returns to Macondo, he is assured by everyone that nothing has happened. He is incredulous and retires to the gypsy's (Melquíades') room. Traumatized and terrified, he reads Melquíades' manuscripts and eventually loses his mind; he sees the massacre finally as a kind of surrealistic dream: ". . . the panic became a dragon's tail . . . swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced . . . cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns." Arcadio's function from then on is to pass on knowledge of the manuscript to young Aureliano Babilonia. Slowly, José Arcadio IV Segundo dissolves from outside view in the eerie atmosphere of the room.