Character Analysis José Arcadio Buendía


Sections 4 through 15 depict the rise and fall of Macondo as contact with civilization develops and as political, economic, and humanistic ideals become corrupted. Organized rebellion, political ideologies, and scientific inventions transform Macondo from a kind of idyllic paradise into a banana factory boom town.

García Márquez recreates the social and historical life of a small Colombian town; and as with Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, the town reflects a universal human condition — whether it is a nameless place or Macondo. Here, Macondo is a place that has hazy contours and uncertain statistics, and vague demographical features make distance evaporate. It is indeed more than one place — with more than its share of small-town tedium and redundant experiences. It is a South American Jefferson, Mississippi, or Winesburg, Ohio. At other times, it is not even a hamlet — merely, in the author's words, "a solution of convenience," a town large enough to merit daily train service from the legislative capital. It is also a place having only one cinema, but at least two priests (Fathers Isabel, "tbe Pup," and Nicanor) whose tenures overlap, and half a dozen colonels suffering guilt and an asphyxiating solitude. What counts, however, is what the town evokes, not what it is — a place where ghosts from the troubled past re-enter the present, not for revenge but as re-directed characters, as epiphanies of the agonizing present (Prudencio Aguilar, for example).

The characters who populate Macondo are, like those in Faulkner's fictional South — misfits, defeated rebels, and madmen. They struggle on heroically, through attacks by bandits, plagues, droughts, floods, continual civil wars, and the increasing solitude of those who have lost historical moments or who have been defeated by fate. The novel uses many allusions to biblical stories in order to create sardonic situations and to effect mythical comparisons. We have already mentioned the Buendía trek that led to the founding of Macondo — its all too obvious parallel to the wanderings of the twelve tribes of Israel in their search for Canaan, mankind's paradise lost, the Promised Land. The birth of the last Buendía to reach adulthood, Aureliano Babilonia, will suggest the birth of a lost Moses in order to make the parallel even stronger. He enters the story as a baby "discovered in the swamp bullrushes." There are also indirect references to religious and social Jeremiahs, Messiahs, and even the Jewish Diaspora. This last historical and social allusion, in particular, is given direct representation in the character of the Wandering Jew.

The floods, the plagues, and the other disasters that Macondo suffers, the political martyrs, and the emergence of the town from a pristine Eden-like wilderness — all these provide specific examples of the author's allusions to the Bible and other scenes drawn from religious contexts. But more often than not, the use of religious myths is highly cynical. The Immaculate Assumption of the virginal Remedios (who ascends to heaven, wrapped in "brabant sheets") is, needless to say, a very obvious example of the author's profane sense of irreverence towards traditional Latin American religiosity. Many of the author's biblical allusions are this explicit, but some are merely evocative and loosely parallel to episodes from the Old Testament and Roman Catholic tradition. They all, however, evoke our memories of the great literature of Western tradition. The novel starts with a Genesis (Macondo) and leads us through floods, storms, plagues, wars, famine, and culminates in an Apocalypse. Macondo is thus a vision drawn from Adam and Eve's Paradise, where men and women have only the simplest needs and desires, no matter that such a race can sometimes be homicidal — as it is in the Bible. Their passions are pristine, aboriginal, and intense; and so their life excludes knowledge of evil. Macondo begins as a preconscious place where the moral sense of the people is fetal, without language and without distinctions of right and wrong. The village is a world of aboriginal memory; the residents have to invent a language for unknown (unknowable) things of contemporary life that already exist but that cannot come into the consciousness of Macondo (as well as the mind of the reader) until the things have been named, until the things have been given distinctive articulation from the nameless void of material everything (or nothing). "There are," wrote one astute critic, "[in 100 Hundred Years of Solitude] only mystifications wherein a dead past wants to pass for a live present and mystifications in which a live present also repossesses the life of the past." (Carlos Fuentes, "Cien Años de Soledad," Siempre, No. 679, June 29, 1966.)

Continued on next page...

Back to Top