Critical Essays The Theme of Solitude

Almost without exception, the Buendía males are marked, as it were, with the tragic sign of solitude. And perhaps this theme can best be understood if one studies the individual characters themselves. As the most outstanding member of the second generation, for example, Colonel Aureliano Buendía is a perfect example of solitude. We learn, for example, that adolescence made him silent and solitary, but in fact he was always a refugee, so to speak, in solitude. As the first human being born in Macondo, he is immediately identified as being reluctant to become anything — yet he is, even then, immensely sympathetic with the plight of his misfortunate society. From the very moment of his being a living possibility, we find him to be a silent and withdrawn fetus, "weeping" in Úrsula's womb, weeping as though he were saddened by the prospect of living (perhaps again). He is clairvoyant and possessed of prophetic powers, but his supernatural powers are confused by a congenitally malformed emotional development that we know only as being an "incapacity for human love."

This mournful quality is also reflected in the lives of the twins, Aureliano and José Arcadio IV Segundo. In them, we realize the author's special definition of solitude as being not simply a state of social isolation but a special kind of human relationship and, above all, a need. Aureliano Segundo, for instance, is a genial lover of orgies; he is also extremely reckless. Clearly, his escapades spring from a desire to break the unwavering pattern of repetition in his life. He lives between want and plenty, virtue and hypocrisy, and is always confused about the state of his psychological ennui. In his frustration, he feels a neurotic compulsion to dwell on sadness as a means of feeling human. His brother, José Arcadio IV Segundo, does not have that kind of self-pity and is not wanton in satisfying his appetites. Nevertheless, José Arcadio IV is condemned to live apart from the other Buendías — no matter what he does. Psychologically, José Arcadio IV is always a stranger; nobody knows anything about his life. He is fanatical in his reaction against injustice; at the same time, he enjoys the cruel sport of cockfighting and takes a morbid pleasure in recalling a day when he witnessed human executions when he was only a child. He is a man without an emotional family, imprisoned in sad memories of people's confusing him with his brother — but never, so it appears to him, being able to escape sharing a common fate. Solitude for José Arcadio IV is a reaction to the frustration that he finds in his dual nature and in his confused identity. This frustration is symbolic of the twins' relationship, for, even though they have developed differently and have been shaped by different circumstances, and even though they have lost their physical resemblance, they still meet death at the same time — after a melancholy, solitary period; and, almost as if García Márquez wanted to sharpen the ironic dimension of the twins' relationship, he has each of them buried in the other twin's grave. The twins appear to have been drawn together throughout their lives by an affinity of sadness, emotional impermeability, and by some unnamed, fantastic, inexplicable force.

In a similar way, the relationship between José Arcadio V and his nephew, Aureliano Babilonia, has a sad, Faulknerian cast, filled with the violence and love-hate complexity of two generations of Bonds (a family in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!). José Arcadio V, arriving home from Rome, senses a rival for Fernanda's estate in the person of the mild, gentle Aureliano. The tension tightens, but after Aureliano saves José Arcadio V's life, they make a kind of truce. There is a kind of mutual tolerance between the two men, but there is no real affection; it is, in fact, a relationship of accommodation, not a fully human relationship, one defined by compassion, but rather one of mechanical action and reaction. As with the twins, we see that here again solitude becomes even a "force of habit" between two people. Clearly, in García Márquez' view, solitude is inevitable; in its redundancy, social habituation impoverishes the emotional strength of even the closest of familial relationships. All the major characters in 100 Hundred Years of Solitude end in that peculiar form of social despair, stagnant under a melancholic illusion that makes them oblivious to the spell of their social and psychological isolation.

Pop Quiz!

After retirement, how does the Colonel occupy himself?


How does Jim fit into the overall theme of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Back to Top