Critical Essays The Use of Cyclical Time and Fate


Aureliano Segundo enters the novel midway — just before he dies — remembering events that are yet to be narrated. We come to know his story, then, as a retrospective future that parallels the beginning of the novel's main plot. This chronological reversal of the novel's various plots is a standard flashback technique, but in García Márquez ' hands, the technique makes the characters always a bit sad, even in the most comic scenes. The Segundo twins, for instance, share cyclical, parallel fates, but the reader is always aware that they will fulfill the Macondo legacy of tragic forerunners, doomed to failure and solitude even as they achieve a perpetuation of the Buendía line. In the recurrent disasters of Macondo, the survival of the Buendía line becomes less a hope than a curse, and madness alone permits one to escape the despair of inevitable tragedy. By becoming insane, the patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía I, can thus repair his past mistakes by befriending one of his murder victims who has become a ghost, and throughout his life, by transforming Macondo into a perfect yet solitary community; in short, insanity has its own necessities and logical realities, and in some forms it may be not altogether involuntary. To the extent that one can cultivate an insane view of the world, it is highly probable that insanity is occasionally an adaptation to an intolerable condition or state of mind. In other words, madness may free a person of the social restraints and perceptual values of sane people. Its tragedy, however, resides in a conclusion observed by the Scottish psychologist R. D. Laing: "even a mad world has its own tyrannical set of rules." Therein lies the failure of the mad José Arcadio Buendía I.

In the "real" world of Macondo, the prophecies that are penned by Melquíades ultimately become laws; history, as the ultimate law, is reversible and so must recur. José Arcadio I tries to escape the prophecies of the parchment manuscript, knowing all the while that they have already been fulfilled in another language (life). The reader, of course, knows that the prophecies are the plot of the novel; nonetheless, we must read the novel to know how the plot develops, just as José Arcadio I and, in a larger metaphysical sense, all people must live their lives in the certainty of inevitable death. It is of special significance here to mention that the last adult Buendía realizes, as he is about to complete the translation of the parchment manuscript, that he makes the destruction of Macondo and the Buendías certain by imbuing life, in the act of discovery, into things that were dead already.

The novel's ending is partly ambiguous because we are told that everything in the parchment manuscript was unrepeatable but foreseen, and that there is no story until we are actually reading it. To read fiction makes real the symbols of life. That conclusion is both an expression of the author's sense of humor and his philosophy of life, for in Macondo, life continues from one generation to the next by a kind of translation of the same message, the same events, and the same characters. The Colonel embarks on a life of political rebellion out of the same vague fear of destiny that obsessed his father. And the same sense of frantic desperation, the sense that things have always been out of control, emerges in the patriarch's aging daughter Amaranta. After Death requests that she begin to make her shroud by a certain day, she stalls in the hope that by prolonging her task she can somehow delay the day when she will die. On the deadline date, however, she embraces her fate as if, in doing so, she freely chooses what will happen to her regardless of its inevitability. The question is moot whether or not we are free to choose to accept an inevitable fate. The characters in 100 Hundred Years of Solitude only seem mad when they think they can change their destiny; in a retrospective view, however, many historical personages appear the same way, a view perhaps best summed up in the saying "Nothing really changes."