Critical Essays The Use of Fantasy


In 100 Hundred Years of Solitude, fantasy functions, for the most part, as parody. The official lies of the banana company, as well as Fernanda's delusions of being a queen, are both powerful examples of how even frustrated ambition ultimately leads a person to succumb to a life of fantasy. As critic D. P. Gallagher has observed, fantasy serves here to highlight "absurd but logical exaggerations of real situations . . . [and] the exuberant use of hyperbole in the language of the novel can be seen as a reaction to officialdom." Fantasy, because it both depends upon and disregards factual memory, achieves its special effect through the kind of associations that we make when experiencing a hitherto improbable relationship between symbols of familiar meaning. Here, in the fiction of García Márquez , fantasy becomes symbolic of our time-bound rationalist illusions. José Arcadio I's solution to the insomnia plague, for example, is to simply label everything with inked signs. But that in itself is not enough to ensure that people will remember the thing's function, as well. And after things have been named and the primary functions have been identified, the names of things have to be placed within the context of the things' function; and those instructions have to be related to some other thing's function. Clearly, this leads us back to the story of the world, or, in the case of the novel, the resumption of the story of the Buendías and Macondo. On the other hand, Pilar Ternera's reading of the past in the pattern of her cards becomes as reliable as her fortune telling concerning events in the future; in neither case does she tell enough to make her information credible. Without knowing the specific context of her abstract formulas, people who take her advice sink ever deeper into a fantastic world of illogical relationships.

History, in fact, is a record of the loss of a real context; each of us, as we age, loses ever more of the real truth of the past that has changed, and history remains finally as only a skeletal form without our memory. The insomnia plague, José Arcadio I's solution to combat it, and Pilar Ternera's future and history cards — all of these reveal how tightly progress in one direction is ultimately but the extenuation of one direction of history among an infinite number of possible lines of development. We understand also in those instances how illusory is the meaning of anything called eternally real and eternally true. Clearly one form or one formulation of any true statement is true only insofar as it can be abstracted from the real circumstances that would make it contingent and unique. The "fortunes" of Pilar Ternera's prophetic cards, for example, become true, but we do not know how; hence, prophecy and the astrological form of predictions are, alike, mere identities or convenient symbols to describe what was not expected but which was, nevertheless, already named. It takes little reflection to realize that whatever happens, in the sense of a future event, will enter the social consciousness — and become news — in the same way. The line between real truth and true fantasy is thus formed by our linear perspective of history — and that is always its limitation: we can never know the whole present — which would be, precisely, the chaotic, random, and exaggerated kind of world that García Márquez describes in this novel. In short, contrary to common sense, we may be rational creatures not by choice but as a necessary adaptation to a world that is always fantastic and beyond our immediate comprehension. To paraphrase the gypsy Melquíades, "the world has a life of its own."