Summary and Analysis
The gypsy Melquíades brings inventions to Macondo, such as magnets and a magnifying glass the size of a drum. Later, other gypsies will bring "sewing machines that reduce fevers," and, finally, they will bring the world's largest, most glittering, "hot" diamond: ice.
In addition, the gypsy Melquíades gives the patriarch, José Arcadio I, a Sanskrit manuscript. This gypsy will spark the patriarch with the ambition to acquire knowledge and power. Melquíades, however, is a benign wizard rather than a Mephistopheles, but he does inspire José Arcadio I with the Faustian dream of leading Macondo out of its limbo-like isolation. Such a goal requires the supernatural wisdom and power (so it would appear to the patriarch) that only the gypsies possess. Indeed, one of the gypsy tribes is reported to have been wiped off the face of the earth for having transcended all knowledge. That report will later prove ambiguous and fantastic, as will the report of the first "death" of Melquíades. Everything seems ambiguous; the tone of the narrator is hesitant, reluctant yet always convincing. There is a kind of facetious, sardonic quality to the fantasy, as well as to the humor. When Melquíades is reported dead, the author describes the gypsy as being devoured by squid. How would the narrator know about the squid? But the point of telling how Melquíades dies is mocking and funny. More important, the gypsy's demise exposes his apprentice, José Arcadio I, to the other gypsies' bedeviling sorcery.
Fear is a constant leitmotif, or theme, in the novel, and fear of incest provides an impetus for the peculiar Buendía travail. The chain of events begins in Úrsula Iguarán's fear of sexual relations with her husband, José Arcadio Buendía. Their families had intermarried for centuries, and one such union had produced a child with a pig's tail. After her own marriage, therefore, Úrsula is gripped with fear of producing another monster, and so she refuses to consummate her marriage. On one level, she exhibits irrational hysteria, providing another instance of the author's humor; for example, she wears a chastity belt with a thick iron padlock. On the other hand, the results of incest and in-breeding are well-known and feared — in even the most primitive human societies. But it is important to realize that the reason why the Buendías have been practicing incest for centuries is because of their isolation. They have been trapped in solitude for a very long time, and this condition becomes even more characteristic of their lives in Macondo. The likelihood of incest is therefore more probable than in civilized, more populous communities because social isolation makes incestuous affinity inevitable. The loneliness of the Buendías makes it ultimately impossible for them to share their affection with anyone from the outside. People like the pianola expert, Pietro Crespi, are always strangers and are easily rejected — especially for romantic involvement with a member of the Buendía family.
This kind of intense inter-familial affection literally consumes the entire family's attention. In the end, such incestuous energy diverts the family from the task of self-preservation. Incest becomes claustrophobia, a means of compelling the family to remain together forever or to, finally, return to the fold.
There is an incredible tone to the narrative as the outlandish facts of the Buendía genealogy unfold. The first Buendía-Iguarán coupling was related to Sir Francis Drake's attack on Riohacha. Generations later, the grandmother still feared similar assaults; so the family moved to a village where the Buendías lived. There begins the incestuous unions that resulted in a Buendía being born with a pig's tail. Centuries later, Úrsula Iguarán still fears such a child. But her chastity belt makes her husband the butt of local jokes concerning his manhood. Following a cockfight, the sullen loser, Prudencio Aguilar, makes a humiliating insult to Úrsula's husband. That insult prompts the Buendía patriarch to thrust his spear through Aguilar's throat. There is a grim, Freudian whimsy to the killing, and yet the incident is one of incredible violence. Part of the horror is relieved by the robust humor with which García Márquez narrates the ritualistic way that José Arcadio I handles the spear. Following the murder, José and Úrsula at last consummate their marriage.
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