Summary and Analysis Section 16-20


The relationship between José Arcadio V and Aureliano remains cool until Aureliano aids José Arcadio V during an asthma attack. We learn then something of José Arcadio V's debaucheries in Rome. His corruption had only been hinted at earlier, but now we see the extent of his depravity. He engages children in nightly orgies. His lascivious nature finds its penalty in the excesses of his partners, and after one wild party, the children drown him in his tub. It is one of the funniest, and most absurd, scenes in the novel.

A mature Amaranta Úrsula returns to Macondo. She is married to an older Flemish gentleman, Gaston, a madcap entrepreneur who owns (and rides) a strange velocipede. The history of the Buendía family emerges as a labyrinth within the chaos of history in these final chapters.

In a zoological brothel, Aureliano Babilonia meets Pilar Ternera, his great-great-grandmother, now an aged whore who mistakes him for the Colonel and reveals the crushing details of the youth's antecedents. Pilar Ternera, we realize, becomes aware of the completion of the final, temporal plot. Thus, she places Aureliano in touch with his origins and provides a mechanism for fulfilling the expectations generated in the first chapter sections.

Aureliano begins to try and decipher Melquíades' manuscript in earnest. His study becomes an obsession, relieved only by visits to the bookstore of the wise old Catalonian, his meetings with the four friends whom be meets there, and his visits to the black prostitute, Nigromanta. His obsession with learning assumes the energy of sexual passion, a vague but powerful life-force. It is an energy that also finds sexual expression in the form of passion for his aunt Amaranta. Gaston gives the adulterous pair his blessings, and they fulfill the ancient Buendía curse. Tragedy follows, and Aureliano loses both the child and Amaranta. The fate of the child is especially horrible, but we find his end preordained in the epigram of Melquíades: "The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by ants." As the last pages of the manuscript are about to be revealed, the single, remaining room of the old Buendía house is filled with voices of the past. Melquíades' manuscript then assumes the dimensions of a metaphor for the unity of time and place: just as Melquíades and Aureliano, as writer, reader, and translator, are merged into one ghostly voice, Macondo is swept away in a storm, So the fantastic story ends in the moment when obliteration eradicates the town, the Buendías, and the narrator.