Summary and Analysis
Following José Arcadio II's death, the patriarch himself dies. But the latter's death provides a striking mixture of pathos and comic, black humor. Over the years, the only person whom the patriarch has had any contact with is the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar: "They talked about fighting cocks. They promised each other to set up a breeding farm for magnificent birds, not so much to enjoy their victories which they would not need then, as to have something to do on the tedious Sundays of death." José Arcadio I's death is foretold by Cataure, Visitación's brother: "I have come for the exequies of the king." This improbable epitaph is followed by fabulous occurrences. Yellow flowers rain from the sky, carpeting the town, and smothering the animals sleeping outdoors. This pathetic end is relieved by the birth of twins to Santa Sofía de la Piedad: José Arcadio IV Segundo and Aureliano Segundo exemplify a regeneration of the Buendía male line.
With the conclusion of the civil war, Amaranta rejects the suit of the Colonel's best friend, Colonel Gerineldo Márquez. Her rejection adds to the triviality of the military struggle, in many ways symbolizing the war's sterility. She accuses Márquez of wanting to marry her only because he can't marry her brother, the Colonel. She declares that she will never marry anyone. This bleak panorama of the Buendía decline is then briefly enlivened by flirtations between young Aureliano José and his aunt Amaranta. Organized religion is then satirized when Father Nicanor's replacement, Father Coronel ("The Pup"), appears. And in another spiral off the main plot, seventeen illegitimate sons of the Colonel arrive, one by one, at the Buendía house. The young males are of all colors and races, and each has an indelible "look of solitude that left no doubt as to the relationship."
The effect of these episodes is maddeningly comic. The narrative hyperbole reveals deft touches of ironic wit, and we find some of the novel's best dramatic moments here. A benevolent Conservative general takes over Macondo and befriends the Colonel. When the Colonel retakes the town, he has the general executed. Killing this authoritarian yet very humane character creates a scene of tragicomedy and fatalism. Murder, after all, is murder, and this killing is unwarranted. That incident signals the Colonel's own corruption into a true despot.
Thus, we see clearly that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely — an observation made by the political writer Lord Acton, and, Lord Acton added, most great men are nearly always bad men. Power has gripped the Colonel, distorting his idealism into a feeble caricature of such noble aspirations as justice and forbearance. Instead, we see a suspicious warlord, greedy for power, increasingly corrupted by weaker principles and having fewer and fewer scruples about using power. For example, he orders his friend Gerineldo Márquez executed because of a trivial matter. Only Úrsula's intervention saves Márquez at the last moment. But that incident shows the Colonel as a character condemned by his incapacity to love, or trust. His world is a singular one of potential rivals, where solitude, pain and disappointment are expected out of every relationship — a world where such morose afflictions of the spirit are self-fulfilling prophecies. In the end, the Colonel's fate is tragicomedy, a life of adventures capped by hilarity and laced with absurd ambiguity. After signing the Armistice Treaty of Neerlandia, which ends the civil war in a Conservative victory, he tries to kill himself. Earlier, Pilar Ternera had advised him to watch out for his mouth, so he aims the gun to his chest. But the bullet misses all his vital organs. At such ironic moments, the Colonel's life becomes more ambiguous, exuberant, and ludicrous. One day he is denounced for surrendering to the government. The next day, he is hailed as a hero and awarded the Order of Merit, which he rejects. And yet, all the perils that he has survived only seem to prepare him for oblivion. He retires to make and remake melted-down goldfish. His occupation is circular, repetitious, rote, and absurd; in fact, his life comes to resemble the plot that delineates his fate.