Author's Note: One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a typical novel in that there is no single plot and no single timeline. The author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has crucial thematic reasons for the unusual construction of the novel. It is his intention to show that history moves not only in cycles but also in circles. For this reason, there is no single main character in focus, nor does the novel follow a regular timeline. In his quest to show how history moves in circles, Marquez gives virtually every member of the Buendia family one of the following names: (men) Jose Arcadio, Aureliano (women) Ursula, Amaranta, Remedios. This can sometimes be confusing to the reader, which is, after all, the point. In an effort to make matters less confusing, Marquez has included a family tree at the beginning of the book, and he uses a slight variation on these names for each different character.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is both the history of Macondo, a small town in an unnamed region of South America, and the town's founders, the Buendia family. The book follows seven generations of the Buendias and the rise and fall of Macondo. The family patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, founded the town with his wife, Ursula Iguaran. Because Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran were cousins, they have a fear of bearing children with pig's tails; this fear will linger over the book.
Jose Arcadio Buendia is an intrepid, curious man with a flair for exploration and the sciences. He delves into one scientific quest after another and eventually loses his senses, forcing the men of the town to tie him to a tree. Both his strengths and weaknesses are exhibited in the Buendia men throughout the novel, starting with his sons Jose Arcadio and Aureliano. Jose Arcadio inherits his father's massive strength and implusiveness; Aureliano inherits his strong ethical sense and his solitary intensity. Both these men go to their own extremes: Jose Arcadio becomes the ultimate macho and dies mysteriously after usurping lands; Aureliano (known in the novel as Colonel Aureliano Buendia) becomes one of the greatest and most notorious rebels in the country during an extended period of civil war. Macondo, once an innocent paradise, becomes acquainted with the outside world during the period of civil war. It is during this period that death and bloodshed first comes to Macondo's door; the town remains linked to the outside world because of the fame of Colonel Aureliano Buendia.
In contrast to her husband, Ursula Iguaran is fiercely practical and possessed of much common sense. She is energetic, tenacious (she lives so long that she loses track of her age) and spends her life looking after the family line. Unfortunately none of the female Buendias match her fortitude: Amaranta, her daughter, is tenacious only in personal bitterness while her great-great-granddaughters Renata Remedios and Amaranta Ursula are possessed of her energy but none of her common sense. The failure of the next generations to be possessed of their ancestors' strength of character causes the family to falter as history and modernity storm Macondo.
After the civil war, foreign imperialism comes in with devastating effects. White capitalists come to Macondo and seem to usurp God's powers with their ability to change the seasons and the water flow. They set up a banana plantation that exploits the residents of Macondo; when the workers organize and strike, they are all systematically killed in a government-sponsored massacre. One of the Buendias, Jose Arcadio Segundo, was a major organizer and could not face the world after this event.
For Macondo, too, the banana massacre brings major change. Rains begin the night of the massacre and do not stop for almost five years; washing away the banana plantation and leaving Macondo in a state of desperation. The impoverished town loses its importance and its modernity; from then on, the town exists in a state of regression. For the Buendias, also, the rains signal the quickening speed of their downward spiral. The older members of the family are lost in nostalgia; the younger ones are lost in debauchery and solitary isolation. As the town is abandoned, the last members of the family succumb to incestuous desire and birth a child with a pig's tail. At the very end of the book, it is revealed that the history of the Buendias has been ordained since the beginning, and that they will never have a second chance.