One Hundred Years of Solitude Summary and Analysis

Section 1, Chapters 1-2

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Every March during the earliest years after the founding of Macondo, a small, isolated village, gypsies arrive with marvelous new inventions: magnets, telescopes, and magnifying glasses. The much-respected village founder, Jose Arcadia Buendia, seizes on these inventions as ways to make money and scientific progress. Over the pleadings of his level-headed wife, Ursula Iguaran, he throws himself into countless schemes and plots involving the new inventions. When he becomes friends with Melquiades, the gypsy leader, Jose Arcadia Buendia is inspired to dedicate himself to knowledge and scientific study. He flirts with alchemy and astronomy and becomes increasingly withdrawn from his family and community. His great discovery, that the world is round, causes the whole village to become concerned about his sanity.

Jose Arcadia Buendia was the founder of Macondo and remains its most important citizen‹he oversaw the village's creation and decided how life would be lived there. It was a dreamy, magical place where no one was over the age of thirty and no one died. Therefore Jose Arcadio Buendia's obsession with progress affects the whole village. He decides that Macondo must establish contact with the outside world and leads an expedition to find a path to the sea. The men of the village chop through marshes and swamps and discover, among other things, a rusted fifteenth-century suit of armor and a ruined Spanish galleon. But they do not discover the sea, and Jose Arcadio Buendia leads them back home and announces that Macondo is surrounded by water on all sides. Then he decides to move the village to a less isolated place, but Ursula plants opposition among the women of the village and he is forced to abandon that plan.

So he takes an interest in his two sons: Jose Arcadio, the eldest, who has his father's strength but lacks imagination, and the mysterious Aureliano, whose adult name is Colonel Aureliano Buendia. Their father educates them and takes them to the gypsies' fair in March, where the three of them see ice for the first time.

The second chapter opens by telling the story of Macondo's founding. Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula were cousins in a prosperous village. When they got married, Ursula was fearful that their children would be horribly deformed, as the children of incestuous unions sometimes are. She was particularly afraid because her aunt, married to Jose Arcadio Buendia's uncle, had given birth to a miserable son with a pig's tail. So she wore a chastity belt and refused to consummate her marriage while people in the village laughed at Jose Arcadio Buendia. One of these villagers, Prudencio Aguilar, insulted Jose Arcadio Buendia after losing a cock fight. Buendia challenged him to a duel and killed him. Then he went home and told Ursula to remove her chastity belt. After several happy months, Ursula began to see the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar, and soon it became clear that his ghost was haunting them. Overcome with guilt and determined to put Prudencio's ghost to rest, Jose Arcadio Buendia decided to leave the village. A small band of hardy souls elected to go with him, and after fourteen months of wandering, they founded Macondo.

Upon seeing the gypsies' ice, Jose Arcadio Buendia is inspired to discover the meaning of mirrors, and he delves into study once more, this time with the help of his younger son Aureliano. Meanwhile his oldest son, Jose Arcadio, has turned into an exceptionally well-endowed young man. Pilar Ternera, a local woman astounded by his size, seduces him. They become lovers and, to his horror, she becomes pregnant. But before the child comes, the gypsies return. Jose Arcadio goes to the fair and seduces a young gypsy girl, then runs off with her. Distraught, Ursula tries to follow and winds up abandoning her newborn daughter, Amaranta. It is up to Jose Arcadio Buendia and Aureliano to look after Amaranta and the house until she returns‹which she does, five months later. She has not found her son or the gypsies, but she has discovered the two-day route through the swamp that leads to the outside world.

Analysis:

There are many different ways to read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote the novel with an eye to multiple interpretations. In this first section, it is important to recognize one of those interpretations‹the Biblical interpretation‹and to make careful note of the narrative strategy Marquez employs towards this end.

Critics have pointed out that Solitude mimics the first books of the Bible, with a particular emphasis on the Book of Genesis. Note that in the first breath of the first chapter, the narrator remarks that "the world was so recent that many things lacked names," an obvious reference to the "In the Beginning" opening of Genesis, wherein the Lord creates first the world, and then the objects that fill it. Similarily, Macondo is described as an Eden-like village where no one grows old and no one dies. The founders of this village, Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran are obviously meant to stand in for Adam and Eve. The parallels between the founding couple and Adam and Eve are drawn more sharply in the second chapter when the narrator goes back in time. Like Adam and Eve, Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran are driven from their homes, to wander in the cruel landscape because of a crime they have committed‹in their case, it was the murder of Prudencio Aguilar. Indeed, the similarities between Genesis and the first chapters of Solitude are so great that they have driven at least one critic, Harold Bloom, to bestow a second title on the novel: the Book of Macondo. Also note that Jose Arcadio Buendia has an obsession with "knowledge" and "progress," the very same desires that caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from Eden. As we will see, they bring about the destruction of Jose Arcadio Buendia as well.

Finally, to finish out the Biblical interpretation of the first chapters of the book, a note on the title. Many critics have pulled their hair out attempting to make the one hundred years of the title conform to the events in the book, but critic Regina James has accurately noted that no matter what types of dating are used, the book does not fit neatly into one hundred years. Part of the reason for this, Marquez's purposeful use of hyperbole regarding dates and times, will be discussed later. But one of the most outstanding reasons is that Marquez intends for the one hundred years of the title to stand as a cycle, a numerical symbol in the tradition of the Bible. Just as the Bible uses specific numbers to stand in for concepts and periods of time (the numbers 3 and 7 represent perfection, for example, and many of the numerical figures are not meant to suggest actual, but symbolic periods of time), the "one hundred years" of the title stands for the ever-repeating cycle of time.

To contain this vast and epic universe, Marquez employs a rather novel chronology and an interesting type of narration. There is no central "event" in this novel and no central character‹a big risk for a novelist. In order to pull it off, Marquez makes the narrator a character in this novel with very little dialogue. Moving the plot (which basically follows the rise, maturity, and decline of the Buendia family and their village of Macondo) forward with a brisk tone, the Narrator treats all events‹from the most fantastic to the most mundane‹with a droll, dispassionate tone. This allows Marquez to get away with the hyperbole and fantasy which mark this narrative. It also allows the reader to understand and accept why Jose Arcadio Buendia and his sons might be moved by ice in the gypsy fair, rather than flying carpets.

Likewise, the chronology of Solitude is a purposeful jumble. The progression of time is less straightforward in this novel than it is in others. From the first sentence, which begins the actual story years in the future but then jumps back to start it in the past, the reader is aware that time will not move with regularity in the Macondo universe. This allows Marquez to retain the feeling of folklore, of oral narration, which is a very important theme in this book.