Santa Sofia de la Piedad gives birth to twin boys: Jose Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo. Her daughter with Arcadio is named Remedios, and she soon comes to be known as Remedios the Beauty. The twins are alike and mischevious throughout their childhood; they take great delight in fooling not only their teachers but their family. Ursula begins to think that they got the names and the children confused: Jose Arcadio Segundo grows up to be slim, while Aureliano Segundo inherits the "monumental size" of his grandfathers. Other differences in the twins eventually emerge. Jose Arcadio seems to have a taste for bloodhe asks Colonel Gerinaldo Marquez to let him see an execution and then he becomes a cockfighter. Aureliano Segundo is fascinated by Melquiades' texts and spends hours in the old laboratory. Colonel Aureliano Buendia, meanwhile, withdraws further and further from the world into his business of making little gold fishes.
But the two boys resemble each other exactly until they are full grown, and one young woman, Petra Cotes, is so confused by this that she winds up sleeping with both of them for a period of several months. Aureliano discovers this first and manages to prolong the situation, but when all three of them contract a sexually transmitted disease, Jose Arcadio abandons her and she becomes Aureliano's mistress. They retain incredible passion for each other, and whenever they have sex Aureliano's animals proliferate unnaturally. Thanks to this, he becomes one of the richest men in town. As hospitable as he is wealthy, he gives grand parties at Petra Cotes' house and is given to dousing himself with champagne. Meanwhile, Macondo shares in his prosperitythe town is "miraculous" when it comes to making money.
But it is not miraculous when it comes to memory. Like his great-grandfather, Jose Arcadio Segundo becomes obsessed with the idea of opening a sea channel to connect Macondo with the ocean. With funding from Aureliano Segundo, he disappears, only to reappear with the "first and last boat ever to dock" in Macondo. With Jose Arcadio Segundo are a group of French prostitutes, who take over the Street of Turks and turn the town into a grand, drunken festival.
Remedios the Beauty, who is so beautiful that men have been known to die for her, is declared the queen of the carnival. Although Ursulawho has tried to keep her off the streets permanentlyis disturbed by this development, the strangely disengaged Remedios the Beauty, who "was not a creature of this world," remains as unconcerned and innocent as ever. Mysteriously, a rival queen, with an enormous entourage, appears at the festival. This entourage turns out to be Liberal soldiers who open fire on the crowd, killing dozens. The Buendias rescue Remedios the Beauty and the rival queen, Fernanda del Carpio. Upon seeing Fernanda, Aureliano Segundo falls madly in love with her, and he tracks her down to the decrepit city of her birth to bring her back to Macondo and make her his wife.
Fernanda del Carpio is the last of an aristocratic line. Her sickly family was reduced to poverty; nonetheless they raised her to believe that she would be a queen. Endowed with strict piety and even stricter social mores, she clashes with the lively Aureliano Segundo. Chafing at her prudish behavior and her restrictions, he continues to make merry with Petra Cotes, while Fernanda tries to reform the Buendia household in the image of her own childhood home. Undone by the argument that Petra Cotes encourages the animals to proliferate, Fernanda only makes Aureliano promise that he will not die in his concubine's bed. Despite the awkward arrangement, Fernanda and Aureliano have two children early in their marriage: Renata Remedios (called Meme) and Jose Arcadio (who will be called Jose Arcadio II for purposes of clarification in this guide). Ursula, who had wished that no one else in the family be called Jose Arcadio or Aureliano, agrees on the condition that she be allowed to raise the boy. She wishes for him to become a priest, and then the Pope.
Soon after Meme is born, the president of the republic announces a jubilee in honor of Colonel Aureliano Buendia. The president even tries to honor Colonel Aureliano Buendia with the Order of Merit, but he scorns the medal and declares that if the president shows up, "he was eagerly awaiting that tardy but deserved occasion in order to take a shot at him." Although the Buendias do not take place in the jubilee, all of Colonel Aureliano Buendia's seventeen sons mysteriously appear in Macondo for the celebration. They turn the Buendia house upside down for three days. Before they leave, Colonel Aureliano Buendia gives each of them a little gold fish and Amaranta takes them to massthe result of which is that each of the seventeen Aurelianos are permanently marked on their foreheads with a cross of ashes.
One of the Aurelianos, Aureliano Triste, decides to stay in Macondo and set up an ice factory. In his seach for a house, he discovers that Rebeca, Jose Arcadio's widow, is still alive and rotting in her house. The sons return and do a madcap restoration of Rebeca's house, and another one, Aureliano Centeno, decides to stay and work with Aureliano Triste. The latter receives funding from Aureliano Segundo and then disappears. When he reappears, with a little yellow traina nd a lot of noise, he has created a railroad link between Macondo and the rest of the world.
If the Buendia family's Aurelianos are supposed to be bony, solitary, and introspective, while the Jose Arcadios should be massive, impulsive, and enterprising, then the names and the children got switched with Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo. And yet they take after their antecedents, to a degree that is comical, until even Ursula cannot help shouting, "I know all of this by heart! It's as if time had turned around and we were back at the beginning." Ursula will proclaim that time is moving in circles many times throughout the novel. It is, but every generation brings a successive decline in the Buendias and in the town of Macondo. In both instances, the degeneration at first seems comical, but soon it will turn tragic and at last repulsive.
In the case of the town, it does not seem as though decline is nearby at all. Technological progress should bring physical progress and material prosperity, right? But as the novel points out, technology is not necessarily a sign of progress. For example, the town's inhabitants have forgotten their historical memory (no one remembers Jose Arcadio Buendia's attempts to locate the ocean). Soon, they will lose their spirit of exuberance and rebellion as well. The Buendias, the narrator makes clear, will also lose their fighting spiritbut for now they remain stubbornly wild, fighting off the rigidity of Fernanda del Carpio, whose old-fashioned rituals and otherworldly expectations mark her as the ghost of a decrepit, long-dead world. Fernanda represents the static forces of organized religion, capitalism, and consumption, the forces that eventually envelop and destroy Macondo. (It is important to point out that Solitude is not against faith and belief. Miracles happen, and the hand of God is a generally benevolent force in the book. But Solitude certainly has its doubts about the Catholic Church, and the hypocrisy and false piety of some of its members.) Fernanda is the very picture of sterility and barrenness, and she falls down on the Buendias like a wet blanket. Free love is far more rewardingas the critic D.P. Gallagher points out, it is no accident that every time Aureliano Segundo copulates with his life-loving mistress, Petra Cotes, he is blessed with proliferation and plenty. Sexual liberation, not technology, leads to progress and prosperity.
Gallagher also notes that Marquez is indebted to the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges for his notion of time in this novel. Borges' visionary fiction set out a radical vision of time and literature that implied that time is an endless repetition, fact and fiction were easily confused, and that the text one was reading was no more or less real than the life the reader was living. Marquez is certainly using Borges' foundation to advance his own project, but where Marquez makes things interesting is that he forces Borges to confront the evils of colonialism and the destructive cycles of Latin American history. By using Borges' project to develop Solitude, which for all its historical scope and its universality is radically based in Colombia's present, Marquez forces Borges, who rarely commented on colonialism, to face the present as well.