One Hundred Years of Solitude Summary and Analysis

Section 9, Chapters 18-20

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Aureliano, Meme's son, stays in Melquiades' old laboratory for a long time. He reads old history and ancient sciences, learning not a thing "about his own time but with the basic knowledge of a medieval man." He talks to the old gypsy, whose ghost occasionally appears to offer guidance and advice about the mysterious texts. With Melquiades' assistance, Aureliano begins studying Sanskrit in order to read the texts. Although the Buendias are poor, Petra Cotes sends them weekly baskets of food out of pride, so that the hated Fernanda does not starve.

After more than fifty years, Santa Sofia de la Piedad gives up. She has taken care of the house and the family with tireless strength for all that time, but one day she decides that it is too much for her any longer and she simply walks out of town. It is no surprise, really‹despite her superhuman efforts the house "had plunged into a crisis of senility." Meanwhile, Fernanda is rapidly losing her mind, though not her cruelty towards Aureliano. She continues her hopeless correspondences with the invisible doctors and her children, who never come home, and begins having delusions that she is a queen. Eventually, she dies.

Four months after her death, Jose Arcadio II returns. An effeminate, dissolute man, he refuses to speak to Aureliano and spends his days bathing himself and wandering around the house. Jose Arcadio II had also been lying in his correspondence to his mother: he left the seminary as soon as he arrived in Rome and had merely been waiting to receive a large inheritance. He has bizarre memories of the house and wraps himself up in those memories and his own delusions of grandeur. Meanwhile, in an attempt to locate the old books he needs for the deciphering of the parchments, Aureliano makes friends with the wise Catalonian, the bookstore owner, and four young academics.

One day, Jose Arcadio II discovers Ursula's fortune in gold coins. Instead of returning to Rome as he planned, he turns the house into "a decadent paradise" and invites the town's adolescent boys to share in his debauchery. Exhausted after nights of revelry, he asks Aureliano for help, and eventually the two solitary men begin to talk to one another. Their budding friendship is disrupted by two deaths: the death of Aureliano Amador, Colonel Aureliano Buendia's sole surviving son, who is killed at last by unnamed assassins at their door, and the death of Jose Arcadio II. One morning, as he is in the bath, he is attacked by four of the boys he had reveled with. They drown him in the bathtub and steal the rest of Ursula's gold.

One day in December, Amaranta Ursula returns "on a sailor's breeze." She brings Gaston, her Flemish husband, along, tied to a silk rope. She is so striking and free-spirited that Gaston has followed her back to her ruined hometown, even though he sees immediately that her dream of Macondo is far from its current reality and wishes to engage in business abroad. Unaware of his plans, Amaranta Ursula tries to renovate the house and bring some life to the town, but the house's ruin is inevitable and the town's spirit is dead. Even her attempt to repopulate the skies of Macondo with birds is a failure. Gaston, frustrated, makes plans for an airmail service to South America and eventually goes to Belgium to make arrangements.

Aureliano eventually begins to wander the streets of Macondo and make friends. One of these friends is the first woman he comes to know in love, a cartoonish woman named Nigromanta. He is madly in love with Amaranta Ursula, although too frightened to even speak to her. In her ignorance, she teases and laughs at him, provoking him uncontrollably. One day, when she injures herself, he frightens her terribly by sucking the blood from her wound. Only then does she realize his feelings. Terrified, she threatens to leave immediately and follow her husband to Belgium.

His four academic friends attempt to console him by taking him to brothels. In one of the brothels he meets Pilar Ternera, who despite her vast age and enormous sighs is still living merrily as the matron of a fantastic whorehouse. Upon meeting Pilar Ternera, Aureliano feels a great urge to weep, and he does. She comforts him, then encourages him to open his heart to her. When he reveals that he is in love with Amaranta Ursula, she laughs and tells him that Amaranta Ursula is "waiting" for him.That same night, Aureliano attacks Amaranta Ursula. Although she fights him at first, she eventually yields, and the two fall madly in love. They have a wild sex life and Amaranta Ursula writes to her husband, explaining that she cannot live without Aureliano. Gaston gives them his blessing and does not return from Belgium.

While Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula ignore the outside world, locked in their fierce passion, Macondo slowly dies. The Catalonian bookstore owner leaves, and then all of Aureliano's scholar friends desert the town. Pilar Ternera dies and all the town's prostitutes depart. There are few inhabitants left and the Buendia house is slowly being consumed by nature. Ants and cockroaches have invaded and it is impossible to kill them. Plants have infested the house and grown all over the walls. Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula, too wrapped up in each other to notice, do little to stop the destruction. At the time of Pilar Ternera's death, they are expecting a child.

Although neither of them know the secret of Aureliano's origins, they both have fears that they are related. Those fears are fulfilled when their son is born with the tail of a pig. Amaranta Ursula begins hemorraging after the birth and dies. Aureliano loses all perspective and wanders through the town hopelessly. Nigromanta rescues him from his drunken stupor in a bar, but it is some time before he comes to his senses and remembers the child, abandoned at home. He rushes back and discovers the corpse of his son, swollen and bloated and being eaten by ants. But the terror of that vision does not move him‹instead it provides him with the key to Melquiades' texts. He rushes into the laboratory, boards himself up, and reads Melquiades' ancient prophecies. It is a history of the Buendia family, "down to the most trivial details." Aureliano reads about Remedios the Beauty and the twins Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo, then skips ahead to realize the text is describing his own life at that moment of reading the text. He is so caught up in the text that he does not feel a cyclone of wind blowing, ripping the house apart and erasing Macondo from the face of the earth.

Analysis:

The ending of Solitude has provoked much controversy. One the one hand, Marquez's creation of a self-referential text, a meta-text that is aware of itself as a text, is a stroke of brilliance. All the hyperbolic language and fantastic circumstances that give the book such rich, bizarre depth can be perfectly explained: it's as if the narrator is yelling, "It's just a book!" On the other hand, many readers feel cheated by the ending. It's as if the author purposely encouraged the reader to feel invested in his characters, and then threw it in their face at the end by reminding them that everything is just a fiction.

In truth, the last three pages of Solitude are a densely textured maze of allusion and erudition, purposely crafted for scholars to have fun with. The allusions‹to the tower of Babel, with Aureliano's last name and vocation, to Borges' stories including "The Aleph" and "The Circular Ruins," to the book of Revelations‹are there, and they are great, but they are mostly confusing for the average reader. For the average reader, it is sufficient to understand that Melquiades, the elusive gypsy, has been acting as a stand-in for the author, and that the world of Macondo, the line of the Buendia family, and the book One Hundred Years of Solitude have all come to an end.

Both Macondo and the Buendias have been in a slow decline for many chapters, so neither of their demises should come as much of a surprise. Even if Melquiades' text had not made their destinies inevitable, the signs were all there for a vigilant reader to pick up on. What is important is the manner in which the Buendia family ends.

The twin themes of incest and solitude come together with Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula. Throughout the text, each family member has been getting more and more solitary, more and more shut out from the world. Aureliano was the most extreme case, locked in by Fernanda's cruelty because of his origins. The critic Ricardo Gullon notes that the tragedy of incest was the tragedy of each family member's desire to return to the ruined family house, shutting out the rest of the world. And with Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula, the sense of "solitude" became destructive to the point that nature encroached on their house and returned them to a primal, almost pre-human state. The critic Emir Rodriguez Monegal points out that the greatest tragedy of this book is also the most overlooked one: the death of the baby, ignored in Aureliano's rush to read Melquiades' parchments. Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula have regressed to a state of solitude that even the death of their own child is meaningless. When society has broken down to this state, it is perfectly understandable why the line‹and the society‹should end.

With the end of the book, Marquez completes the cycle begun with Genesis and fleshed out with details from his own history. Just as the Buendia family ends, he prophesizes, so will other lines and other stages of history. Time passes, whether or not we are all hiding ourselves in old laboratories and ignoring the signs of the apocalypse. Whether we are ready or not, everything comes to an end, and someday we will too.