For the characters in the novel, time alternatively moves quickly and stagnates for years. In general, children grow up quickly, but when they are adultsparticularly the male adultstime abandons them, leaving them to sit with their own nostalgia and bitterness for years on end. Time abandons Colonel Aureliano Buendia after the civil wars, and Jose Arcadio Segundo, both of them locked in Melquiades' laboratory, refusing to join the living, moving world. In her later years when Ursula considers her family, time appears to be moving in a circle. New children turn out to be like their ancestors, only horribly exaggerated in some flaw or strength. Time is indeed moving in a circle in this book, but instead of expanding outward it is collapsing in on the Buendia family as their eventual demise draws closer. Marquez's point is that time moves in circles and cycles, and people are not always progressing.
The words "solitude" or "solitary" appear on almost every page of this novel.
Jose Arcadio Buendia, Amaranta, Ursula, Aureliano, Jose Arcadio Segundo--are left completely alone, even forgotten, for years at a time. Buendia men named Aureliano are said to have a "solitary" air. And the town itself is isolated and alienated from the outside world. At the very end of the book, the narrator concludes that the Buendias are a race condemned to solitude, and therefore they will not get a second chance. Marquez intends for the theme of solitude to be read in many different ways. It is a protest against the practice of the Western world to "condemn" people of color to solitude, denying them access to the resources of the developed world. It is also a comment on the nature of mana comment that too much solitude can be destructive both to individuals and to society at large.
Incest is a secondary theme of solitude. It plays an enormous role in the novel, from the very beginning with Ursula's warning that children born of incestuous relationships may be born with the tails of pigs. And indeed, at the very end of the novel, a Buendia is born with the tail of a pig. For most families, incest is not a great threat. The fact that it is something the Buendias have to keep dodging marks them as a family unable to escape the family homestead, unable to look outside themselves.They are too solitary. Essentially, incest is the practice of keeping family members within the familyso it marks the Buendias as too disengaged from the world around them.
Critics often classify Marquez's writing as "magic realism" because of his combination of the real and the fantastic. The novel carefully balances realistic elements of life, like poverty and housecleaning, with outrageous instances, like a levitating priest. There are many purposes of this. One is to introduce the reader to Marquez's Colombia, where myths, portents, and legends exist side by side with technology and modernity. Another reason for this is lead the reader to question what is real and what is fantastic, especially in the realm of politics. It is to force to question the absurdity of our everyday lives.
In Solitude, organized religion is often the subject of jokes and satire. One of the novel's most unsympathetic characters, Fernanda del Carpio, is a fervent Catholic who thinks nothing of putting her own child in a convent and forgetting about her. Macondo's priest, Father Nicador, is trotted out again and again for comic relief. In general, organized religion is regarded with skepticism. The characters who follow the path of God in an unconventional, but moral, way, like Ursula, are treated with more dignity and respect.
The novel follows the town of Macondo from its founding to its demise. In between, there is prosperity, growth, war and civil strife, modernity and progress, and a cataclysmic event that leads to its downfall and eventual demise. Some critics have noted that the book also follows the trajectory of classical Greek civilization, with its careful recording of how and when science, art, and politics come to Macondo. This contributes to Solitude's appearance as a "total novel," with everything contained in it. It also contributes to Marquez's overall vision of Macondo as a lens through which all human history and all human nature can be seen.
The Book of Genesis
From the very first paragraph, the narrator gives readers the impression that Macondo is akin to the Garden of Eden. The preponderance of plagues that the town suffers through (insomnia, rain) are also biblical; as is the flood that rains on Macondo in an effort to rid the town of wicked men. By consciously echoing the Book of Genesis, Marquez is alerting us that this is his attempt to rewrite the history of the world and the human race, in a novel that has everything in it.
At least two definite plagues come to Macondo: the insomnia plague and the rains that last for almost five years. Critics go back and forth on whether or not the invasion of the foreign businessmen constitutes a third plague, although they certainly bring death and destruction with them. The first of these plagues very nearly causes Macondo to lose its memory; the second of these plagues brings about the eventual downfall of the town. Essentially, both plagues are dangerous because they prevent Macondo from staying in touch with reality and the world around them by plunging them into nostalgia and erasing the town's memory.
The twisted and meandering world of politics is under a great deal of scrutiny in this novel, particularly the chapters that deal with Colonel Aureliano Buendia. The world of politics is a gloomy one. There is little difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives; both parties kill and exploit the people. Although Marquez has a definite anti-capitalist bent, his purpose in portraying the politics of the region is not to be polemical. Instead, he comments on how the nature of Latin American politics is towards absurdity, denial, and never-ending repetitions of tragedy.
This theme is particularly important for the chapters dealing with the banana plantation. In the span of only a few years, Macondo is transformed from a sleepy backwater to a frighteningly modern town via the influences of technology, economic exploitation and foreign invasion. But the arrival of new machines and farming techniques do not make Macondo a better place to live in, in fact things only get worse. The point of this is that modern technology is meaningless without a concurrent improvement in ethics, and "progress" turns brutal without a plan to lessen economic inequality.
Although a lesser theme in the novel, important patterns surface regarding the theme of women's sexuality. In general, the women who have unconventional relationshipsRebeca, Petra Cotes, Amaranta Ursulaare happier and more sympathetic than the women who cling to society's standards of behaviorAmaranta and Fernanda del Carpio. The fact that Aureliano Segundo's coupling with Petra Cotes dramatically increases the proliferation of his animals is a signal that free love can be healthy for society at large.
One Hundred Years of Solitude Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.