One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude Study Guide

There is a legend Gabriel Garcia Marquez likes to tell about the writing of his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. He claims that he wrote the book barricaded in his study in Mexico, after receiving a vision. One day, while he and his wife and children were in their car driving to Acapulco, he saw that he "had to tell [his] story the way his grandmother used to tell hers, and that [he] was to start from that afternoon in which a father took his child to discover ice." He made an abrupt U-turn on the highway, the car never made it to Acapulco, and he locked himself in his study. Fifteen months later, he emerged with the manuscript, only to meet his wife holding a stack of bills. They traded papers, and she put the manuscript in the mail to his publisher.

Like everything Marquez writes, there is some truth and much fiction in this tale. The truth in the tale is that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a very personal book for the author. It would not have been written if he had not experienced the childhood he had. Marquez grew up with his maternal grandparents in Aracataca, Colombia. His grandparents were cousins who moved to Aracataca from Riohacha at the end of the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902), a few years before a leafstorm. Marquez's childhood anecdotes tell of a big house full of ghosts, conversations in code, and relatives who could foretell their own deaths. It was also a house filled with guests and social events, shaded by almond trees and bursting with flowers. When Marquez's grandfather died, Marquez was sent to live with his parents. In his grandfather's absence, his grandmother, who was blind, could no longer keep up the house. It fell into a state of ruin, and red ants destroyed the trees and flowers. Also early in his childhood, Marquez witnessed the massacre of striking banana workers‹workers at a plantation named Macondo‹at a train station. The government made every attempt to block information from the public and pacify the foreign plantation owners. Marquez was horrified, and even more horrified when he reached high school and learned that the event had been deleted from his history textbook.

Careful readers of One Hundred Years of Solitude will recognize many of these elements in the book; there is no doubt that if Marquez had not grown up in Aracataca and had a keen ear, the novel would not exist. On one hand, the context for the book is Marquez's own personal nostalgia‹for childhood, for his grandparents, for a big house filled with ghosts and laughter. On the other hand, the context for the book is Marquez's political beliefs and the oft-brutal realities of growing up in a particularly tumultuous developing country. Growing up in Colombia, which has a long and tragic socioeconomic history, Marquez learned about politics and economics early on. In his conversations with other Latin American writers‹the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes was one of the writers who gave Marquez extensive feedback and advice on the early chapters of Solitude‹he developed his own theoretical views about writing and politics. He often claims "The first duty of a writer is to write well"‹implying that writing must not be polemical‹but there is no doubt that the economic history of Latin America, which is a history of inequality and exploitation, has had a crucial impact on all of his writing.

Marquez's approach to writing One Hundred Years of Solitude‹combining his own memories and imagination with focused aesthetics and an eye for the tragic history of his country‹has had an immeasurable impact on writers of color worldwide. Coming at the time it did, in the midst of a boom in Latin American writing, it was immediately recognized as one of the finest, if not the finest, offerings from that period. More importantly, it crossed every boundary to becoming an international bestseller and worldwide phenomenon. Even Latin American writers who found fault with it could not deny that it had directed the attentions of the literary world to Latin America. The book was an immediate commerical and critical success when it appeared in 1967, and has since been translated into 26 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.

Other writers of color from different traditions followed in Marquez's footsteps to draw attention to their own countries and struggles. As critic Regina James says, "Solitude represented the marginal and the primitive, yet it neither adopted the superior perspective of the Western anthropologist nor imitated an imagined, alien innocenceŠ.many writers recognized their own ambivalent and difficult relationships with a traditional culture. In much of the world, the unimaginably old coexists with the unbearably newŠFor writers conscious of straddling two cultures, nostalgia for a simpler, primitive past vies with wonder at the persistence of habits of thought, patterns of life, and modes of belief that surely ought to be extinct, mere harmless fossils. Garcia Marquez turned puzzlement or outrage into ironic wonder, and he enhanced the strangeness of the realŠ" Today, we see his influence in such celebrated writers as America's Toni Morrison, India (and England)'s Salman Rushdie, and Trinidad's V.S. Naipaul.