The rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical but intensely real Macondo, and the glories and disasters of the wonderful Buendía family; make up an intensely brilliant chronicle of humankind's comedies and tragedies. All the many varieties of life are captured here: inventively, amusingly, magnetically, sadly, humorously, luminously, truthfully.
Subjectivity of reality and magic realism
Critics often cite certain works by García Márquez, such as A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and One Hundred Years of Solitude, as exemplary of magic realism, a style of writing in which the supernatural is presented as mundane, and the mundane as supernatural or extraordinary. The term was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925.
The novel presents a fictional story in a fictional setting. The extraordinary events and characters are fabricated. However, the message that García Márquez intends to deliver explains a true history. García Márquez uses his fantastic story as an expression of reality. "In One Hundred Years of Solitude myth and history overlap. The myth acts as a vehicle to transmit history to the reader. García Márquez's novel can furthermore be referred to as anthropology, where truth is found in language and myth. What is real and what is fiction are indistinguishable. There are three main mythical elements of the novel: classical stories alluding to foundations and origins, characters resembling mythical heroes, and supernatural elements." Magic realism is inherent in the novel—achieved by the constant intertwining of the ordinary with the extraordinary. This magic realism strikes at one's traditional sense of naturalistic fiction. There is something clearly magical about the world of Macondo. It is a state of mind as much as, or more than, a geographical place. For example, one learns very little about its actual physical layout. Furthermore, once in it, the reader must be prepared to meet whatever the imagination of the author presents to him or her.
García Márquez blends the real with the magical through the use of tone and narration. By maintaining the same tone throughout the novel, García Márquez makes the extraordinary blend with the ordinary. His condensation of and lackadaisical manner in describing events causes the extraordinary to seem less remarkable than it actually is, thereby perfectly blending the real with the magical. Reinforcing this effect is the unastonished tone in which the book is written. This tone restricts the ability of the reader to question the events of the novel. However, it also causes the reader to call into question the limits of reality. Furthermore, maintaining the same narrator throughout the novel familiarizes the reader with his voice and causes him or her to become accustomed to the extraordinary events in the novel.
Throughout the novel, García Márquez is said to have a gift for blending the everyday with the miraculous, the historical with the fabulous, and psychological realism with surreal flights of fancy. It is a revolutionary novel that provides a looking glass into the thoughts and beliefs of its author, who chose to give a literary voice to Latin America: "A Latin America which neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration."
Although we are faced with a very convoluted narrative, García Márquez is able to define clear themes while maintaining individual character identities, and using different narrative techniques such as third-person narrators, specific point of view narrators, and streams of consciousness. Cinematographic techniques are also employed in the novel, with the idea of the montage and the close-up, which effectively combine the comic and grotesque with the dramatic and tragic. Furthermore, political and historical realities are combined with the mythical and magical Latin American world. Lastly, through human comedy the problems of a family, a town, and a country are unveiled. This is all presented through García Márquez's unique form of narration, which causes the novel to never cease being at its most interesting point.
The characters in the novel are never defined; they are not created from a mold. Instead, they are developed and formed throughout the novel. All characters are individualized, with many characteristics that differentiate them from others. Ultimately, the novel has a rich imagination achieved by its rhythmic tone, narrative technique, and fascinating character creation, making it a thematic quarry, where the trivial and anecdotal and the historic and political are combined.
Perhaps the most dominant theme in the book is that of solitude. Macondo was founded in the remote jungles of the Colombian rainforest. The solitude of the town is representative of the colonial period in Latin American history, where outposts and colonies were, for all intents and purposes, not interconnected. Isolated from the rest of the world, the Buendías grow to be increasingly solitary and selfish. With every member of the family living only for him or her self, the Buendías become representative of the aristocratic, land-owning elite who came to dominate Latin America in keeping with the sense of Latin American history symbolized in the novel. This egocentricity is embodied, especially, in the characters of Aureliano, who lives in a private world of his own, and Remedios the Beauty, who innocently destroys the lives of four men enamored by her unbelievable beauty, because she is living in a different reality due to what some see as autism. Throughout the novel it seems as if no character can find true love or escape the destructiveness of their own egocentricity.
The selfishness of the Buendía family is eventually broken by the once superficial Aureliano Segundo and Petra Cotes, who discover a sense of mutual solidarity and the joy of helping others in need during Macondo's economic crisis. The pair even find love, and their pattern is repeated by Aureliano Babilonia and Amaranta Úrsula. Eventually, Aureliano and Amaranta Úrsula have a child, and the latter is convinced that it will represent a fresh start for the once-conceited Buendía family. However, the child turns out to be the perpetually feared monster with the pig's tail.
Nonetheless, the appearance of love represents a shift in Macondo, albeit one that leads to its destruction. "The emergence of love in the novel to displace the traditional egoism of the Buendías reflects the emergence of socialist values as a political force in Latin America, a force that will sweep away the Buendías and the order they represent." The ending to One Hundred Years of Solitude could be a wishful prediction by García Márquez, a well-known socialist, regarding the future of Latin America.
Fluidity of time
One Hundred Years of Solitude contains several ideas concerning time. Although the story can be read as a linear progression of events, both when considering individual lives and Macondo's history, García Márquez allows room for several other interpretations of time:
- He reiterates the metaphor of history as a circular phenomenon through the repetition of names and characteristics belonging to the Buendía family. Over six generations, all the José Arcadios possess inquisitive and rational dispositions as well as enormous physical strength. The Aurelianos, meanwhile, lean towards insularity and quietude. This repetition of traits reproduces the history of the individual characters and, ultimately, a history of the town as a succession of the same mistakes ad infinitum due to some endogenous hubris in our nature.
- The novel explores the issue of timelessness or eternity even within the framework of mortal existence. A major trope with which it accomplishes this task is the alchemist's laboratory in the Buendía family home. The laboratory was first designed by Melquíades near the start of the story and remains essentially unchanged throughout its course. It is a place where the male Buendía characters can indulge their will to solitude, whether through attempts to deconstruct the world with reason as in the case of José Arcadio Buendía, or by the endless creation and destruction of golden fish as in the case of his son Colonel Aureliano Buendía. Furthermore, a sense of inevitability prevails throughout the text. This is a feeling that regardless of what way one looks at time, its encompassing nature is the one truthful admission.
- On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that One Hundred Years of Solitude, while basically chronological and "linear" enough in its broad outlines, also shows abundant zigzags in time, both flashbacks of matters past and long leaps towards future events. One example of this is the youthful amour between Meme and Mauricio Babilonia, which is already in full swing before we are informed about the origins of the affair.
A recurring theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the Buendía family's propensity toward incest. The patriarch of the family, Jose Arcadio Buendía, is the first of numerous Buendías to intermarry when he marries his first cousin, Úrsula. Furthermore, the fact that "throughout the novel the family is haunted by the fear of punishment in the form of the birth of a monstrous child with a pig's tail" can be attributed to this initial act and the recurring acts of incest among the Buendías.
A theme throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude is the elitism of the Buendía family. Gabriel García Márquez shows his criticism of the Latin American elite through the stories of the members a high-status family who are essentially in love with themselves, to the point of being unable to understand the mistakes of their past and learn from them. The Buendía family's literal loving of themselves through incest not only shows how elites consider themselves to be above the law, but also reveals how little they learn from their history. José Arcadio Buendía and Ursula fear that since their relationship is incestuous, their child will have animalistic features; even though theirs does not, the final child of the Buendía line, Aureliano of Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula, has the tail of a pig, and because they do not know their history, they do not know that this fear has materialized before, nor do they know that, had the child lived, removing the tail would have resulted in his death. This speaks to how elites in Latin America do not pass down history that remembers them in a negative manner. The Buendía family further cannot move beyond giving tribute to themselves in the form of naming their children the same names over and over again. “José Arcadio” appears four times in the family tree, “Aureliano” appears 22 times, “Remedios” appears three times and “Amaranta” and “Ursula” appear twice. The continual references to the sprawling Buendía house call to mind the idea of a Big House, or hacienda, a large land holding in which elite families lived and managed their lands and laborers. In Colombia, where the novel takes place, a Big House was known for being a grand one-story dwelling with many bedrooms, parlors, a kitchen, a pantry and a veranda, all areas of the Buendía household mentioned throughout the book. The book focuses squarely on one family in the midst of the many residents of Macondo as a representation of how the poorest of Latin American villages have been subjugated and forgotten throughout the course of Latin American history.