A dominant theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history in Macondo. The protagonists are controlled by their pasts and the complexity of time. Throughout the novel the characters are visited by ghosts. "The ghosts are symbols of the past and the haunting nature it has over Macondo. The ghosts and the displaced repetition that they evoke are, in fact, firmly grounded in the particular development of Latin American history", writes Daniel Erickson. "Ideological transfiguration ensured that Macondo and the Buendías always were ghosts to some extent, alienated and estranged from their own history, not only victims of the harsh reality of dependence and underdevelopment but also of the ideological illusions that haunt and reinforce such social conditions."
The fate of Macondo is both doomed and predetermined from its very existence. "Fatalism is a metaphor for the particular part that ideology has played in maintaining historical dependence, by locking the interpretation of Latin American history into certain patterns that deny alternative possibilities. The narrative seemingly confirms fatalism in order to illustrate the feeling of entrapment that ideology can performatively create."
García Márquez uses colours as symbols. Yellow and gold are the most frequently used and symbolize imperialism and the Spanish Siglo de Oro. Gold signifies a search for economic wealth, whereas yellow represents death, change, and destruction.
The glass city is an image that comes to José Arcadio Buendía in a dream. It is the reason for Macondo's location, but also a symbol of its fate. Higgins writes, "By the final page, however, the city of mirrors has become a city of mirages. Macondo thus represents the dream of a brave new world that America seemed to promise and that was cruelly proved illusory by the subsequent course of history." Images such as the glass city and the ice factory represent how Latin America already has its history outlined and is therefore fated for destruction.
There is an underlying pattern of Latin American history in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It has been said that the novel is one of a number of texts that "Latin American culture has created to understand itself." In this sense, the novel can be conceived as a linear archive that narrates the story of a Latin America discovered by European explorers, which had its historical entity developed by the printing press. The Archive is a symbol of the literature that is the foundation of Latin American history and also a decoding instrument. Melquíades, the keeper of the archive, represents both the whimsical and the literary. Finally, "the world of One Hundred Years of Solitude is a place where beliefs and metaphors become forms of fact, and where more ordinary facts become uncertain."
The use of particular historic events and characters renders One Hundred Years of Solitude an exemplary work of magical realism, wherein the novel compresses decades of cause and effect whilst telling an interesting story.