One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez  is an epic that tells the story of six generations. It is a kaleidoscopic novel that blends myth and philosophy, history and magic, humour and grief so seamlessly that it defies classification. Literary critics have given the label of ‘magical realism’ to Marquez’s style. His books lie beyond any facile label, however.
It is difficult to interpret Marquez’s novels for the same reason. Layers of meaning emerge as we read them. The more you read, the profounder the meanings appear. Profoundly complex.
One Hundred Years of Solitude transcends any simple interpretations. This post looks at just one character: Colonel Aureliano Buendia. The novel begins with him and ends with him, so to say. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” That is the opening sentence of the novel. Towards the end of the novel, the parish priest of Macondo – the place discovered and developed by the Buendias – says that “there used to be a street here with that name (Colonel Aureliano Buendia) and in those days people had the custom of naming their children after streets.”
Colonel Aureliano is one of the protagonists of this epic. Yet he ends up without even a public remembrance. He is not even a memory, let alone part of history.
What is human life but a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury but signifying nothing? Marquez reminds us of that Shakespearean wisdom again and again. Colonel Aureliano is the best example for that, perhaps.
The Colonel was a Liberal rebel who led no less than 32 armed uprisings against the Conservative government and lost each one of them. He was such a national hero that women came to have sex with him in order to bear his son. Thus he begot 18 sons all of whom were named Aureliano in his honour. Yet this man would die alone without offspring of his own. Without even being remembered by anyone. A sad, mad end leaning against the same chestnut tree to which his insane father was tied in the last many years of his life. This man who survived 14 attempts on his life by rivals, 73 ambushes, and a firing-squad, dies an ignoble death. He was already forgotten by the people even before his death. No wonder, his every existence is in doubt a few decades later. “There used to be a street here by that name…”!
That is what human life is. A walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. Sound and fury that lead to nothing in the end. Lead to degeneration, in fact.
“The world must be all fucked up,” says one of the minor characters of the novel, towards the end, “when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.” Macondo’s history of one hundred years shows that evil is an integral part of human life. Macondo is paradisaical when it is founded by Jose Arcadio Buendia, Colonel Aureliano’s father. Like every paradise, Macondo is destined to lose its pristine innocence sooner than later.
Politics enters Macondo from outside like a plague. Plague too enters from outside, in fact. Religion too. Politics destroys the pristineness of the place altogether. Religion is no less degenerative. Look at what Father Petronio does to Jose Arcadio Segundo, Colonel Aureliano’s brother’s grandson. As a boy he goes to a priest for his first confession and the priest questions him whether he has committed any sexual act with any animal. “There are some corrupt Christians who do their business with female donkeys,” says Father Petronio whom the boy approaches for more information. The boy becomes more curious and the old, sickly priest is finally forced to say, “I go Tuesday nights. If you promise not to tell anyone I’ll take you next Tuesday.” Thus the boy is initiated to sex with a donkey by none less than a priest of the Church and the boy soon becomes addicted to it.
It is indeed a fucked-up world. The Conservative government proves to be a bunch of hypocrites who preach one thing and do the opposite. They can take away your kitchen tools and then arrest you for keeping deadly weapons to fight in the civil war against the government.
But a rebellion doesn’t solve anything. The world is doomed to be evil. There’s no escape. No redemption. History is not progressive. It is cyclical. It is a vicious cycle. The sound and fury are real. They are the only reality perhaps.
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