Posts Tagged ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’

One Hundred Years of Solitude

I have just finished reading for the fourth time this novel by Gabriel García Márquez, 1982 Nobel Prize winner.  This is a dense book spanning the five generations of the Buendía family that reveals more and more upon each reading–the mark of a great literary work. Many Nobel Prize winners not writing in English go unread by Americans. But not this one, which leads me to think about why this book has had such success in English translation.

Because Márquez brings humor to social, economic, and political matters in his story; he is able to broaden its appeal to a world audience, who identify with the absurdities of the human condition across time using the backdrop of an unidentified Latin American country and the fictional founding, growth, and decline of the town Macondo. The comedy turns black in the account of the massacre of the banana workers and the ultimate disintegration and extinction of the  Buendía line. Through humor Márquez makes his point more effectively on how history repeats itself in a way high seriousness could not. His satirical barbs always hit the bullseye. He gets the American Mr. Brown exactly right.

Despite the plethora of characters, each one is consumed by solitude even in the throes of love affairs. Solitude, not only of Macondo as an isolated town, is the flaw that eats away at their individual hearts and that of the community.  Ursula’s obsession with incest is well-founded and the motif of inbreeding that does occur in the saga of the family serves as a metaphor of the insularity of the community that feeds upon itself and cannot reach out in love, tragically seeking solace for loneliness in carnality. In one instance, Aurelio Segundo and Petra Cotes demonstrate authentic love in caring for Fernanda del Carpio. The men are given over to violence or searching after knowledge in solitude. The women see through the weaknesses of the men, supplying their need for sexual intimacy or withholding it. Fernanda del Carpio is hilarious as a woman steeped in tradition, religion, and illusions of her noble Spanish ancestry.  I found her characterization one of the funniest in the novel.

There is much to be said about this novel, requiring more than one essay or book. Just a discussion of the names that Márquez assigns his characters would suggest many meanings and interpretations. It is not my intent even to summarize the novel only to offer that humor is the source of Márquez’ genius. He implies that the ability to laugh at ourselves is healthy, essential to communal well-being.  Pride, arrogance and pomposity afflict a people who cannot laugh at the ludicrous in their lives. Yet in the final analysis, is the vision a dark one, considering that the novel ends with the words: “. . . races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”?

I don’t think so. Márquez implies the reverse in the hopeful prospect that Columbia where he was born and the world at large can discover a new world of love, where communities reach out in love not only to their members but to other nations.  Therein lies the opportunity to end the cycle of solitude and destruction.