On Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
[The following is the full text of a lecture delivered, in part, in Liberal Studies 402 at Malaspina University College (now Vancouver Island University), on Tuesday, March 28, 1995 by Ian Johnston. This text is in the public domain, released May, 1999; the text was edited slightly on April 11, 2000]
For comments or questions, please contact Ian Johnston
[For Belorussian translation of this lecture, click here]
In this lecture I would like to start with an initial question and then suggest some possible directions one might like to explore in answering it. We can all agree, I think, that this novel is amazingly rich, so I don't propose anything like a last word. However, by examining some patterns in the novel, we can perhaps help to shape some potentially illuminating observations.
So I propose to deal with the novel in the following stages:
First, I want to consider One Hundred Years of Solitude as an epic, in the traditional sense of the word, and from that consideration to frame an interpretative question.
Second, I propose to look at the complex effects this novel creates: a wonderfully comic sense combined with an overall tragic irony underlying the remarkably energetic and entertaining inventiveness in the plot and the characters.
Thirdly, by way of accounting, at least in part, for these complex effects, I wish to look at two particular aspects: the double sense of time in the novel and the style of magical realism.
Finally, putting all these elements together, I shall address the question posed at the start. I would like to suggest that this novel does, in fact, have something very insightful and important to reveal about the social and political realities of the world it depicts and that this theme may be difficult for North Americans fully to recognize.
One Hundred Years of Solitude as an Epic
It seems clear to me that, in any conventional sense of the literary term, we are dealing here with an epic work: a long narrative fiction with a huge scope which holds up for our inspection a particular cultural moment in the history of a people. The novel is the history of the founding, development, and death of a human settlement, Macondo, and of the most important family in that town, the Buendias. In following the historical narrative of these two elements we are confronted, as we are in any great epic, with a picture of how at a particular moment in human civilization a unique group of people has organized its life (just as we are confronted with the same issue, for example, in the other great epic we have studied, The Odyssey).
Like many other epics, this novel has connections with a particular people's historical reality, in this case the development of the Latin American country of Colombia since its independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century (1810 to 1825). The seemingly endless civil war portrayed in the novel one can see as directly based on the civil wars in Columbia from 1885 to 1902, and the character of Colonel Aureliano has many affinities with General Rafael Uribe Uribe, under whom the grandfather of the author fought. Uribe's struggles ended in 1902 with the Treaty of Neerlandia, an event in the novel. The years 1900 to 1928 saw the take over of Colombia by the united Fruit Company of Boston. The ensuing labour trouble culminated on October 7, 1928, in a mass strike of 32,000 workers. The government later sent out the troops to fight the workers, and a massacre took place in Cienaga on December 5, 1928. In addition of course, and most importantly for an understanding of the novel, is the presence in it of the author's family and of the author himself. This point, as I shall argue later, is a key point in understanding what the political point of this epic might be.
I mention this history, not because I think one needs to know the historical facts in order to appreciate the novel, but simply to point out that One Hundred Years of Solitude, like so many other great epics, like Moby Dick, The Song of Roland, and War and Peace, takes its origin in the history, real or imagined, of a particular people.
Given this epic quality of the novel, the initial question I would like to pose is this: What qualities of life does this novel celebrate? What is the nature of the social-political vision held up here for our inspection? How are we intended to judge the people and the society of Macondo? This, I would claim, is a fairly obvious question which the novel pressures any reader to ask, as a number of critics have pointed out:
One Hundred Years of Solitude . . . can justly lay claim to being, perhaps, the greatest of all Latin American novels, appropriately enough, since the story of the Buendia family is obviously a metaphor for the history of the continent since Independence, that is, for the neocolonial period. More than that, though, it is also, I believe, a narrative about the myths of Latin American history. (Martin 97)
I do not believe any other novelist has so acutely, so truthfully seen the intimate relationship between the socio political structure of a given country and the behaviour of his characters. (Angle Rama, qu. Martin 107)
So what are meant to derive about the experience of the civilization depicted in the novel?
One possible source of information, the author, has remained stubbornly silent on this question, refusing to debate whether or not there is a political "message" in his novel. His roots with the civilization are obvious enough, for he spent the first eight years of his life in Aracataca, a "steamy banana town not far from the Colombian coast." But he has commented "Nothing interesting has happened to me since." "He also tells the story that his grandmother invented fantasies so that he wouldn't be saddened by the truth of things" (James 66). We will be coming back to this latter comment later on. When pressed on the subject of this novel, Marquez has said that he really wanted to write a book about incest.
If a number of readers have seen considerable political significance in the novel, there has been no agreement about what that political "message" might be. For the novel has attracted all sorts of conflicting political interpretation. One writer has remarked, with good justification, that there is something here for every political view: "[The novel's] appeal is to all ideologies: leftists like its dealing with social struggles and its portraits of imperialism; conservatives are heartened by the corruption and/or failure of those struggles and with the sustaining role of the family; nihilists and quietists find their pessimism reconfirmed; and the apolitical hedonists find solace in all the sex and swashbuckling" (Bell-Villada 93).
To all of these we might add those readers who decline to see any social-political themes in the novel and who like it because it's a great escapist read. And whatever I might like to claim for its wider implications, One Hundred Years of Solitude is certainly a wonderful and popular read, which one can enjoy without having any particular awareness of its historical roots or its political implications. That may be the main reason why it has been such a phenomenally popular book outside Latin America: "The first truly international best-seller in Latin American publishing history" (Martin 98), for which the author received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
The Magic Realism of the Novel
By way of explaining my answer to that question I posed about what, if anything, this novel celebrates, I would like to point to two very obvious facts of the novel and then move on to construct some interpretative possibilities from those two facts. In offering this initial interpretative possibility I'm trying to remain true to my experience of reading this novel, an experience which features a curious mixture. On the one hand I find this a wonderfully diverting comic novel, full of the most unexpected and delightful incidents and characters, and thus an extraordinarily uplifting experience. On the other hand, pervading this novel for me there is a strong sense of irony, a powerful undertone of prevailing sadness and a sense of tragic futility. I want, in the following remarks to try to link these emotional reactions to features of the novel.
I suppose one must first observe that here there is an amazingly fecund imagination at work in the characters and incidents of this novel--extraordinary people and intriguing incidents. This novel never loses its capacity to surprise and delight. No matter whom we meet, we quickly learn to expect the unexpected, the colourful, the original--from moments of evocative beauty, like the trail of butterflies, to the satiric, like the priest levitating to chocolate, to erotic scene of bawdy and prodigious sex, like characters whose farts are so strong they kill all the flowers in the house or man who runs through the house balancing beer bottles on his penis. The comic energy here is justly famous. The characters, for the most part, may be two-dimensional, and we may meet some of them only for a couple of pages, but there is throughout a sense of vitality and wonder at the world which makes this story hard to put down.
A good deal of this quality comes from the style, the "magic realism," which strikes at our 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 even more than, a real geographical place (we learn very little about its actual physical layout, for example). And once in it, we must be prepared to meet whatever the imagination of the author presents to us.
[Note that the term "magic realism" was coined by the German art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe "a magic insight into reality. For Roh it was synonymous with the post expressionist painting (1920-1925) because it revealed the mysterious elements hidden in everyday reality. Magic realism expressed man's astonishment before the wonders of the real world" (Williams 77).]
The intermingling of the fantastic and the factual throughout the novel keeps us always on edge, always in a state of imaginative anticipation, particularly in the story of the Buendia men, whose imaginations are repeatedly going off in various directions, in schemes which are the constant source of amusement, novelty, and delight.
I take it that this quality of the novel is clear to anyone who reads it, so I don't propose to discuss it here. Some readers addicted to psychological naturalism may well find the fantasy interferes with their demands for a more "realistic" engagement with the imagined world of the fiction. As I shall mention before the end of this lecture, however, I think there is an important connection between the fantasy and the reality in the novel; in other words they are not two separate elements. In fact, a particularly important point of this novel is that in many respects the civilization depicted here too often confronts the reality of life with fantasy, because it experiences life as fantasy rather than as historical fact. But more of that later.
Along with all this delight, however, as I mentioned above, I sense a strong underlying irony, a mixture of sadness, anger, and tragic fatality. For this is a story about the failure of the town and the family, which, for all their amazing vitality are finally and irrevocably wiped off the face of the earth. Amid all the delightful fantasy is a great deal of violence, cruelty, and despair--the central ingredient in the "solitude" each of the characters finally becomes immersed in. And this establishes itself as a strong qualification to the comic delight one takes in so much of the novel.
It is important, I think, not to sentimentalize the violence and the despair, as those of us who do not sense these qualities in our own communities are likely to do. In this novel, cruelty, failure, acute despair, and suddenly destructive irrational and inexplicable violence are always present. And however we interpret the story, we need to take those fully into account, and not minimize their impact in order to enjoy the comic inventiveness and the fantasy without any serious ironic qualifications.
Time as Linear History in the Novel
By way of exploring this dual response further, I would like to point to one very marked feature of the novel, the working throughout of two senses of time, linear and circular. The interplay between these two senses creates some of the novel's most important effects.
In the first place, we see that there is a strong sense of a linear development to the history of the town of Macondo. We follow the story from its founding, through various stages up to a flourishing modern town, to its decline and eventual and irrevocable annihilation. In general, the linear history of the town falls into four sections: (a) utopian innocence and social harmony, in which Macondo exists like an early Eden, its inhabitants so innocent that no one has yet died and they don't even have names for things, the world "was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point" (11). This section takes up the first five chapters of the book. The story then moves on to the military struggle in the various civil wars and revolutions (Chapters 6 to 9), then into a period of economic prosperity and spiritual decline (Chapters 10 to 15); and finally to decadence and physical destruction (Chapters 16 to 20).
The narrative is given to us, for the most part, following this linear sense of time, so that we always know roughly where we are in this linear story. And we know because of the nature of the various "invasions" which occur. Usually outsiders arrive bringing the latest in technology or bureaucracy: gypsies, government officials, priests, various military forces, the ubiquitous lawyers, the railway, the American capitalists, the European with the bicycle and the passion for airplanes, and so on.
We repeatedly experience these invasions as something over which the town has no control and which have come with no previous warning. And in most cases the people have no immediate sense of how to react. The reactions we do witness, from Jose Arcadio's response to the gypsies to the reaction of the citizens to the telephone and movies, are often amusingly eccentric and unpredictable, but they point to a constant in the world of Macondo: the powerlessness of the people to take charge of the invasions which arrive from outside.
Macondo, you will recall, is founded initially almost by accident. It just happens to be where the Buendia expedition decides to stop. There is no particular reason for stopping there, and no one has a very clear idea of where they are, except that they are in the middle of a number of natural barriers, for all they know cut off from all contact with civilization. And so they found Macondo, the city of mirrors or mirages, an innocent and idyllic community, with no sense of history or no particular political reason for being there. It is an expression of the imaginative desires of Jose Arcadio, who has sought to flee his past and is incapable, because of his overheated imagination, of creating a political future for his community.
The development of the Buendia family in a sense underscores this linear sense of time, for they form a series of figures who, in part, symbolize the particular historical period of which they are a part. The patriarch Jose Arcadio is, in some sense, a Renaissance man of many interests and with pioneering ambitions and energies; his son Aureliano becomes a great military leader, a main participant in the civil wars; in turn, he is succeeded by a bourgeois farmer-entrepreneur, family man, Aureliano Segundo and by the twin Jose Arcadio Segundo, who works for the American capitalists and becomes the radical labour organizer. And so on. So as we move from generation to generation, we sense a strong linear force, usually imposed from outside, driving events in Macondo.
Time as Circular History
But for all this strong linear sense of history, the response of the people in Macondo, and particularly of the Buendia family, to this linear march creates a second sense of time: history as almost obsessively circular. For all the apparent changes in their main occupations, their personalities constantly repeat the experience of earlier generations.
There's a strong sense of fate about this obsessive repetition. Once a person has been named then the major characteristics of his or her life have been determined, and the person is doomed to repeat the events of the lives of their ancestors. As Ursula remarks:
While the Aurelianos were withdrawn but with lucid minds, the Jose Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but marked with a tragic sign.
Even their deaths are, in a sense preordained. The Jose Arcadios suffer as victims of murder or disease; all three Aurelianos die with their eyes open and their mental powers intact. And they all succumb to a self-imposed exile in a solitude which can last for decades.
Out of this sense of repetition, the comic energies which the sexual prowess and the visionary schemes constantly celebrate are always undercut by the irony of "inevitable repetition of probably futile previous actions" (Williams 80), as one of the most important images in the book makes clear:
There was no mystery in the heart of a Buendia that was impenetrable for [Pilar Ternera] because a century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle. (402)
We take great delight in watching the generally erratic spinning of the wheel, but we are increasingly aware of the wearing of the axle and eventually see it snap.
Another way of saying this perhaps is to see that the people of Macondo and the Buendias often have a vital and amusing present, but their lives sooner or later lose meaning because they are incapable of seizing control of their own history. Their past is largely unknown to them, except as nostalgia, their present, if active, is obsessive, and their future non-existent.
The Buendias: Men and Women
The characters in the novel's main family tend to be organized schematically (as in the Jose Arcadios and the Aurelianos). This is not a psychological novel in the sense that its chief interest does not arise from the inner drama of particular characters (as, say, in Virginia Woolf). We are dealing here, for the most part, with two-dimensional comic creations organized in order to make certain thematic points.
The men, I have observed, are characterized by an obsessive repetitiveness to their lives. Full of amazing energies and intelligence, which generate ambitious projects or passionate sexuality, they are unable to realize any long-term success, and are prone to fits of extreme anger against their earlier projects or else their lives are overtaken by the irrational violence which keeps intruding in their lives.
The women, too, tend to fall into types. The common sense energy and determination of the Ursulas, particularly of the stern, unmusical matriarchal will of the founding woman, play off against the enduring erotic figures outside the family: Pilar Ternera and Petra Cotes. Those called Remedios remain immature and either die young or disappear.
The women, for the most part, are firmly anchored in daily reality, as obsessed as the men, but with the routines of daily living. Ursula fights all her life against the incest taboo, and Fernanda devotes her life to imposing the rigorous order of high Spanish Catholicism on an unruly home. They have no interest in speculative imaginative ventures. The centre of their lives is the home or erotic attachments. Simply put, one might observe that in this novel the men suffer from an enduring lack of the reality principle; whereas, the women are encased in it.
What seems to be missing is any consistent ability to find a middle ground between the impossible delusions of weak and unstable men and the down-to-earth home-bound order and stability of the women. And this inability points to what both the men and women seem to lack here, an ability to orient themselves with the wider developing world in which they live and to take some control of their own historical destiny. They are, as residents of Macondo, victims of an illusion in the city of mirages, and the personal constructions they erect in the course of living all fail and plunge them into a cruel and lasting solitude.
In that sense, the "magic realism" of the novel is a good deal more than a stylistic device to lure North American readers tired of naturalism. The fantasy is a central part of the way these people, especially the men, experience their own history, and because such fantasy is no match against outside invaders or the effects of time on such projects, they all fail. And this may, indeed, be one of the main points Marquez is "celebrating" (if that is the right word) in this epic novel of his people.
So What Is the Novel Saying About Latin America?
As North Americans, we are far more accustomed to thinking of our own history (personal and national) as something of an encounter with destiny: we have confidence that we can take charge of our lives, construct a project-based life, and carry it through, so that in a way the world we have acted in will be transformed from the world into which we are born. The history of our country and often of our families is full of examples of such an authentic life choice undertaken in the confidence that we have a strong sense of a meaningful direction and the means to move there.
But, as many interpreters of Marquez have pointed out, such may not be the case in Latin America, in whose culture there is
. . . a haunting theme . . . a familiar and lasting concern of Latin Americans: their fear that they are not quite real people, that their world is not entirely a real world. This is not a metaphysical or epistemological problem, it is not the European anguish of Kafka or Beckett, and it is not the uneasiness of North Americans faced with a fast-changing social and physical landscape. It is an old and intimate feeling, an actor's weariness with a never-ending career, a feeling that what is happening cannot really be happening, that it is all too fantastic or too cruel to be true, that history cannot be the farce it appears to be, that a daily life cannot be merely this losing battle with dust or insects, that this round of diseases, drink, ceremonies, sadness, and sudden death cannot be all there is. (Wood 37)
It is necessary to stress this point, this sense that history is a cruel farce, experienced as fantasy and forgotten quickly, because it may well be the case that, in writing this novel, one of Marquez's main points is to leave his readers with a strong sense of the tragic futility of such an attitude. We have to remember, close the chapter on Macondo, and get on with constructing a new history for ourselves.
It might be worth remembering that, if we find this attitude too serious and difficult to grasp, that in Buenos Aires last weekend the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are still demanding from the authorities an acknowledgment of the thousands of people arbitrarily tortured and killed in the civil wars in Argentina in the 1970's. These people, called "those who have disappeared" have, it seems, for a long time simply vanished without acknowledgment that anything took place. That they are dead few will dispute. How or why or, in some cases, whether it happened is still under review. In the face of events like this, we might observe that what takes place in the pages of Marquez's "magic realism" is in many places not so far from the cruel fantasies of killing and forgetfulness still, for example, pictured on the front pages of the Globe and Mail (see the edition for Saturday, March 25, 1995, A1).
This point about experiencing one's history as fantasy has been stressed also by Marxist critics, who insist that, since the rules which govern a society are those of the ruling class, those places which have no control over their own destiny live without such rational guidelines. Thus, they argue, Marquez's novel is not saying that life is a dream but rather that Latin American life is a dream--"the unreality and unauthenticity imposed by almost five hundred years of colonialism--and that when a dream becomes a permanent living nightmare it is probably time to wake up" (Martin 104).
The endless repetition of useless actions are an idologeme for a capitalist society without social or economic vitality. In this sense the colonel's endless battles are the same as his repetitive creation of little gold fish: they both resent a paradigm of action for the sake of action (or production for the sake of production, with no worthwhile return) [note also his production of sons]. Macondo never functions as an authentic participant in the political and economic processes of the nation. It is always marginal at best. Even after establishing his government position in Macondo, Moscote is nothing more than an "ornamental" authority, as he is described in the text. National politics are more a matter of disruption or confusion than an integral part of Macondo's life. After painting and repainting their homes the colors of both the Liberals and the Conservatives, Macondo's citizens eventually have houses of an undefined color, a sign of the failure, in effect, of both traditional parties. (Williams 85)
The same point is emphasized by Gerald Martin:
In One Hundred Years of Solitude nothing ever turns out as people expect; everything surprises them; all of them fail; all are frustrated; few achieve communion with others for more than a fleeting moment, and the majority not at all. Most of their actions--at first sight like the structure of the novel as a whole--are circular. . . . Ploughers of the sea, they are unable to make their lives purposive, achieve productiveness, break out of the vicious circle of their fate. In short, they fail to become agents of history for themselves. . . . The only explanation possible is that they are living out their lives in the name of someone else's values. Hence the solitude, central theme (together with the quest) of Latin American history: it is their abandonment in an empty continent, a vast cultural vacuum, marooned thousands of miles away from their true home. Conceived by Spain in the sixteenth century . . . the characters awaken in the late eighteenth-century Enlightenment . . . but are entirely unable to bring themselves into focus in a world they have not made. Influences from outside (the gypsies) are sporadic, piecemeal, throughout the notional hundred years of the novel, which is the span from the Independence era to the early 1960's. . . . Seen in this light, the novel seems less concerned with any "magical" reality than with the general effect of a colonial history upon individual relationships: hence the themes of circularity, irrationality, fatalism, isolation, superstition, fanaticism, corruption, and violence. The judgment as to whether these traits are inherent or produced by history is a much a political as a philosophical or scientific determination. (106)
If one looks briefly at the life of Jose Arcadio Buendia, the patriarch, one can see these basic points being brought out in the rhythm of the narrative. His story begins with an apparently incestuous marriage and his erotic passions and sense of macho pride, which result in a quick violent murder. This forces him and his wife to move away into the interior. They found Macondo, as I have observed, more or less by accident.
He's a man of great energy, ambition, talent, and imaginative vision, and at first his efforts are remarkable. He wants to find knowledge and make use of it, specifically science, because that will free him from his geographic imprisonment and the town's captivity to magic.
But Jose Arcadio is incapable of sorting out magic from knowledge. He knows nothing about geography and, although he has a sextant, a compass, and maps, he gets physically lost, defeated by the nature which surrounds them. His imagination is always racing ahead of the business at hand. Thus, he is continually defeated. His desires and talents are huge; he is, however, incapable of directing them purposefully with any firm sense of the reality of his situation.
Thus, he, like so many of his descendants, eventually resigns himself: "We shall never get anywhere. . . . We'll rot our lives away here without the benefits of science" (19). His descendants all inherit the same difficulty, and thus all eventually succumb to the power of nostalgia, to opting out of their historical reality, which they have never really understood clearly. They cope with their failure by an inner withdrawal. This act of resignation, one interpreter has remarked, is the key decision, for "it condemns the Buendias to a life without science, to a state of mind, that is, which cannot make firm distinctions between objective fact and the subjective projections of desire" (Williamson 49). It also leaves him incapable of dealing with time, mired in historical immobility. Initially he becomes haunted with memories (especially of Prudencio Aguilar, the man he killed in the quarrel over his wife), and eventually he smashes his laboratory and abandons himself to his mad nostalgia (just as the Colonel later destroys the revolution for the same reason). The difficulties of his life he finally deals with by opting out of history and settling for the uncertain territory, not of history, but of nostalgic solitude, a "magic" reality in which he might as well be tied up to a tree, because he is wholly alien to anything real in the world.
This pattern is repeated over and over in the novel, especially with the men. They strive for active fulfillment as young men but become frustrated and end up withdrawing. Incapable of dealing with actual conditions effectively, they opt finally for a frustrated solitude:
Loneliness in Macondo and among the Buendias is not an accidental condition, something that could be alleviated by better communications or more friends, and it is not the metaphysical loneliness of existentialists, a stage shared by all men. It is a particular vocation, a shape of character that is inherited, certainly, but also chosen, a doom that looks inevitable but is freely endorsed. The Buendias seek out their solitude, enclose themselves in it as if it were their shroud. As a result they become yet another emblem of the unreality. . . (Wood 40)
To the extent that Ursula is the guardian of the family and the constant presence in the house, she embodies a value system that contributes to this self-perpetuation of futility. Her overwhelming concern is the honour of the family and the avoidance of incest. In spite of her concerns, however, incest is always present. Children of the family are produced, not by mutual love but through surrogates--some partner, who may be a wife or someone who is standing in for someone else (especially by Pilar Ternera).
Genuine desire is not rewarded by legitimate issue; as a rule, children are born either to undesired wives, or to women who have been used vicariously to discharge an unconfessed desire for a family relation. (Williamson 51).
The result is an extraordinarily tangled family tree that leaves the final two able to commit incest without really knowing that they are so closely related. In that sense, the final generation of Buendias indicate that they are so out of touch with their own immediate past that they don't know where they stand in relation to each other, and thus have nothing to oppose to the passionately irrational erotic desires that make them an easy prey for the destructive forces of nature (the ants) that wait always on the edges of the community and the home.
The Conclusion of the Novel
Taking this line as an interpretative possibility permits us to make some sense of the curious ending of the novel--the fated destruction of the family and the community. Here there are two particular facts I would like to comment upon.
First, the community is fated to end as soon as someone in it fully deciphers Melquiades's manuscript, when, that is, someone fully understands the history of Macondo. For a community and a family that have so committed themselves to solitude are engaged in an enterprise fated to fail and never to be repeated:
. . . for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. (422)
The town and the family are fated to die because they do not have what is required to continue. Their solitude, their commitment to withdrawal, fantasy, and subjective desires has doomed them.
But the ending is more complex than that because, in a sense, Macondo does survive in this book. It is particularly significant that one of those who takes the advice of the Catalan bookseller to leave the town before its destruction is the author himself, Gabriel Marquez, descendant of the Marquez who fought alongside Colonel Buendia. Hence, what does survive is a testimony to the life that has been lived there, a story which will remain as a guide to the construction of a better civilization.
If one of the main problems of the Buendias and Macondo was an inability to generate a realistic sense of themselves out of their own history, then this book may help to make sure such a narrative does not happen again. Just as Melquiades, a writer, helped to overcome the plague of insomnia and collective amnesia when that disease infected Macondo from the Indians, so this book, produced by a writer and magician may restore historical memory: the strike and the war will be remembered, as will be the futile fantasies of a civilization which could not incorporate those into its political and historical realities.
It may be significant that, although we learn little about Gabriel Marquez in the novel, we do know that he escapes Macondo with the complete works of Rabelais (409). The mention here of one of the supremely comic geniuses of world literature may be an important reminder of what the main function of this novel is: to celebrate the tragi-comic history of Macondo in a way that people can learn from it. For if one of the great imaginative purposes of the best comedies, like the Odyssey, is, in the words of William Faulkner's Nobel laureate speech, to celebrate the ability of human beings not only to survive but also to prevail, then the comic purposes of One Hundred Years of Solitude may well be to make sure that the full educational influences of comedy are delivered to the people.
This point has a certain resonance for me when I reflect upon the fact that one way of looking at the Buendias is to see that, although they are frequently the sources of a hugely vital and erotic sense of fantasy and fun, they are not themselves capable of laughing at themselves, learning from their mistakes, and moving on, so that their characters are educated into a new awareness of what their situation requires. When we discussed the Odyssey, we talked about how such a process of transformation is one of the major points of the epic, so that Odysseus is not the same person he was when he first departed from Troy: he has become aware of a new and transforming set of values. Such a development, one might argue, is something the Buendias cannot undergo, and their fate may well be linked to this failure of their comic imaginations.
At any rate, the self-referential quality of the ending of the novel, when it, in effect, writes its own conclusion and points to a world beyond Macondo from which the author, Marquez, is telling the story, offers a final insight that whatever life is to be lived in Latin America it is not to be the magic but ultimately self-defeating experience of the Buendias and Macondo. In that sense, "the destruction of Macondo, rather than the end of a delightful world of magical realism, points to the foreseeable end of the cultural and ideological heritage of Spain in the New World. The novel is revolutionary in a profound sense" (Incledon 52).
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