Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Literary Contexts


resentation of the region they depict. In that sense. regionalism and realism are one and the same. Regionalism, indeed, is the type of Latin AmerIcan novel that first interested European and AmerIcan readers. Some of these novels are nowadays considered Latin American claSSiCS. Among the most conunonly known are DOlla Barbam (1929) by R6mulo Gallegos, DOll Segundo Sombra by Ricardo GUiraldes, and Ln vortfgme (1924) by Jose Eustasio Rivera. R6mulo Gallegos wrote of the Venezuelan prairies and the local folklore, Ricardo Giliraldes described the Argentine pampas, and Jose EustaslO Rivera wrote of the South American tropIcal jWlgle. This phase in Latin American literature can be considered, as some literary critics do, a necessary step in the development of the novel and the short story. While the writers of realism and regionalism focused on plot those who came after. like Gabriel Garda Marquez, began to focus more on technique. They were concerned with the style and the methods in which they told their stories. Leaf Stoml, Garda Marquez's first no~ vella, set a precedent for this literary emphasis for future Latin American writers. ThJs emphasis has been as influential m Latin America as it had been in Europe and the United States. This literary style m Latin Amer* ica. however, was already being used by writers such as the Argentine Torge Luis Borges; the Guatemalan lvliguel Angel AsturIas. who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1967 (the same year Garda Marquez published GlIe Hundred Years of Solitude); and the Cuban Alejo Carpentier: all of whom can be read in an English translation. By the 1950s. critics were talking of the emergence of a "new Latin American noveI." as if literary movements could begin and end abruptly rather than through gradual change or evolution. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While literary critics were debating about a "new Latin American novel" conforming to a style being used by Faulkner. Hemingway, Woolf. and Kafka's translations into English. Garcia Marquez"s writings, as well as those of Borges, Asturias, and Carpentier. were also being called "modernist." The term 11loderlllsm (encompassmg modernist authors) is often used in English to refer to the work of these Latin American authors. as well as to non-Latin American writers like James Joyce. Franz Kafka, William Faulkner. and Virginia Woolf. In fact, the term modernist has been applied to all authors who broke with established rules. traditions. and conventions and were expenmental in form, style, and the use of language itself. Readers of Latin American literature who are not careful may, unknowingly, confuse modernism with the term lIIodenlismo. although. in~ deed, the two terms have totally different meanings. (They are what

linguists call false cognates: two words. in two different languages! that sound alike and whose spelling is similar but whose meanings are different.) Gabnel Garda Marquez is not a writer of the Latin Amencan move~ent called lIloderntslllo. During the 11lodernismo penod, Latin American writers were consciously working to improve the usage of language with the intention of moderruzing it. The lIIodernista writers, who wrote around the tum of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, were mostly poets and essayists. This was a period ot renovation and national pride. At that time the emphaSIS was not on the novel. but on poetry. The term was coined by Ruben Dario. a Nicaraguan poet. who was considerably influenced by the French PamaSSJans (poets who believed that art was an end in itself, not a means to an end; for theffit poetry achieved the status of religion). French Pamassianism was an influential literary movement in France in the second half of the rune~ teenth century. W'hile 11lodernismo and the modern£sta writers may have been out of center stage by the end of the 19205 in Latin America, their influence continued into the 1930s and 1940s. In Emope, meanwhile. in the early- to mid-twentieth century, 11I0de11list writers were paying particular attention to the psychology of character. that 15, the inner world of the character. As IS the case with any pIece of literature, the social and historical context in which the text IS written has an influence on it. World War I had an enormous effect on the modernist writers. The devastation of the war was reflected In much of their writings. Their fictional universe became fragmented, with disillUSIOned characters. and focused on the world of the unconscious. Hence! their affinity for! and use of, the stream~of-consciousness technique (interior monologue reflecting the thought processes). The leader of the movement, as was the case with the Latin Amencan l1lodemista movement. was also a poet: T. S. (Thomas Steams) Eliot. T. S. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948, the year when Gabriel Garcia Marquez began lus career as a Journalist. Whether or not Latin American writers such as Borges. Astunas. and Carpentier tnfluenced Garcia Marquez's writing, they dearly served <\S his models. Borges! use of cyclical time, the universe as a labYrInth. the concept of the otlier, the use of the absmd, and therole of an active reader who has to complete the story are often found In Gabnel Garda Marquez's writing. Borges, however. experimented with these literary techruques as early as 1923. Asturias and Carpentier's treatment of reality deals-like Garda Marquez's writing-with myths and an Afro-Indian folk tradition that blurs the demarcation betvveen what is real and what IS magic. as the term magic realism implies by definition. The /lllIglc, how-


Gabriel Garda Marquez

Literary Contexts


ever. should not be so emphasiZed as to diminish the book's faithful

representation of Latin American reality and culture. Magic does not
mean the pure fantasy of a fairy tale, where everything is imaginary. Lenf Storm, a book that has often been compared to the work of William Faulkner. was published in 1955. the same year the Mexican author Juan Rulfo published Pedro Ptirnmo. There are many corrunonalities betvYeen the two works in theme. language usage, and style. but whereas Garda Marquez continued to write about the theme of death, solitude. war. and the violence of rural envirorunents in many later books, Juan Rullo never published again. Rulfo's Pedro parmno. however! contributed sub5tan~ tially to the magic realism school of Latin America. In an effort, perhaps. to associate and identify the work of writers as varied as Jorge Luis Borges. Alejo Carpentier. Ualo Calvina. GUnter Grass. Franz Kafka, and Salman Rushdie, along with Garda Marquez. Cortazar. and Asturias (among many others), the label of magic realism has been applied in a rather loose way. Of all these writers. however. Garda Marquez has emerged as the quintessential name associated with magic realism and One Hundted Yeats of Solitude has been identified as the magic realism book par excellence. In magic realism, the mythical elements of oral tradition are incorporated into an otherwise realistic fiction. The social and economic prob~ lems that Garda Marquez disguises with a touch of magic realism are both past and present problems facing the individual and the COIIUnUnity. If the reader fails to see through the disguise, it is because the narrative··s emphasis is placed, not on the story, but rather on how the story is told. For instance. the countless wars that Colonel Aureliano Buendia fights and loses in One Hundred Years of Solitude represent the countless civil wars that Colombians actually fought throughout the nineteenth century. There is a similar analogy for the violence in No One Writes to ti,e Colollel. Violence was everywhere in Colombia during the

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19505. but people could not speak out against the govenunent. The dic·
tatorship of President Gustavo Rojas Pinilla was so severe that much that Colombians did was indeed clandestine. In the novel, Agustin, the old colonel's son, is killed in 1956 for distributing clandestine literature. By the time Oue Hundred Years of Solitude was published, Latin Amer~ ican novelists such as Garda Marquez had begun to enJoy worldwide recognition for their writing, in part. because of their use of magic realism, but mostly because of their commercial success. both in Spanish and in translation. These Latin American writers, induding Julio Cortazar, Carios Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa, among others. were immediately grouped together. ignoring the fact that their writing styles

were not alike. their concerns were different, and they were of different ages. They were not members of one generation nor of an orgaruzed movement or schooi. yet soon they were identified as writers of the "Latin American Boom." Although nondescriptive (other than in terms of book sales), the term. stuck among literary critics. scholars, and the public alike. American and European W1iversities began teaching courses on the Latin American Boom, and the works of this group of Latin AmerIcan writers became well known in literary circles around the world. To date. the term continues to be used with an emphasis on chronology. Those writers in Latin AmerIca who began publishing in the 1970s and 19805 are often referred to as "Post-Boom" writers. The Chilean author . Isabel Allende and the MeXican author Laura Esquivel are two such writers. both internationally known and associated with magic realism. Gabriel Garda Marquez is a writer of the tropiCS. His writings are Latin Amencan and, In particular. Colombian. His settings. which are frequently rural, resemble those found among the coastal towns of the Colombian northwest. When fully identified, the reader can identify Car~ tagena, Rfohacha! Manaure. Barranquilla, Santa Marta. Bolivar. Bogota, and Medellin. OtherwiSe. the dusty isolated towns are described merely as being along the Magdalena River or close to the Caribbean Sea. A!; if to go back to the roots of a constant political discontent, national instability, poverty, and abject solitude! Gabriel Garda Marquez first published a trilogy covering some of the most unportant moments of Colombian history (from the runeteenth century up to the 19605). These three works are Leaf Storm (1955), No One Writes to tile Colonel (1961), and III Evil Hour (1962). This trilogy establishes both thematic and technical elements that are recognizable In all of Garda Marquez's work. The trilogy also contains the seeds of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Whether readers of Garda Marquez see him as a modernist. a boom writer, or a magic realist, the literary contexts of Uus Colombian author are determined, not by the effects of World War I, as was the case for European and American modernist writers. but by the social, political, and historical events that shaped the country of his birth. His works are. indeed, universal inasmuch as they touch the lives of readers around the world through his detailed development of both character and plot. Most, if not all, readers can also identify with the solitude suffered by the individual in modem times as described by Garda Marquez. However. the solitude of Garda Marquez is the solitude of Latin America; in that sense it is object specific. as is his literature.· No reader can confuse the settings. They are trOpICal, near the Caribbean Sea or the Magdalena River, or located somewhere in rural Latin America. The impotence that


Gabriel Garda Marquez

Literary Contexts





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readers may feelm the presence of death and the discontenJ and repudiation they may experience in reaction to the arbitrariness and abuses of corrupt, petty officials are indeed universal, but Garda Marquez's literary contexts are underuably ColombIan. Garda Marquez's works are read as fiction, but his sources are factual. The absurd and mexplicable events of lus short stories and novels are ironic representations of the absurdity of life. The literary context of GarcIa Marquez can be found in the history of Colombia, his private life. and that of his parents and grandparents. Ameataca, the place where he was born, appears either as Macondo or a nameless town dose by a nver. The references to the banana boom and the aftermath of the slaughter of the banana strikers in Cienaga, the capital of the Colombian bananaproducing zone i..J;J. the 1920s, are prominent in Lenf Storm and DlIe Hundred Years of Solitude. Echoes can also be heard in No OlIe Writes to the Calonel and Love ill tITe Time of Cllolera. as well as m some of Garda Marquez's short stories. The images of power. religIon, and celebrations all seem to have an origin in the oral traditions or the social and histoncal culture ofColombta. The events in Big Mama's Funeral. for example. can be traced back to a three-day festival that takes place in Cienaga durmg the last week of january. Olle Hundred Years of Solitude and Love m the Time of ChOlera are both based, although not entirely, On what the author was told about his parents and grandparents, and particularly what his grandmother passed on to him. If Garda Marquez's works seem foreign to English-speaking readers, it is because his fiction rncludes not only a European component, but also a pre-Columbian (native Latin American Indian) and an African component. The tradition of Latin America is, of course, Spanish, but it is also Muslim and JeWIsh. The Muslim component of Garcia Marquez's works is most evident in ClIroJllde of a Death Foretold. Latin America IS a multiracial civilization, where Indians, Europeans, and AfrIcans have created a distinctly Latin American way of life rn all its forms (literature bemg one of them). By the time of independence from Spain, between 1810 and 1824, most Spartish-speakmg countnes had integrated a myriad of cultures into one. TIlis was a nationalistic experience that precipitated countless civil wars In the newly formed republics. One Hundred Years of Solitude is the novel that best plays out trus drama. However. the history of Colombia ill the penmanshlp of Garda Marquez would not be complete had he not chosen to write about Sim6n Bolivar. In The GelIernI and His LnlJynl1lh (1990) the reader witnesses the last days in the life of one of Latin America's greatest figures, who was a general. politician. and liberator. Through his military effort, Colombia

became fully ll1dependent from Spain in 1819. At that time, Colombia was made up of Venezuela (Bolivar was born in Caracas), Colombia. Panama, and Ecuador. In 1821 Venezuela ciaimed mdependence from Colombia. and a year later Ecuador did the same. By 1903, Panama, too, had separated from Colombia. The General alld His Lnbyrinth IS a somber. sad, but humarustic study of a disillUSioned figure of a man, not of a mythic lustorical hero. In the account, Sim6n Bolivar dislikes the centralized power of Bogota as much as any of the liberal characters m Garcia Marquez's fictional works. By 1903, the year he dies, the character of Bolivar can remember tw"enty years of useless wars. The wars and constant violence in Garda Marquez's works represent the fictionalized reality of many histOrIcal eVents. In the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, the protagorusts of the wars were generals, politicians, armed forces. and people at large who pledged allegiance to either the Conservative or the Liberal Parties. Both parties were fighting for a Single thing: power. TIus historical context IS deady depicted in Glle Hundred Years of Solitude. Colonel Aureliano BuendIa is a liberal who fights against the Conservative Party. The peace of Macondo. in One Hundred Years of Solitude! is altered when Apotinar Moscote and hIS family arnve in Macondo. He has been sent by the Conservative Party, the central goverrunent in Bogota.. He brings an armed police force to maintain law and order. He even wants all the houses painted blue.. one of the colors of the ColombIan flag and the color of the Conservative Party. However. the BuendIa family, the founders of the tovm, wants the houses to stay white. Ironically, disorder and chaos break out. Its repercussion IS fOlU\d in No Glle Writes to tlie Colonel. In thIs novel, on the one hand, the colonel is suffering the negligence and corruption of a bygone era, the wars of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the VIolence of the 19505 IS also portrayed when the colonel's son, Agustin, IS killed by the polIce, The year of Agustin's death, 1956, clearly refers to the violence Colombia undenvent from 1948 to 1958. The Violence began with the death of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (in 1948), a populist Liberal leader who was loved by the masses. His death, once again, caused new CIvil wars to erupt.. again U1 the pursuit of power. Irorucally, Torge Eliecer Gaitan was not killed by members of the opposrng party, but by other liberal leaders who were envious of his popularity and its populism. To end the constant bloodbaths, the hovo political parties agreed to a cease-fire and formed an alliance. This arIstocratic pact between the Conservative and Liberal Parties, known as the Frente Nacional (National Front) was instituted in 1958.


, I


Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers Second Series Julia Alvarez by Silvio Sirias Rudollo A. Anaya by Margarite Fernandez Olmos Maya Angelou by Mary Tnlle Lupton Ray Bradbury by Robin Anne ReM Louise Erdrich by Lorentt
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A Critical Companion
Ruben Pelayo

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Library of Congress


Pelayo. Rub~n. 1954Gabriel Garda Marquez. : a critical companion I Ruben Pelayo. p•.on.-{Critic:al companions to popular contemporary writers. lSSN 1082-4979) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISDN 0-313--31260-5 (alk. paper) 1. Garda Marquez, Gabriel. 1926- -Criticism and interpretation. I. Tille. II. Series PQBIBO.17.A73Z665 2001 863'.64-dc21 2001023337 British Library Cataloguing tn Publication Data 15 available. Copyright C 2001 by Rubtn Pelayo AU rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced. by any process or techrtique. without the express writien consent of the publisher. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number. 2001023337 ISBN: Q-313-3126G-S ISSN: 1082-4979 First published in 2001 Greenwood Press. BB Post Road West. Westport, An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group. Inc. wl....w.greenwood.com Printed in the United States of America

I dedicate this book both to Gerald A. Lamb,. my adoptive father~ and to the memory of my mother,

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The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National Information Standards OrganiUltion (Z39A6-1984).