A History of Repetitive Tragedy in 100 years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism is a blend of reality and myth that reflects upon the repetitive cycle of the changing world through the “100 Years of Solitude” of the Buendías and Macondo town. The author suggests the repetitive nature of history, through repetition of names, confusion of time (no definite order to distinguish the difference between past, present, and future), and blurring of distinctions between thoughts and actions (long, obscure sentences and paragraphing). Magical events in 100 Years of Solitude are representative of Gabriel’s García Márquez’s reality, which are sometimes based on real facts. Each character in the Buendías family depicts similar solitude ends, which will be examined individually, along with the rising (into modernization) and falling (destructed back to nothing) of Macondo town in this essay. The author shows no mercy to the protagonists, which results their tragic ends, along with that of Macondo.

At the beginning of a hundred years of repeating history, José Arcadio Buendía, a huge man with strength and curiosity, the founder of Macondo, a village of only twenty adobe houses, is driven into disillusionment until the day he dies. José Arcadio Buendía sets off from his old town with a few friends and Úrsula, his supportive hardheaded wife; they find nothing except wilderness, until he discovers a plain piece of land where he establishes Macondo from nothing. Macondo is initially a simple town where many things have not been named. Gabriel García Márquez implies the innocence José Arcadio Buendía and the first members of the town symbolizing that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, through their lack of sense and information of the world. The only piece of information available to Macondo is that outside of the town, there is “the whole vast universe of the great swamp, which according to what the Gypsies said, has no limit”1 (p.11) The only connection Macondo has to the outside world is the Gypsies who annually bring fascinating inventions such as ice symbolizing reality, and flying carpets, symbolizing magic. Melquíades’ (the leader of the Gypsies) wisdom inspires José Arcadio Buendía to strive for knowledge, which serves as a symbolic relationship of the loss of innocence of José Arcadio Buendía and the town. José Arcadio Buendía, hungering for knowledge, tries to modernize the town. This thirsty madness results in loss of innocence for the town, and eventually forces him into solitude; lost in solitude as his descendants will be mirroring years later. “He is driven by a desire for progress and by an intense search for knowledge that forces him into solitude.”2 Completely altered from an enterprising man, who would decide on the layouts of the street and the location of new houses, José Arcadio Buendía abandons himself to his

inevitable solitude until he reaches a point of self recrimination and disillusionment. José Arcadio Buendía is accused to be loosing his mind, as he speaks in Latin language in attempts to connect to God. Towards the end of his life, José Arcadio Buendía is tied to a chestnut tree, a symbolic relationship to Jesus’ crucifixion, where he is left and forgotten until he died.

Úrsula, the only protagonist that plays an important role almost throughout the novel, serves as solicitous supporter to her husband (and later on to every Buendías lives until she dies). Despite her important roles, Úrsula is forgotten as she reaches despair at much more than 120 years of age, as she understands that lives are repeating in cycle. Úrsula has always been the backbone of the family since the very beginning of Macondo, raising generations and generations of Buendías—even the last living Buendía (Aureliano II or Aureliano Babilonia), carrying all the burdens of the house and watching the changes of Macondo. Witnessing the world and its changes over time, Úrsula as a wife, mother,






grandmother begins to abandon herself in her own world, letting go off all of the world’s trouble yet still spirited, as little by little she is forgotten by the Buendías and Macondo. It is not until when Úrsula, in the last years of her life, becomes blind, that she realizes “the information that was denied by her eyes”1 (p.266). “She was almost as diligent as when she had the whole weight of the house on her shoulders. Nevertheless, in the impenetrable solitude of decrepitude she had such clairvoyance…that for the first time she saw clearly the truths that her busy life in former times had prevented her from seeing.”1 (p.266) She observes the repeating routine of what her family has always done, with the feeling that time is passing much faster than before, after modernization has been brought in Macondo along with technology and cultural diffusion. At the very end of her life, she finally understands that the details of each Buendía are repeating over and over, with slight alters according to the situation and time, and that every Buendía seems to have similar solitary tragic ends; therefore life is a cycle of repeating history. This cycle of the Buendías suggests a similar cycle of repeating mistakes that human have always been making ever since the creation of Earth.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía, initially Aureliano, the great warrior who leads the Liberal’s rebellion into civil war against the Conservatives, similar to his father, spends his whole life in solitude, and in his last years abandons himself into ‘the vicious circle of Colonel Aureliano Buendías’ little gold fishes’1 (p.300), with lost memories and numb despair. Inheriting his father’s (José Arcadio Buendía) curious and solitary nature, Colonel Aureliano Buendía spends his early life with science literature, after the first time his father brings him to feel Melquíades’ fascinating invention—ice. Colonel Aureliano Buendía spends another part of his early life with poetry, after falling in love with Remedios Moscote. However, at the death of little Remedios, it appears as if Colonel Aureliano Buendía has forgotten his wife at once. He, as predicted, abandons himself even more into his literature world, just like his father. In favor of the accusation that Colonel Aureliano Buendía does not know how to love, it also appears as if he has no feeling for anything, after he is defeated in the war. During the civil war, however, it is the only time that Colonel Aureliano Buendía is seen to be lively and energetic. (The civil war plays an important role in 100 years of solitude, reflecting Latin American’s politics:

“torn by civil war and destroyed by imperialism” 2) He was being “more solitary than ever”1 (p.136) after the failing attempt of starting another civil war. Consequently, he isolates himself into making little gold fishes out of coin. He then spends his last years, withdrawn from the world and any memories he has of it, making little gold fish from coins (as he discovered how to during his early-life’s studies), and melting them down into coins so that he can start making little gold fishes again. This making and melting represents the repeating cycle of his solitary life, as well as that of the other Buendías (and every other human). On the last day of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, Gabriel García Márquez reveals that the reason for the colonel to appear as numb as he is is because “he had learned to think coldly so that inescapable memories would not touch any feeling.”1(p.286) Human’s realistic nature, tending to runaway from torments by trying to escape our true feelings, is reflected at this point. Colonel Aureliano Buendía dies peacefully under the chestnut tree after trying to remember the past, but “could no longer find the memory” (p.287), as a result of years of escaping from reality which causes his forever abandonment.

As for the there is a tragic destiny for all the Buendías, Rebeca (Úrsula’s adopted daughter) who dies after years self incarceration, and Amaranta (Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s sister) who dies a virgin, prove more solitary ends in the family. However, Rebeca and Amaranta deal with memories differently from Colonel Aureliano Buendía or José Arcadio Buendía. Being responsible for the suicide of Pietro Crespi, the man who both Rebeca and Amaranta love, the two peers abandon themselves out colorful world they used to have, by trapping themselves into inescapable memories. Rebeca withdraws from her old lives and the Buendías by locking herself in her house for decades and decades until she is forgotten by the town. Rebeca spends isolation, trapped in the memories of Pietro Crespi and what she remembers about the world, with fear and despair. For the at least half of her life, she has completely no connection to the world outside of her house door. (Note that Gabriel García Márquez creates a maid character to serve Rebeca to support her to live in the days of isolationism, to satisfy real needs of human.) It is not known actually how and when Rebeca dies, but at least 50 years later when the 17 Aurelianos (illegitimate sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendía) come to visit Macondo that is undergoing modernization and plan to renovate Rebeca’s house, they find her sitting on the same wooden chair she sat on the day she withdraws from her relationship to the outside world. Rebeca rejects any acknowledgements of the changing Macondo, and even deny her own existence in the world.

Amaranta burns her hand and wraps it with the black bandage (black suggests darkness, which suggests a negative feeling), which she wears until the day she dies, in the

remorseful memories she has for Pietro Crespi and hatred she used to have for her orphan sister, Rebeca. Tormenting several men by her indifference, Amaranta did not look upon any man as a result of being trapped with her old memories. The bandage symbolizes Amaranta’s solitary virginity, which she carries until her death. “Amaranta seemed to carry the cross of ashes of virginity on her forehead. In reality she carried it on her hand in the black bandage….and not with any hope of defeating solitude in that way, but, quite the contrary, in order to nurture it.”1 (p.277-278) Withdrawn Macondo Aureliano from (during and the the José changing times of


Segundo), Amaranta spends the last four years of her life weaving and unweaving Rebeca’s and her shrouds in preparation to Rebeca’s and her death (being the only one who still remember the existence of her half sister). During her isolation,

Amaranta slowly realizes the tragic end cycle of her family, as her mother Úrsula does years before. Hence, Amaranta detaches herself from all her burdens, and devotes herself into quietly

watching others while weaving the shrouds, “not out of hatred or out of love but because of the measureless understanding of solitude”1 (p. 300). Both Rebeca and Amaranta shut themselves up, either literally or figuratively, with the inescapable memories of love, ignoring the changing world, until the very last day of their lives.

The twin brothers, José Acadio Segundo, and Aureliano Srgundo introduce modernization to Macondo with the railway, causing the town to be cultural diffused with people from different places. However, after the rain, Macondo reaches downfall again, as both José Arcadio and Aureliano Segundo faces their versions of tragic end and are buried in switched grave. Macondo is caught between modernization and pre-industrialization, at the time when the twin grandsons of José Arcadio (Colonel Aureliano Buendías brother), the son of Arcadio and Santa Sofia de la Piedad, build the railway connecting Macondo with the outside world. (Note that repetition of names is used again and again, suggesting the repeating cycle of the Buendías)

José Arcadio Buendía is tall and skinny and has a solitary air, as if his name was Aureliano (In the Buendías family, all the Aurelianos in 100 Years of Solitude shares this characteristic). Whereas, the one named Aureliano Segundo is a huge man with impulsive and hedonistic air (similarly to his father, grandfather, or great-grandfather: the Arcadios), as if his name is his twin brother’s. Gabriel García Márquez plays with the switching roles and names, in order to emphasize the repetitive characteristics of two types of men that exist in the Buendías. However, with either names (Aureliano or Arcadio), it is certain that they all share the same tragic end. As a young man, José Arcadio Buendía, after witnessing the execution, devotes himself to studying old parchments in Melquíades’ room. With his goal being completely altered, he then becomes contradictorily detached from the industrialization that he bought to Macondo, similar to all the Aurelianos of the past. José Arcadio Buendía would, from time to time, visit the numb Colonel Aureliano Buendía silently, as “they were armored by the same impermeability of affection”1 (p.282)

It was not until José Arcadio Segundo is threatened by the cruelness of the Banana Company that he interact with the world once again, and leads the protest against the company for the people (similarly to Colonel Aureliano Buendía who leads the Liberal rebellion). The Banana Company’s modernization of Macondo and how it treats its workers (pitilessly as if they were only

machines), reflects how the competing world changes people, robbing them of their innocence and mercy, and forcing people to turn to greed in order to survive. But with the tragic cycle that is set, the protest fails and results a devastating massacre of more than 3,000 workers, with José Arcadio Segundo being the only survivor. (The massacre in 100 years of solitude resembles the massacre in real life that the author’s home town in Latin America witnessed). Denying the fact that no one in Macondo remembers that the massacre ever happened, José Arcadio Segundo locks himself up in Melquíades’ room until the day he dies, with his haunting memories of 3,000 lives thrown in the river like dead fish. No one ever believes him about the existence of the massacre, except the little Aureliano (II) or Aureliano Babilonia, the illegitimate nephew, who shares the same solitary air of all the Aurelianos and José Arcadio Segundo. There is a definite distinct of Aureliano Segundo from his twin brother. As if his name is switched with that of José Arcadio Segundo, the huge and energetic Aureliano enjoys his middle age life hosting parties after successes from his animal raffle business with his concubine, Petra Cotes. Aureliano Segundo, being overwhelmed with wealth, celebrates the perfect life he thought he had. However, he forgets about his daughter Renata Remedios (Meme), who is spoiled and raised by receiving only money but not love nor time, which dies after giving birth to her illegitimate child, Aureliano (II). It was not until four years, eleven months and two days of rain after the massacre that destroys Aureliano Segundo’s farm business and marked the beginning of Macondo’s downfall back to simplicity, that he regrets his busy past and understands true happiness. Aureliano Segundo truly understands how to love only when he understands that all the things washed away with his wealth is only a barrier that sets him away from happiness. Gabriel

García expresses

Márquez his

again negative

attitude towards modernity, with Aureliano Segundo’s

enlightenment turning back from the destabilizing

prosperity to a simple and innocent life that his

ancestors used to have. The rain symbolizes the washing away of the corrupt busy world, bringing Macondo, in a repetitive cycle, back to the way it used to be. Together with Petra Cotes, the old Aureliano reset a little animal farm business, working day and night for his determined goal to send his second daughter, Amaranta Úrsula to study abroad, which he accomplishes before he dies. On the very last moment of his life Aureliano Segundo still lives a simple life, isolated from others except from his concubine. The solitary José Arcadio Segundo passed away in Melquíades room at the very same moment. Indeed, in their funeral, José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo, who introduce modernity to Macondo and also witness its declination within their lives time, are buried in each other’s graves, as if they were destined to have been switched at birth.

Being ignored by the family, the illegitimate child, Aureliano (II), who does not know his real name (Aureliano Babilonia) nor his origin until the his last minute, spends all his life trying to figure out the meaning of the parchment in Melquíades’ room until the Macondo’s destruction at its 100th anniversary. Growing up in solitude, Aureliano who

has never seen the world outside of the Buendía’s house, witness the death of each family member, until he is the only one left in the house with at least 70 rooms. Fearing the outside world, Aureliano spends his years trapped in futile interpretations of Melquíades’ parchment “bewildered anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever in that exasperated silence and that fearful solitude”1 (p.30) Aureliano does not experience true companionship until Amaranta Úrsula (who once again illustrates the repetition of name), an energetic and spirited woman just like her great-great-grandmother Úrsula, who Aureliano did not know by then that she is his aunt, comes back from Europe. Amaranta Úrsula, who represents a typical woman who is in to superficial possessions and depends on update European fashion, comes back to Macondo with a dream to revitalize the town, returning it to how it was before the rain. (Note that Gabriel García Márquez once again criticizes modernization, now for its introduction to extravagant fashion updates, causing female to dream fantastically.) However, by the time Aureliano falls in love with Amaranta Úrsula, it became clear to everyone that Macondo is irreparable. By the time when Amaranta Úrsula becomes pregnant with her nephew, they are the only two left after any other habitants that could prove their existence in the world, fled from the destructed Macondo. The lovers, “secluded by solitude and love and by the solitude of love”1 (p.434) lived in an “empty universe where the only everyday and eternal reality was love” 1 (p.437), alone in the

aging town that was “forgotten even by the birds”1 (p.434). Bonded by the same solitude they share, “the uncertainty of the future made them turn their hearts toward the past” ๅ (p.439), that “even the most recent and trivial happenings seemed worthy of nostalgia”ๅ (p.432) As for the tragic end that is set for all the Buendías, Aureliano (II) severely depressed by the death of his wife after giving birth to Aureliano (III), a child with a pigtail who is forgotten by his father and eaten up by ants shortly after he was born, abandons himself into reading Melquíades’ parchment once again. It is apparent to the last living Buendía that Macondo’s existence is turning back to its nonexistent origin, when Aureliano Babilonia, finally deciphers Melquíades’ Sanskrit parchment on the 100th

anniversary of the town. “It was the history of the family, written by

Melquíades, down to the most trivial details, one hundred years ahead of time”ๅ (p.446),as if the parchment is 100 Years of Solitude it self. There he finds the smallest details of every single Buendía and their tragic end 100 years before his time, from that of the very first one who is tied to a tree, of the great warrior who ends his life making and melting goldfishes, of the one who understands the repeating history of her family, of the one who dies a virgin carrying a

cross ash of black bandage, or even of the one reading the parchment named Aureliano Babilonia who is labeled an illegitimate child and the nephew of the one who dies giving birth to the last one that is being eaten by the ants. And by the time when Aureliano will finish the last page of the parchment where he find will find the prophecy marking his end with the destruction of the town, he will be remembering for the last time of his life, that “Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust” 1 (p.447), as it is at the very beginning of the 100 years of repeating history.

The world is a mixture of magic and reality, where we the characters takes the miracle of our existence for granted, putting ourselves into the never-ending cycle of mundane lives, where death is the only terminal. For this, the value of life depends on how each interprets it.

Bibliography: 1- García Márquez, Gabriel. 100 Years of Solitude (English Translation). Argentina: Editorial Sudamericanos, 1970. 2 – Miller, Margaret and Perry, Josh. SparkNote on One Hundred Years of Solitude. 20 May. 2007 <http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/solitude/>. (List of Characters, Summary)

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