Author (1928– )
Classification Magical realism
First Published Cien anos de soledad
, 1967 (English translation, 1970)
Locale Macondo, a mythical town in an unnamed Latin American country
Time of Plot From the 1820’s to the 1920’s
MELQUIADES, an old gypsy, a stand-in for the author
JOSE ARCADIO BUENDIA, the family patriarch who is fascinated by inventions
URSULA IGUARAN, his wife, the source of the family’s stability
JOSE ARCADIO, their Gargantuan older son who marries Rebeca
REBECA, their adopted daughter who eats dirt and whitewash
COLONEL AURELIANO BUENDIA, their younger son, a famous Liberal revolutionary
AMARANTA, their daughter, a hardened spinster
PIETRO CRESPI, an Italian music master who dies for love of Amaranta
PILAR TERNERA, a part-time family servant who tells fortunes in cards
ARCADIO, her illegitimate son by Jose Arcadio, adopted by the Buendias
SANTA SOFIA DE LA PIEDADwho marries Arcadio
REMEDIOS THE BEAUTY, their daughter who ascends to Heaven
JOSE ARCADIO SEGUNDO, their son, a frequenter of cockfights and a labor leader
AURELIANO SEGUNDO, his Dionysian twin who marries Fernanda del Carpio
FERNANDA DEL CARPIO, the scion of an old upland family, a prude and snob
RENATA REMEDIOS (MEME), their older daughter who is shut away in a convent
JOSE ARCADIO, their son, a homosexual supposedly training for the priesthood
AMARANTA URSULA, their younger daughter who studies in Brussels
GASTON, her Flemish husband who is led on a silk leash
AURELIANO, Meme’s illegitimate, scholarly son by Mauricio Babilonia
AURELIANO, Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula’s son, born with a pig’s tail
One Hundred Years of Solitude
chronicles the rise and decline of Macondo, a mythical Latin American town, and of its leading family, the Buendias. Located in a country resembling the author’s native Colombia, Macondo, by symbolic extension, suggests not only Colombia but also Latin America generally, much as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County is a microcosm of the Deep South. The novel covers roughly the first century of South American independence and appears to be a judgment on this historic period, an era marred by violence, exploitation, stagnation, and disillusion. Just as six generations of Buendias eventually bring forth a child with a pig’s tail, so García Márquez seems to see a pig’s tail as the end product of Latin America’s first one hundred years of independence.
The problems of independence have their roots, to some extent, in the "era of the first pig’s tail," the colonial period. For the Buendias, the roots reach all the way back to the sixteenth century, when "the pirate" Sir Francis Drake raids Riohacha, causing Ursula Iguaran’s great-great-grandmother, frightened by the English with "their ferocious attack dogs" and "red-hot irons," to sit on a hot stove. To escape the English pirates, the Iguarans migrate from the seacoast to a peaceful Indian village in the foothills, where they intermarry with the Buendias for three centuries. Such inbreeding produces the first pig-tailed boy, near the end of the colonial period, from the union of Ursula Iguaran’s aunt and Jose Arcadio Buendia’s uncle.
Married first cousins, Ursula Iguaran and Jose Arcadio Buendia are afraid of breeding another pig-tailed child or, even worse, iguanas. In the long run, their fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy, like the great-great-grandmother’s shameful branding, but they hold off the fate for six generations with another migration.
The migration comes about because Ursula Iguaran wears a chastity belt for the first eighteen months of marriage and, taunted by an angry cock-fighting opponent for his rumored impotency, Jose Arcadio Buendia kills the man. To escape the man’s ghost and make a fresh start, Jose Arcadio Buendia leads a hardy band of young pioneers across the mountains. After wandering aimlessly for more than two years, the band settles in the middle of a rather allegorical swamp when Jose Arcadio Buendia has an equally allegorical dream of a city built of mirrors.
On such auspicious foundations rises Macondo. At first only an isolated village, Macondo is happy and prosperous, especially proud that it has no need for a graveyard. From the first, however, Macondo is plagued by gypsies who come bearing gifts, some the products of the new science and others the remnants of old superstitions and frivolities. This hodgepodge forms the village’s learning, yet, except for old Melquiades, the gypsies are not so much teachers as hucksters intent on gulling the ignorant villagers. Indeed, the gypsies are precursors of the latter-day Anglo pirates, the American banana entrepreneurs who appear later in the century, transform Macondo society, and then leave it stagnant.
Even without rapacious outsiders, Macondo eventually creates plenty of trouble for itself. The second generation of Macondo Buendia includes a Liberal colonel who starts thirty-two revolutions and loses them all; the third generation produces a petty town dictator who rules Macondo by decree and firing squad; and in the fourth generation, a Buendia labor leader succeeds only in getting his followers murdered en masse. After this massacre in a town that once bragged about not needing a graveyard, the banana company leaves, and Macondo slips into a sleepy decadence. The businesses close, houses fall, and young people depart.
At the Buendia mansion, the weeds and termites are encroaching while the fifth Buendia generation, returned from abroad, entertains itself with homosexuality and incest. The sixth generation, a reclusive scholar deciphering Melquiades’ writings, is also involved in the latter entertainment, thereby producing the lucky seventh generation, a pig-tailed boy appropriately named after his father. When the mother dies, the father goes off to soak himself in a whorehouse, and the unattended baby is eaten by an army of red ants: it is time for Macondo to call it quits. A whirlwind rises and wipes the town off the face of the earth, just as the sobered scholar deciphers Melquiades’ prediction of the end.