We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Saturday, 14 August 2010

One Hundred Years of Solitude Part 1

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the most famous example of magical realism in literature. Garcia Marquez manages to blur the lines between fantasy and reality – making the fantastical appear to be nothing but the truth.

Garcia Marquez was born in Colombia in 1928. He had a very exciting life as a journalist, which just helped to make him a better writer. His works include Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Strange Pilgrims. In 1982 Garcia Marquez received the Nobel Prize for Literature, which just shows how talented an author he is. Garcia Marquez first started publishing his stories and novels in the 1950s. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez does what many writers such as Eugenides and even Salinger are seen doing – writing what he knows. Macondo is loosely based on the town where Garcia Marquez grew up – Aracataca.

One Hundred Years of Solitude was written in 1967. The copy which I am reading is the Penguin Modern Classics edition, which was published in 2000 and has 422 pages. Since there is so much imagery in One Hundred Years of Solitude, we have to pay a lot of attention so that nothing that Garcia Marquez wants us to see is missed. Whilst reading the book I will be using the guide on Sparknotes to ensure that I’m seeing all that I should be seeing. I started reading this book last year when I did Modern Fiction, but found that I was lost so this time I will be taking more care whilst reading this masterpiece.

Magical realism is often based on folklore, and this is the case with One Hundred Years of Solitude. However, in this novel we find that the discourse changes in the opening chapters – it becomes more modern, moving away from folklore and folk wisdom. Magical realism is thus a way to cope with local beliefs and happenings.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez looks at a key period in history and we see periodic representations. Úrsula makes it clear that history repeats itself – we see the same characters coming back again and again – hence the use of very few names – we also see that this determines character.

“We’ll call him Jose Arcadio,” he said. Fernanda del Carpio, the beautiful woman he had married the year before, agreed. Ursula on the other hand, could not conceal a vague feeling of doubt. Throughout the long history of the family the insistent repetition of names had made her draw some conclusions that seemed to be certain. While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the Jose Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign.”
Pp 186-7

This novel is an attempt to show history through the story of a small village – showing patterns that show history is not in a careful line, but establishes itself in patterns.

This novel shows the working out of a terrible sin – that begins with incest – interbreeding of closely related people – resulting in the establishment of the same genetic patterns. Incest comes back again and again in this novel. Ancient taboo is broken and murder is committed. What we find in this novel is that sin cannot be escaped. You cannot escape the pattern.

In the opening chapters (1-3) we see the founding of Macondo –a wacky, wonderful town with wacky, wonderful people moving into various patterns of knowledge – mythical but trying to move to a scientific world. The novel begins with isolation, but tries to break isolation with the acknowledgment of science, politics etc.

“At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water and that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
P 1

When isolation is broken, there is a banana boom. Breaking of isolation is not good. The bananas break the isolation that Macondo found itself in, a terrible event happens in 1928 and this is related to the bananas.

One Hundred Years of Solitude falls into 3 parts –
1. Úrsula
2. Colonel Oreliano Buendia and
3. Love.

The novel is possibly narrated by Melquiades (the gypsy); this is not for certain as the narrator is both omniscient and anonymous. I suggest Melquiades as he has great insight when he is shown on the pages of this novel; and also because he keeps returning to Macondo and to the Buendias. It is a story of repetition, therefore time and writing becomes problematic. Úrsula is a key character – she is another way of knowing – the one stable thing. We see a universe that moves from a masculine way of knowing, putting yourself in the history. Úrsula represents an older, more mythical and inclusive way of knowing.

Before writing One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez sat with a story he did not know how to tell. He finds Kafka and his grandmother’s stories and sees that they are similar. Telling a story in such a way that it does not sound preposterous, he can tell anything. Realism - with every day events fused with supernatural events presented as being real. Magical realism has a very old and respectable background in literature, once the magical and surreal has been introduced, it is accepted as real.

Magical realism was coined in the 1920s and makes a comeback in the 1960s mostly in South America, most notably during the ‘boom’ of South American Literature. The world in which Garcia Marquez moves is not one of the exclusivity of Freudian indulgences. He is more concerned in a world of stories and magic. Magical realism gives a concrete and literal aspect to reality; being portrayed by the characters, time, space etc. against a magical background. Emerging from a world of strange knowledge into a world where sense has to be made more scientifically. Repressing the memory of folk wisdom, we make the primitive, the super sensuous apprehendable, so we can see and interpret it in a concrete way so that group and collective mythology comes to the fore.

Looking at reality as in the first four chapters in the book, there is a way of knowing we can call scientific – much like 20th century moving to a more objective world; revealing therefore that there is another world and another way of living ---> fiction. A world made up and predicted by Melquiades. But we know that fiction is fiction is fiction, but it is also a way of knowing the world and understanding where we are. The gypsies coming to Macondo to bring instruments that introduce science to the residents of Macondo and Jose Arcadio Buendia who yearns to know more rejects the primitive way that he has been living and embraces these instruments that Melquiades brings.

“In March the gypsies returned. This time they brought a telescope and a magnifying glass the size of a drum, which they exhibited as the latest discovery of the Jews of Amsterdam. They placed a gypsy woman at one end of the village and set up the telescope at the entrance to the tent. For the price of five reales, people could look into the telescope and see the gypsy woman an arm’s length away. “Science has eliminated distance,” Melquiades proclaimed.” P 2-3


In the end we discover that there is also a way of knowing through the novel. Part of our rationality is what we question in the world. For Garcia Marquez, finding magical realism is in part what he is doing. The growth of rationalism is part of the experience of the outside world. He tries to see how these processes work in communities that have other things to draw on. Often he draws on a collective experience.

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