|Gabriel García Márquez is considered a lyrical historian of his coastal Colombian region and of Hispanic America. This becomes quite clear with the reading of his two beautifully written novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Both novels seem to capture the real essence of Latin America and the way Latin-American people live. Both stories involve strong, close-knit families, and secluded, rural villages. Time seems to go on forever, as the characters in both novels are very much trapped in a world caught between dream and reality. Through the style and organization found in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel García Márquez explores the idea of conflicts within Latin-American families and the more general idea of blurring fantasy and reality in human experience.
The history of the author as well as Latin America is essential to the understanding of both One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Colombia in 1928. Like the banana town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude, his home was a tiny village called Aracataca, near the Caribbean coast. He seems not to have known his father and did not meet his mother until he was almost eight years old. His grandparents raised him and proved to be very influential in his life. His grandfather, who became the model for "the Colonel" in One Hundred Years of Solitude, had participated in one of Colombia's civil wars and had a strict, militaristic manner. His grandmother was one García Márquez's major literary influences. (Bell-Villada 6-7)
While García Márquez was growing up he witnessed the influence of North America on the rural area in which he lived. The United Fruit Company strike, in which hundreds of workers died at the hands of government troops, occurred the year he was born, and several years later, when he visited Macondo, a nearby banana plantation, he saw that conditions for the workers had not improved (Williams 4).
In 1940, García Márquez left Aracataca for Bogota, where he attended a Jesuit school. After graduation, he entered the field of law but found it was not for him. He then began working as a journalist in the port town of Barranquilla. While working as a reporter for El Herado, he also was reading and learning from Faulkner and other modern writers. Ramon Vinyes, a Catalan who will later appear in One Hundred Years of Solitude and who García Márquez met in Barranquilla, functioned as a literary father figure for García Márquez. (Bell-Villada 7-9)
However, it was not until the 1960's that García Márquez decided to focus on writing literature as a career. Less than twenty years later he achieved one of the most distinguished honors in literature: he won a Nobel Prize in Literature for One Hundred Years of Solitude.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the history of the founding, development, and death of a human settlement, Macondo, and of the most important family in that town. On a historical level, the town of Macondo can be seen as a representative of Colombian history, Latin American history, or even human history. As a history of each of these entities, Macondo "completes an entire cycle: birth, development, prosperity, decadence, and death". At first the town is a prehistoric and primitive society, an "idyllic world with even biblical overtones". (Williams 78) The first important change takes place when Ursula discovers the route that connects Macondo with the outside world. This could be identified as the point at which Macondo is integrated into history. With its discovery come the first merchants and they will open the first shops. Soon after Macondo receives its first institutions: the government and the church. The onset of the railroad, electricity, movies and the telephone give Macondo a face of modernity. (Bloom 78)
There is a strong sense of linear development to the history of the town of Macondo. The story starts with the founding of Macondo, through the 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: 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"(OYS 11). The story then moves on to the military struggle in the various civil wars and revolutions, then into a period of economic prosperity and spiritual decline, and finally to decadence and physical destruction. (Williams 79).
On the contrary, the repetition of experiences and personality traits within the family create a circular sense of time in the novel. One of the most obvious connections between the characters is their names. Often these characters have been set into an identity that their name, not their upbringing, dictates. Ursula, after many years, drew some conclusions about "the incessant repetition of names" within the Buendia family (OYS 106). While the eldest José Arcadia Buendia was slightly crazy, his raw maleness is transferred to all the José Aracadios that follow. They tended to be "impulsive and enterprising" though "marked with a tragic sign". On the other hand, the Aurelianos, corresponding with the open-eyed Colonel, seem to be "indifferent" and "withdrawn" yet sparked with a "fearless curiosity". (174) The Aurelianos tendency towards solitude that shut the Colonel away in his later years, would generations later, give his distant descendant Aureliano Babilonia the stamina to decipher Melquiades's scriptures (422). Even their deaths are, in a sense preordained. The José 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 that can last for decades. (Bloom 102-103)
The women also share the same characteristics of their ancestors. Amaranta Ursula inherits the boundless energy and initiative of her namesakes, in particular Ursula. In describing Amaranta Ursula's return in at the end of the novel, the text compares her directly to the great mother figure and even uses the same adjectives, "active" and "small", which had been applied to Ursula in the beginning of the novel (OYS 403). There is also a less visible link with the Remedios, all three of whom remain immature and either die young or disappear from the scene before they are fully able to develop. Girlish Meme, incidentally, is the only character in the novel who bears a nickname, the symbol of her continuous youth. In addition, there is Rebecca who shows infantile characteristics such as a prolonged thumb sucking, and the initial syllable in her own name suggests her belonging in part to the Remedios group.
Out of this sense of repetition, there exists a constant irony of "inevitable repetition of probable futile previous actions", as one of the most important images in the book makes clear (Williams 80):
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 history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetition, a turning wheel that would probable have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axel. (402)
Furthermore, 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 their own history. Their past is largely unknown to them, except as nostalgia, their present is barely active, and their future non-existent.
In addition, the novel stresses the importance of knowing one's family history in order to truly grow, which the characters cannot do. Instead of learning from the mistakes their ancestors made, almost all of the characters end up repeating them.
The men are characterized by an obsessive repetitiveness to their lives. Full of ambition and intelligence, and they are unable to realize any long-term success. They are much less grounded than the women are. The men spend much of the novel foolishly chasing dreams, while the women carefully plan their moves. Hence while José Arcadio Buendia is vainly pursuing his scientific and technological explorations, it becomes Ursula's mission to expand the family home and to bring in income by launching and supervising the animal-candies business. In the same way, Aureliano Segundo's monumental dissipation would be impossible without the enterprise of his mistress Petra; and once Santa Sofia de la Piedad, the last of the old reliable Buendia women, simply leaves, the house falls rapidly into disrepair. Amaranta Ursula on her return from Belguim brings temporary renovations, but the ensuing affair with her nephew leads the two down the path of total irresponsibility, and they all but yield the old mansion to the vegetation and the ants.
The women, too tend to fall into types. The common sense and determination of the Ursulas, particularly of the stern will of the founding woman, play off against the enduring figures outside the family: Pilar Ternera and Petra Cotes. The women, for the most part, are firmly anchored in daily reality, 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.
One consistently used technique contributing to the effect of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality is an absolute coolness or understatement when describing the incredible situations, and overstatement or exaggeration when dealing with the commonplace. This. In the ice episode in the first chapter, for example, the narrator's language shares the characters' exaggerated reaction to Melquiades's new object. At first José Arcadio Buendia calls it "the largest diamond in the world" (OYS 26). The narrator uses the language that is similar to José Arcadio's a few lines later: "His heart filled with fear and jubilation at the contact with mystery," (26) He has children live this "prodigious experience" in the words of the narrator. By the end of the episode the narrator has used the words "mysterious" and "prodigious" to describe what would seem to the reader the most common of everyday experiences, touching ice. (26) The narrator, like the characters, regularly expresses his astonishment over the commonplace.
In contrast, the narrator regularly reacts to the most marvelous and fantastic things with absolute passivity. In the same first chapter José Arcadio and his children experience the disappearance of a man who becomes invisible after drinking a special potion (22). Neither the narrator nor the characters pay particular attention to this incredible occurrence.
There are only rare exceptions to the narrator's basic position of third-person omniscience. The entire issue of the narrator undergoes a radical change at the end of the novel when it is revealed that in reality the narrator of the entire story was Masquerades. The magician of Macondo has also been the creator of magic for the reader. Suddenly, the reader comes to the realization that the narrator is not outside the story but within. This discovery underscores the story's basic functionality, another fact which might have been momentarily forgotten by the reader, absorbed in this history of Colombia and saga of Western civilization.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the investigation into the murder of a local Arab who supposedly dishonors another family in town. The organization of the novel is not as much chronological as by subject. The first chapter concentrates on Santiago's final ninety minutes of life; the second, on Bayardo and on the wedding night; the third, after some legal matters, on the Vicario brothers; the fourth, following the autopsy and a report concerning the fate of the respective families, on Angela's late-budding love; and at last, the fifth, after an account of the townspeople's reactions, on the tense few minutes of pursuit and murder.
There is an overwhelming sense of time in this story. There are really three time spans in the novel. The murder itself lasts about ninety minutes, which is described in full, gruesome detail at the end of the novel. The events leading up to the murder span about twelve hours, and are described in separate parts by the many different people who are in some way involved with the murder. And finally, the narrator is investigating the murder twenty-seven years after it took place, but uses many quotes from the different characters he has questioned about the murder. Because he is narrating in the present tense, the book has a very realistic quality.
The premise of the novel may seem strange to suburban North Americans. A man is murdered for supposedly having taking the virginity of a woman before she got married. This is a huge dishonor to the groom, and the family of the bride now will have to suffer the embarrassment. (Upholding family honor is not nearly as strict in this suburban community.) The two brothers of the bride serve the punishment to the alleged wrongdoer, Santiago Nasar, instead of some kind of authority. Moreover, a member of the community investigates the murder, rather than an actual detective. And all of the people interviewed never went to the police with information concerning the murder. All of this demonstrates their lack of faith, or complete indifference of authority.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold illustrates the strong role of family in one's life. One of the main events in the novel is the wedding of Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman. The parents of the bride set up the marriage. This is a rather outdated procedure, but in rural Colombia, this is accurate. Similarly, when Angela's brothers learn of Angela's dishonor, they take it upon themselves to kill Santiago Nasar. They commit murder for the sake of their sister. It is extremely important to uphold the honor of one's family, and this is something that is consistent with Latin-American families.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold also blurs the line between fantasy and reality. References to García Márquez's real family members in the novel tie the novel into the real world. The mention of Mercedes and her marriage to García Márquez contributes to this effect. Also, the novel reads like a newspaper due in part to García Márquez's background as a journalist, and the skillful way he forces the reader to carefully select among the numerous details, just as a person reading a newspaper would. (Bloom 71)
Both One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold depict Latin America in the same way. Both works tell of close families and even closer communities. Within each family there is a strong core of honor. An example of this in One Hundred Years of Solitude is when Ursula pushes her way through the prison guards in order to visit her son, Colonel Buendia, and sneak him a pistol. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold this sense of honor manifests itself in the form of murder; that is what the Vicario brothers are willing to do for their sister and also for the purpose of maintaining the dignity of their family. Also, both stories lack a central authority. In One Hundred Years of Solitude the main political figure, Moscote, serves as a political ornament rather than enforcing any kind of regulation. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold there certainly is a lack of authority, as that idea is set up from the very beginning. The narrator is investigating a murder with which the police never even involved themselves. Furthermore, the narrator himself is doing the investigation, rather than a detective.
Elements of García Márquez's life are incorporated in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The character of Aureliano Babilonia is most notable for its autobiographical elements. García Márquez likes to recall how, when he was taking on the writing of the final chapters of his novel, he felt so sure of what he was doing that he decided to really enjoy himself and bring his own favorite people into Macondo. Hence the wise Catalonian who gives old books to Aureliano and leaves behind a roomful of manuscripts on his departure is Ramon Vinyes, the scholarly Catalonian bookseller who introduced young García Márquez to the European moderns. Aureliano Babilonia's four pals have the first names of Gabo's three drinking buddies in Barranquilla ("Gabriel" being the fourth), his best friends for life. (Bloom 135-136) The economic and political takeover of Macondo by the banana firm, the strike by the field workers, and the military repression and massacre are all closely based on actual events and specific details of the 1900-1928 period. From modest Colombian holdings the United Fruit Company of Boston would soon grow into a virtual "state-within-a-state" zone stretching from coastal Santa Marta down to Aracataca. (Bell-Villada 104)
Similarly, aspects of Latin America are incorporated in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The coastal region where García Márquez spent his youth is a fitting setting for this magical reality. A mixture of African and Hispanic cultures, with aspects of all centuries from the Middle Ages to present, this region is viewed even by Colombians as a distinct and exotic part of the nation. It is still common for males in this region, for example, to support several women and father thirty or forty children (Bell-Villada 20). This fact makes the sexual prowess of Colonel Aureliano Buendia of One Hundred Years of Solitude sound less fantastic. The medieval sense of honor that is a central motif in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is commonplace in much of Latin America: García Márquez based the novel on an actual honor murder story that was published in a Colombian newspaper (Williams 7).
Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold both stand as representatives for Latin-American people and humans in general. The two communities in both novels are self-serving, and each person takes on a different role in the community. They are both affected by modernization and the remnants of Spanish colonization. Without a real sense of time and a strong sense of tradition, the two communities seem to have originated along with vegetation, and little has changed in that wide time span.