Historical Themes of Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
Garcia Marquez has said that "One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a history of Latin America, it is a metaphor for Latin America" (Dreifus 1983:1974). The historical themes include conquest and colonization, settlement and scientific discovery, civil wars, foreign economic intervention, technological change, and finally the decay and disappearance of a long-established way of life.
The original Spanish conquest is alluded to when, in the first chapter, Jose Arcadio Buendia finds an old suit of armor and the remains of a galleon, mysteriously stranded several kilometers from the sea. The early Spanish colonization and the devastating pirate raids of the English sailor, Sir Francis Drake, are referred to in the second chapter. Subsequently, no more is made of this theme.
Pioneer settlement is the real beginning of the story of Macondo. It is at first "a village of twenty houses of mud and canestalks on the bank of a diaphanous river. . . . The world was so new, many things did not have names, and to mention them one had to point with a finger." (71) Just so: when the real pioneer families made their first crude homes in the forests of the Americas, they found many things-plants, animals, minerals - they had never seen before and for which they had no names. That was one reason Europeans referred to the western hemisphere lands as the New World. Typical of such villages, which were established on the banks of rivers in all the Spanish territories, Macondo is governed by its founder, Jose Arcadio Buendia, as a kind of village chief; Ursula, his wife, cultivates a little plot of land and the men, apparently, also hunt for food (although hunting is n...
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...very rapidly. In real history, this is the period of the world-wide economic depression that began in 1929 and lasted a decade, until the beginning of World War II.
Then, in the last chapter, when the last Aureliano finally leaves the house that has been his prison, we seem to be in a new kind of Macondo. There are more people around, including several who are quite unlike any we've met before and seem unrelated to the old families of Macondo. What sort of town is this that has an eccentric Catalan dealer in rare books frequented by a group of eager young writers? The town also has a drugstore, which we have never heard about before, attended by an Egyptian-eyed girl named Mercedes. It also has some new and extravagant brothels.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.