Comparing the Train in The South and One Hundred Years of Solitude

Comparing the Train in The South and One Hundred Years of Solitude

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   In One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and "The South" by Jorge Luis Borges, many similar devices are used by the authors. Their presentations and their uses are sometimes similar and at times dissimilar. There is one device that is used by both authors that is one of the most prominent devices in both works--the train. The presentation and use of the train in both texts is different, but in both it is a method of transportation and an evil entity that is an active symbol of change.

            Juan Dahlmann, the protagonist in Borges' "The South", cuts his forehead on the edge of a recently painted door and is poisoned. He is taken to a sanitarium where he makes a gradual recovery. After his release, Dahlmann takes a train to his ranch in the South for further recuperation.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the train is brought in by Aureliano Triste, a son of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, when his ice business outgrows the local market. With the coming of the train, Macondo becomes verily linked to the outside world.

            The train in "The South" is presented as a sleek, mystical, and evil entity. Before Dahlmann leaves for his ranch, he visits a café where there is a black cat, sleeping. It is almost as if it is lying in waiting for something. The cat is described as "the magical animal"(1). Immediately following is a description of the train, which is described as being lying waiting. A connection between the mystical animal and the mechanical train has been established. The train has become a mystical beast. It begins to move when Dahlmann gets on, it stops to let him off, it takes him where it feels. The beast decides Dahlmann's fate. Cats are often seen as beasts of evil omen. The linking of cat and train brings an evil aspect to the train.

            In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the train is presented as concrete and real, but terrifying and with a malevolent, living connection: the snake. There is no mystical imagery and sleekness surrounding it. Instead, it's plain and simple, just "the flower-bedecked train."(2) The first Macondian to see it describes it as "something frightful, like a kitchen dragging a village behind it."(3) The train has "a whistle with a fearful echo and a loud, panting toom-toom"(4) The train is very much like a snake, a symbol of evil.

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The train slithers along the ground, covered in flowers, lying in wait. The train is colored yellow, a reptilian color.

            The train in "The South" is used as a method of conveyance. On one level, there is physical movement between two distinct locations. Juan Dahlmann is taken from his native Buenos Aires to a little town in the south of Argentina. The translocation strips everything bare, leaving Dahlmann naked in a vast, virtually empty area. There is a passing from a busy, dense, crowded city through a country that is populated by buildings, people, trees, crops, and animals to an infinite place where there is almost nothing. "The elemental earth was not perturbed either by settlements or other signs of humanity."(5) The station where Dahlmann gets off is little more than "a siding and a shed."(6) The town that Dahlmann arrives in seems dead, the general store seems lazy. Dahlmann becomes exposed to everything.

            On another level, a transport in time can be seen. Dahlmann describes the South as "a more"(7) Since Dahlmann is being taken to the South, he is being moved back in time. The earth is described as "elemental"(8) It has not been disturbed yet, it is at its beginning. When Dahlmann enters the general store in the small town that he is let off in he sees an old man, a cowboy or gaucho, described as existing "outside of time"(9) The narrator writes "that gauchos like this no longer existed outside the South."(10) A feeling of time travel is brought about through these statements. It is also written that "this almost instinctive act [the picking up of the dagger] bound him to fight."(11) This action expresses the idea that Dahlmann has become, in a way, his maternal grandfather, who was killed by Indians. Dahlmann is presumably killed by the Chinese-looking farmhand. Dahlmann seems to be, in a way, reliving part of the life of one of his ancestors. There is a strange feeling that Dahlmann could be his ancestor, and this helps to reinforce the idea that the train has brought Dahlmann through time into the past.

            On yet another level, the train takes Dahlmann from reality to dream. Reality for Dahlmann is Buenos Aires. As he is moved further out of it by the train, one begins to see images that suggest that where Dahlmann actually is not reality, but a dream or a hallucination. Some of these images include the shining metal bowls on the train, the resemblance of one of the men in the general store to one of the male nurses of the sanitarium, and the linking of the knife to the needle that was given to Dahlmann at the sanitarium. The mixture of the sanitarium and the South present a dream-like aspect, suggesting that the train has taken him into a dream.

Change is brought about by the train. Dahlmann's position is changed physically. There is a change from present to past, reality to dream. There is a loss of control with the exposure and the living of the past. Everything around Dahlmann has been removed and he is now exposed and in the open, allowing for sinister things to encroach upon him. As he has become his ancestor in a way, his fate becomes sealed. He can't maneuver out of what he has been cast into.

            The train in One Hundred Years of Solitude is also used a method of transportation. Instead of moving characters out, everything that is outside of Macondo is brought into it. Macondo, before the train arrived, was still relatively isolated even though the failed river boat project linked it to the outside world for a brief instant. Once the train arrives, whole cultures start to appear in Macondo. French matrons arrive, Americans materialize, everybody seems to appear. It is not only people that are transported in, but inventions and mechanical wonders too. Light bulbs, moving pictures, and cylinder phonographs all arrive for the first time.

The train and everything that it brings transfigures the town. The Street of the Turks "overflowed on Saturday nights with the crowds of adventurers who bumped into each other among gambling tables, shooting-galleries"(12), "during the first few days it was impossible to walk through the streets because of the furniture and trunks, and the noise of the carpentry of those who were building their houses"(13), and "the old inhabitants had a hard time recognizing their own town."(14)

The banana company is brought to Macondo. The company plunges Macondo downwards. Local functionaries are replaced by dictatorial foreigners, the town is segregated, the workers are poorly treated, people are murdered. There is a loss of control--like with Dahlmann going into South. When the workers attempt to take back some control, they are slaughtered and Macondo is left to rot in the perpetual rain, eventually to be whisked off the face of the earth. The train has brought the downfall of Macondo and the Buendías, like train in "The South" brings about Dahlmann's death.

            In both texts the train is presented differently, sleek and mystical in "The South" compared with physical and monstrous in One Hundred Years of Solitude, yet there are similarities in their presentations: both are shown as living creatures and malignant. The train transports people in different ways, but effects achieved are the same--the loss of control and a movement downwards. Dahlmann is transported out into nothingness and then takes a downwards plunge, all totally out of his control, while the Buendías have everything and everybody transported to their town, resulting in chaos and their own destruction. It can be seen that indeed that both are evil entities that actively symbolize change.



1. Jorge Luis Borges, "The South" Anthony Kerrigan, translator. In Borges A Reader, Emir Rodriguez Monegal and Alastair Reid, editors. (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981), 254.

2. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gregory Rabassa, translator. (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), 228.

3. Ibid., 227.

4. Ibid., 229.

5. Jorge Luis Borges, "The South" Anthony Kerrigan, translator. In Borges A Reader, Emir Rodriguez Monegal and Alastair Reid, editors. (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981), 255.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., 254.

8. Ibid., 255.

9. Ibid., 256.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Gabriel García Márquez, 100 Years of Solitude. Gregory Rabassa, translator. (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), 233-4.

13. Ibid., 234.

14. Ibid.


Borges, Jorge Luis. "The South." Translated by Anthony Kerrigan. In Borges A Reader, edited by Emir Rodruiguez Monegal and Alastair Reid. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981.

García Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Translated by Gregory Rabassa. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.

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