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One Hundred Years of Solitude: Linear and Circular Time
Cien Anos de Soledad Style in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is closely linked to myth. Marquez chooses magic realism over the literal, thereby placing the novel's emphasis on the surreal. To complement this style, time in One Hundred Years of Solitude is also mythical, simultaneously incorporating circular and linear structure (McMurray 76).
Most novels are structured linearly. Events occur chronologically, and one can map the novel's exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. One Hundred Years of Solitude is also linear in its broad outlines (Bell-Villida 98). The plot of the novel is simple: Jose Arcadio Buendia marries his cousin Ursula, they found Macondo, the family grows, declines, and is eventually blown off the face of the earth by a hurricane. There is a beginning, and time moves the story to a total, apocalyptic conclusion (117).
Within this linear background, the structure of One Hundred Years of Solitude is circular (McMurray 77). Events throughout the entire novel repeat themselves in cycles. The names Aureliano and Jose Arcadio are repeated in each generation, resulting in a total of five Jose Arcadios and 22 Aurelianos. The men's personalities also seem to be repeated; the Jose Arcadios are "impulsive and enterprising," and the Aurelianos are "lucid and withdrawn" (77). The cyclical rhythm is reinforced by six instances of incest that occur over five of the family's six generations.
One of the most striking instances of cyclical structure is found in the novel's opening line: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice" (Garcia Marquez 1). Two generations later, chapter eleven opens the same way: "Years later on his death bed, Aureliano Segundo would remember the rainy afternoon in June when he went into the bedroom to meet his first son" (186). These two sentences are grammatically parallel . They open with an adverbial phrase ("Years later"), followed by the subject and then the predicate in exactly the same verb tense. The sentences begin with an event in the distant future and conclude with an allusion to a future event that, in both cases, occurs within the same chapter. As critic Barroa notes, "the words 'many years later' appear so often they become the heartbeat of the novel" (104).
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The reader is not the only one who notices these cycles. The characters themselves also realize the tendency of events to repeat themselves . When Jose Arcadio Segundo builds a canal, Ursula says, "It's as if time had turned around and we were back at the beginning" (Garcia Marquez 199). Later, when Aureliano Triste decides to bring the railroad to Macondo, Ursula "confirmed her impression that time was going in a circle" (226).
These cycles serve as a means of "mythical rebirth" for the Buendías (Fuentes 62). Critic George McMurray notes that the Buendias are a condemned race (77). Jose Arcadio and Ursula's incestuous marriage becomes original sin and makes the clan's extinction inevitable. The Buendias can only postpone their demise by initiating another cycle. At the end of the novel, the possibility of another cycle is gone, and the family is doomed. Aureliano, the last of the Buendias, wanders "aimlessly through the town, searching for an entrance that went back to the past"(Garcia Marquez 418).
Pilar Ternera, the mistress of one of Macondo's brothels, uses a metaphor to explain time in the Buendía family: "A century of playing cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle" (402). The wheel becomes the novel's temporal mechanism, with the axle representing linear time and the turning of the wheel representing cyclical time (McMurray 84). Linear time finally wears down, making the possibility for "mythical renewal"-- another cycle-- impossible. At this point, the machine time stops, and Macondo no longer exists.