|Historical Context of Fiction
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1928, in the small town of Aracataca, Colombia. He started his career as a journalist, first publishing his short stories and novels in the mid-1950s. WhenOne Hundred Years of Solitude was published in his native Spanish in 1967, as Cien años de soledad, García Márquez achieved true international fame; he went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Still a prolific writer of fiction and journalism, García Márquez was perhaps the central figure in the so-called Latin Boom, which designates the rise in popularity of Latin-American writing in the 1960s and 1970s. One Hundred Years of Solitude is perhaps the most important, and the most widely read, text to emerge from that period. It is also a central and pioneering work in the movement that has become known as magical realism, which was characterized by the dreamlike and fantastic elements woven into the fabric of its fiction.
In part, the magic of García Márquez’s writing is a result of his rendering the world through a child’s eyes: he has said that nothing really important has happened to him since he was eight years old and that the atmosphere of his books is the atmosphere of childhood. García Márquez’s native town of Aracataca is the inspiration for much of his fiction, and readers of One Hundred Years of Solitude may recognize many parallels between the real-life history of García Márquez’s hometown and the history of the fictional town of Macondo. In both towns, foreign fruit companies brought many prosperous plantations to nearby locations at the beginning of the twentieth century. By the time of García Márquez’s birth, however, Aracataca had begun a long, slow decline into poverty and obscurity, a decline mirrored by the fall of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Even as it draws from García Márquez’s provincial experiences,One Hundred Years of Solitude also reflects political ideas that apply to Latin America as a whole. Latin America once had a thriving population of native Aztecs and Incas, but, slowly, as European explorers arrived, the native population had to adjust to the technology and capitalism that the outsiders brought with them. Similarly, Macondo begins as a very simple settlement, and money and technology become common only when people from the outside world begin to arrive. In addition to mirroring this early virginal stage of Latin America’s growth, One Hundred Years of Solitude reflects the current political status of various Latin American countries. Just as Macondo undergoes frequent changes in government, Latin American nations, too, seem unable to produce governments that are both stable and organized. The various dictatorships that come into power throughout the course of One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example, mirror dictatorships that have ruled in Nicaragua, Panama, and Cuba. García Márquez’s real-life political leanings are decidedly revolutionary, even communist: he is a friend of Fidel Castro. But his depictions of cruel dictatorships show that his communist sympathies do not extend to the cruel governments that Communism sometimes produces.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, then, is partly an attempt to render the reality of García Márquez’s own experiences in a fictional narrative. Its importance, however, can also be traced back to the way it appeals to broader spheres of experience.One Hundred Years of Solitude is an extremely ambitious novel. To a certain extent, in its sketching of the histories of civil war, plantations, and labor unrest, One Hundred Years of Solitudetells a story about Colombian history and, even more broadly, about Latin America’s struggles with colonialism and with its own emergence into modernity. García Márquez’s masterpiece, however, appeals not just to Latin American experiences, but to larger questions about human nature. It is, in the end, a novel as much about specific social and historical circumstances—disguised by fiction and fantasy—as about the possibility of love and the sadness of alienation and solitude.
Excerpt from One Hundred Years of Solitude
Directions: While reading the text, place a star next to any moment you see as a potential historical context moment. Then, when we finish, you will work in groups of two or three in order to determine and explain the historical connection between the fiction and the real history. These explanations should be clear and concise. No filler, no nonsense!
Father Nicanor tried to impress the military authorities with the miracle of levitation and had his head split open by the butt of a soldier’s rifle. The Liberal exaltation had been
extinguished into a silent terror. Aureliano, pale, mysterious, continued playing dominoes with his father-in-law. He understood that in spite of his present title of civil and military leader of the town, Don Apolinar Moscote was once more a figurehead. The decisions were made by the army captain, who each morning collected an extraordinary levy for the defense of public order. Four soldiers under his command snatched a woman who had been bitten by a mad dog from her family and killed her with their rifle butts. One Sunday, two
weeks after the occupation, Aureliano entered Gerineldo Márquez’s house and with his usual terseness asked for a mug of coffee without sugar. When the two of them were alone in the kitchen, Aureliano gave his voice an authority that had never been heard before. “Get
the boys ready,” he said. “We’re going to war.” Gerineldo Márquez did not believe him.
“With what weapons?” he asked.
“With theirs,” Aureliano replied.
Tuesday at midnight in a mad operation, twenty-one men under the age of thirty commanded by Aureliano Buendía, armed with table knives and sharpened tools, took the garrison by surprise, seized the weapons, and in the courtyard executed the captain and the four soldiers who had killed the woman.
That same night, while the sound of the firing squad could be heard,
Arcadio was named civil and military leader of the town. The married rebels barely had time to take leave of their wives, whom they left to their our devices. They left at dawn, cheered by the people who had been liberated from the terror, to join the forces of the revolutionary general Victorio Medina, who, according to the latest reports, was on
his way to Manaure. Before leaving, Aureliano brought Don Apolinar
Moscote out of a closet.
“Rest easy, father-in-law,” he told him. “The new government guarantees on its word of honor your personal safety and that of your family.” Don Apolinar Moscote had trouble
identifying that conspirator in high boots and with a rifle slung over his shoulder with the person he had played dominoes with until nine in the evening.
“This is madness, Aurelito,” he exclaimed.
“Not madness,” Aureliano said. “War. And don’t call me Aurelito any more. Now I’m Colonel Aureliano Buendía.”
When finished, on the back, ON YOUR OWN, you are to write an analytical paragraph that details how knowing history impacts how you read and write. I want a clear explanation of these key questions: What aspects of your history timeline would most impact you in writing a piece of fiction and why are these events so much a part of your identity?