One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of the Buendía family, a clan with such complicated connections and repetitive names that the family tree at the front of the book is essential for keeping everyone straight. While the exact location of the fictional town of Macondo is unclear, it is similar to Marquez's native Aracataca, Colómbia. Both the town and the family reappear in many of Marquez's works.
Ursula Iguarán's parents fled after Sir Francis Drake destroyed Riohacha, Marquez explains, and so ended up in a small town in the foothills, where the Buendías lived. When Ursula married her cousin, José Arcadio Buendía, she so feared having children with pig's tails that she refused sexual relations for a year. When Prudencio Aguilar teases José Arcadio, he retaliates by throwing a spear through his taunter. Both Ursula and José Arcadio are so torn by guilt, not to mention haunted by Prudencio Aguilar, that they leave with some friends, arriving two years later at the edge of the mountains and establishing Macondo. This background, coming at the start of the second chapter, sets up many of the foci of the text: the way time flows, the entangled family history, the dead interacting with the living, the power of sexuality. This early background also establishes the parallels between Colómbian history and the Buendía family tale that run throughout the text. Urusla and José Arcadio (I)* have three biological children. Their youngest is Amaranta, who lives her whole life an austere virgin, although she is sexually aroused when caressing both her nephew Aureliano José and her great-greatgrandnephew,
José Arcadio (III). Colonel Aureliano Buendía is a Liberal leader in the civil wars against the Conservatives. José Arcadio (II) leaves with gypsies and returns many years later as a gigantic, tattooed man. Both of these men have an affair with a much older woman, Pilar Tenera, resulting in their sons Aureliano José and Arcadio. The two young boys are brought into the Buendía house and raised by the Buendía women. Ursula and José Arcadio (I) also have an adopted child, Rebeca, who eats dirt and whitewash off the walls. An old gypsy, Melquíades, captures José Arcadio's (I) imagination with wonders such as ice and alchemy. He then disappears for awhile, returning to cure Macondo, where everyone has lost his or her memory because of an insomnia plague. Melquíades settles down to live in a little room in the Buendía household, writing a mysterious parchment that no one can understand. That parchment becomes a fascination for various members of the family over the next one hundred years. Melquíades is the first person to die in Macondo, and so he puts the town on the map of the dead. Thus, José Arcadio (I) comes into contact with many of the dead and goes mad, so his family ties him to a tree in the yard where he lives out most of the rest of his life.
Although Rebeca and Amaranta are raised as sisters, they fall into a bitter rivalry over the foppish Pietro Crespi, an Italian pianola tuner. He chooses to marry Rebeca, but fate and Amaranta's bitterness keep stepping in the way. Then, José Arcadio (II) returns, looking very manly and impressive, and he marries Rebeca, who had joined the family after he left with the gypsies. Pietro eventually begins courting Amaranta, but she rejects him and he commits suicide. Amaranta intentionally burns her hand and then wears a black bandage on it for the rest of her life as a sign of her virginity.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía, when he is young, cannot find a woman he wants to be with, until he meets the prepubescent Remedios Moscote. When she reaches puberty, they marry, and she moves in with her many dolls, having a surprisingly good influence on the family. She cares for Aureliano José, her husband's child by Pilar Tenera. She also cares for old José Arcadio (I), who is tied to a tree and speaking only in Latin. She is the means of a truce between the old Macondo families and her father, the representative of the national government. Remedios dies with pregnancy complications, and her picture becomes a central place in the house, with a light kept burning for the length of the story.
After Remedios's death, Colonel Aureliano Buendía realizes he is meant to be a Liberal leader and he goes off to lead the civil war. He leaves his nephew, Arcadio, in charge of the town, but the younger man becomes a virtual dictator. Arcadio marries the gentle Santa Sofía de le Piedad, fathering three children before he is executed by the army. Meanwhile, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, off leading the war, fathers 17 sons by various women on his travels. Those sons later come to the Buendía house to be baptized. When they go to church on Ash Wednesday, they are permanently marked, and much later they are shot down by their father's enemies right through the ash cross on their heads. Colonel Aureliano Buendía, after fighting in so many wars, realizes he was fighting for pride and he becomes a recluse in the house, making and melting down little gold fishes. The Liberals all come to be just like the Conservatives, and sometimes the government even wants to honor Colonel Aureliano Buendía for all he did.
Santa Sofía de le Piedad's three children are Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. Remedios the Beauty is of legendary beauty but is so simple that she prefers nudity and is dismayed by the men who want to see her. She is eventually carried away to heaven by the sheets. Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo are twins who in their childhood keep switching identities, to the point where Ursula is convinced that they eventually traded places. Indeed, when they die of old age at the same time, their coffins are accidentally put in each other's grave. Aureliano Segundo marries Fernanda de Caprio, a stuck up woman of good lineage from the highlands. She is very cold and formal, and Aureliano Segundo keeps a mistress,
Petra Cotes, in whose house he lives most of the time. Fernanda bears him three children, Meme, José Arcadio (III), and Amaranta Ursula. They give José Arcadio to Ursula to raise, and she is convinced he will be a Pope. He is sent off to Rome to study while Meme goes to a convent to study the clavichord. She has a rebellious heart and ends up conducting an affair with Mauricio Babilonia, a beautiful man who is preceded everywhere he goes by butterflies. While Mauricio is trying to sneak in to see Meme, Fernanda has him shot in the back. Meme stops speaking. Many years later, Mauricio dies a lonely death of old age, paralyzed, while Meme dies a lonely death of old age "with her name changed and her head shaved, and without ever having spoken a word, in a gloomy hospital in Cracow" .Fernanda is left to raise Meme's child, Aureliano. She tries to keep him hidden away, but eventually Aureliano Segundo finds him. Since this grandson is only a few years younger than their own daughter, Amaranta Ursula, they play together as children, often using the periodically senile Ursula as a plaything. Aureliano Segundo takes an interest in the two children and plays with them a good deal.
José Arcadio Segundo becomes a union leader at the banana company that moves in to the town and begins to exploit all its workers. One day, after the lawyers have managed to prove such things as "the demands lacked all validity for the simple reason that the banana company did not have, never had had, and never would have any workers in its service because they were all hired on a temporary and occasional basis" (p. 307), the union goes on strike. The authorities call all of the workers to the train station, saying that someone is arriving to resolve the issue. Instead, they begin firing on the crowd and then pile all the bodies into a long train. José Arcadio Segundo wakes up on the darkened train, surrounded by dead people, and manages to jump off, only to
find upon his return that the authorities have managed to cover up the slaughter of over 3,000 people. José Arcadio Segundo is broken by this, and he goes into Melquíades's study to try to read the old gypsies parchments. When the army searches the house, they cannot see him in the room. Occasionally, Melquíades's ghost comes to visit José Arcadio Segundo, who otherwise becomes a hermit until his grand-nephew, Aureliano, begins also come to the study. When José
Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo die, and his playmate Amaranta Ursula goes off to school in Brussels, Aureliano closes himself up in the room, trying to read the parchments that no one has yet been able to decipher.
After Ursula and Amaranta die, Santa Sofía de le Piedad leaves forever. The only Buendías left in the house are Fernanda and Aureliano, who does not even know how he is connected to this family whose name he carries. Fernanda has long been engaged in writing letters to doctors far away, detailing the ailments she suffers. The letters do no good because she uses euphemisms to refer to everything. She is also involved with a fictitious correspondence with both of her children, Amaranta Ursula and José Arcadio (III). She lies to them about how things are going in Macondo, and they lie to her about what they are doing with their lives. When she finally dies, the reclusive Aureliano preserves her body for four months until José Arcadio (III) arrives. Greedy and shallow, José Arcadio (III) continues to restrict Auerliano to his room while he laments the lack of the fabulous inheritance that Fernanda had pretended existed. Only shortly before his murder at the hands of four children he befriended does José Arcadio (III) find hidden gold and make friends with Aureliano.
After José Arcadio's (III) death, Auerliano begins to leave the house more, making a group of close friends. He is sorely out of touch with what passes for reality: he believes José Arcadio Segundo's tale that 3,000 people died, rather than the official reports; he only knows what he has read in Melquíades's parchments; and he does not even know his connection to his family. His friends help him to begin to join the outside world, and he meets Pilar Tenera, who is now well past 145 years old. She gives him much the same affection that she has given so many other Buendías, but eventually she dies. Amaranta Ursula returns with her husband Gaston, awakening a passion in Aureliano. As neither one of them know their blood relationship, they become lovers. When Gaston leaves for an extended trip, they lose themselves in their passion, forgetting to
maintain the house or his friendships. She dies giving birth to their son, Aureliano, who finally has the long expected pig's tail.
Aureliano is stunned to realize how alone he has become again. As he watches ants carry off his son, he suddenly understands Melquíades's parchments, which many others failed to comprehend because it was not yet the appropriate time. He runs off to the study, and as the wind pulls the Buendía house down around him, he reads the story of his whole family that Melquíades predicted. Melquíades did not write linearly, but rather "had concentrated a century of daily
episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant" . As Aureliano skips forward to read about the last of his family's being destroyed once he finishes reading the parchment, the reader realizes that he has been reading Melquíades's manuscript.