In this lecture I would like to start with an initial question and then suggest some possible directions one might like to explore in answering it. We can all agree, I think, that this novel is amazingly rich, so I don't propose anything like a last word. However, by examining some patterns in the novel, we can perhaps help to shape some potentially illuminating observations.
SoI propose to deal with the novel in the following stages:
First, I want to consider One Hundred Years of Solitude as an epic, in the traditional sense of the word, and from that consideration to frame an interpretative question.
Second, I propose to look at the complex effects this novel creates: a wonderfully comic sense combined with an overall tragic irony underlying the remarkablyenergetic and entertaining inventiveness in the plot and the characters.
Thirdly, by way of accounting, at least in part, for these complex effects, I wish to look at two particular aspects: the double sense of time in the novel and the style of magical realism.
Finally, putting all these elements together, I shall address the question posed at the start. I would like to suggest that this novel does,in fact, have something very insightful and important to reveal about the social and political realities of the world it depicts and that this theme may be difficult for North Americans fully to recognize.
One Hundred Years of Solitude as an Epic
It seems clear to me that, in any conventional sense of the literary term, we are dealing here with an epic work: a long narrative fiction with ahuge scope which holds up for our inspection a particular cultural moment in the history of a people. The novel is the history of the founding, development, and death of a human settlement, Macondo, and of the most important family in that town, the Buendias. In following the historical narrative of these two elements we are confronted, as we are in any great epic, with a picture of how at aparticular moment in human civilization a unique group of people has organized its life (just as we are confronted with the same issue, for example, in the other great epic we have studied, The Odyssey).
Like many other epics, this novel has connections with a particular people's historical reality, in this case the development of the Latin American country of Colombia since its independence from Spainin the early nineteenth century (1810 to 1825). The seemingly endless civil war portrayed in the novel one can see as directly based on the civil wars in Columbia from 1885 to 1902, and the character of Colonel Aureliano has many affinities with General Rafael Uribe Uribe, under whom the grandfather of the author fought. Uribe's struggles ended in 1902 with the Treaty of Neerlandia, an event inthe novel. The years 1900 to 1928 saw the take over of Colombia by the united Fruit Company of Boston. The ensuing labour trouble culminated on October 7, 1928, in a mass strike of 32,000 workers. The government later sent out the troops to fight the workers, and a massacre took place in Cienaga on December 5, 1928. In addition of course, and most importantly for an understanding of the novel, isthe presence in it of the author's family and of the author himself. This point, as I shall argue later, is a key point in understanding what the political point of this epic might be.
I mention this history, not because I think one needs to know the historical facts in order to appreciate the novel, but simply to point out that One Hundred Years of Solitude, like so many other great epics, likeMoby Dick, The Song of Roland, and War and Peace, takes its origin in the history, real or imagined, of a particular people.
Given this epic quality of the novel, the initial question I would like to pose is this: What qualities of life does this novel celebrate? What is the nature of the social-political vision held up here for our inspection? How are we intended to judge the people and the...