In the opening of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Soiltude, Colonel Aureliano Buendia flashes back to his hometown of Macondo, in a point in time where the world is so new that pointing at things was more effective than naming them, since most thing in this world did not yet have names. March comes along, and with it a family of ragged gypsies displaying their new inventions. The first time Buendia saw them, the gypsies had brought along a magnet. Its magnetism attracted objects such as pots and pans and long-lost trinkets, astounding the people of the village. The main gypsy, named Melquiades, explains the magnet’s properties through its ability to awaken the souls of the objects it calls. Buendia decides to use this invention as a way of scouting for gold, as he believes the magnet will call the gold towards him and quickly make him rich. Melquiades warns against this, saying that the magnet will not work for that, but Buendia racist attitudes shine through when he choses to ignore the gypsies because he believes them incapable of telling the truth. Despite the gypsy’s resistance, he trades a mule and two goats for two magnetized rods, which he then uses to explore the land. He comes out of the adventure exhausted and having attracted only a medieval armor with a skeleton inside. The only recognizable aspect of the skeleton is a locket containing a woman’s lock of hair.
The gypsies return again next year, and with them bring “a telescope and a magnifying glass the size of a drum.” Melquiades sells the telescope as a marvel of science, a tool that eliminates distance, adding the claim that soon enough, it will be so advanced that man will be able to see anywhere in the world without leaving his own house. They advertise the magnifying glass by burning a pile of hay. Buendia sees the burning hay and uses his wife’s, Ursula’s, reserve of money to purchase it, leaving her devastated and his family broke. In his attempt to turn the magnifying glass into a weapon, he ends up burning himself, leaving his body as only a series of sores.
A long time passed before Buendia completed his plans of using the magnifying glass as a weapon of war. He finally sends a manuscript to the government via an unfortunate messenger who nearly perishes on the way. Buendia proceeded to await the government’s answer, dreaming about how he would be in charge of training the army once his method was approved.
Buendia finally gave up, after years of receiving no answer, and complained to the gypsy. Melquiades, being a decent person, gives Buendia a full refund for the magnifying glass, along with some “Portuguese maps and several instruments of navigation,” as well as detailed notes on how to use said instruments. Buendia proceeds to “spend the long months of the rainy season” shut in a room and watching stars, forgetting everything around him to such an extreme that he “almost contracts sunstroke.” His end goal is to master the use of the navigation instruments. Having fully abandoned his family obligations, his wife and children practically break their backs working. One day, Buendia breaks out of his feverish obsession with one realization-
“The earth is round, like an orange.”
Colonel Jose Aureliano Buendia… oh, so much to say.
Let’s begin with his name.
Three characters go named in this excerpt from One Hundred Years of Solitude–Colonel Aureliano Buendia, Ursula, and Melquiades. While we only see Ursula named once (the rest of the time she is referred to as “the wife”), the same as with Melquiades (the rest of the time he is referred to as “the gypsy” and accompanied by a derogative description), we are showered with Colonel Jose Aureliano Buendia’s full name every single time he is mentioned. Which makes for a grand total of eight times in this short section. Albeit annoying to read, Marquez’s use of the name leaves no room for misinterpretation of his piece’s main character. The constant use of Buendia’s name illustrates his narcissistic personality right off the bat and cues us in on the piece being written from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, as no sane person would refer to Buendia’ full name every time he is being described. We can safely assume, therefore, that the information presented to us is in the form seen by Jose Aureliano Buendia, the only person who’d refer to himself this way. This style of presenting information opens the heavenly doors to an ultimate “show don’t tell,” as there is no better way to get to know someone than to see the world through their eyes.
Let’s explore the world through Buendia’s eyes.
Not only does Buendia view himself as superior to all others to the point where his full name should be constantly brought up, but there are hints that he sees himself as racially, if not culturally superior, as well. From the beginning of the piece, the gypsies are introduced with a clear distinction to what Buendia perceives to be a dignified man. Lines such as
A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquíades…
presents Buendia’s opening views on gypsies and this concept of the “other.” Plenty of lines sprinkled through the whole of the piece sing along to the same tune:
…the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent…
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an accent, but the point made by the focusing on such as thing in this piece is that this man is not on the same level, whether it be socially or intellectually, as Buendia. Accents imply the idea of an outsider, further distancing the imperfections and humanity of the gypsy with the perfection and ultimacy that Buendia sees himself as being.
Additional support to this includes the line
…the gypsy then gave him a convincing proof of his honesty…
as unlike Buendia, whose honesty has not been questioned in the piece, we both begin and end Buendia’s maddening adventure with the questioning of Melquiades’, the gypsy’s, honesty. This cements in the difference in status Buendia sees Melquiades as compared to himself, beautifully defining Buendia as an egotistical racist without making such interactions obvious, as they are woven in beautifully with the plot. The characterization of Buendia as a racist, or at the very least classist, feels almost as natural as breathing.
If we hate him, why do we keep on reading (other than it was assigned)?
While Buendia represents some of the worst/ most annoying traits possible in humanity, he also presents some we cannot help but seeing in ourselves. Buendia goes through a number of inventions, looking for a get rich quick scheme, to no avail. While his family works themselves to death in the earth’s fertile soil, Buendia works his body to death (a slight exaggeration; he almost works himself to contracting sunstroke) as he stares into the sky. As people, we default to spending our prime time (defined as anything from all of your twenties to the weekend where you could be studying but end up reading for fun/ Netflix-ing/ sleeping) daydreaming or procrastinating rather than doing painful work which, as a fellow human, I completely relate to. Buendia is just like us in the way that he possesses hopes and dreams for his future. Hopefully, he is not like us the fact that he’s an irresponsible and borderline abusive human being (to his own family, nevertheless), but we all relate to his sense of wanting something better, something more.
Which leads us to…
Buendia’s greed for more leads to mounds of pain placed on others, such as his unnamed children, but in the spirit of Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s narcissism and the fact that he would only care about his own personal pain, let’s go into detail about that.
After the failure of the magnetic rods, Buendia finds a suit of medieval armor with a skeleton wearing a locket with a lock of some woman’s hair inside. This could represent that relationships and meaningful interactions with people are the only thing that matter in the end, since nothing is recognizable from this person apart from his relationship with the beloved whose hair that belonged to. Funnily enough, Buendia’s greed for more alienates himself from his wife, seemingly the only potentially meaningful human interaction/relationship he has. In searching for gold, he finds the truth of what his future would be, an object I would argue is just as valuable as the metal.
To summarize Buendia’s characterization, as well as the theme throughout the complete novel of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez’s lesson on the condition of humanity is that people are horrible.
- From the way humanity was presented in this short story, do you agree with Marquez’s view on humanity? Was there a glimmer of hope for something better hidden in this piece?
- Do you view the presentation of Buendia as timeless? Will there ever be a time when people will no longer be able to recognize Buendia’s character as well-rounded? Basically, is this a timeless or dated piece? Could it ever become dated?
- What did you think of Buendia’s character? Loved him? Hated him? Pitied him? Related to him?
- Why do you think Marquez chose a magnet, telescope, and magnifying glass for this piece?
- What was your favorite relationship/interaction in this piece? Why? Did it seem like something that could take place in the real world, or could it only happen in the genre of “magical realism”?
- Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Opinions? …theories?