How might one argue that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a realistic novel, despite its fantastic and magical elements?
One Hundred Years of Solitude shares many formal elements with traditional realist novels. García Márquez’s novel does not shy away from depictions of violence and sex; it is concerned with, and directly addresses, complex political and social issues. The overall tone of the novel is matter-of-fact, with events portrayed bluntly, as if they actually occurred.
Even those elements in One Hundred Years of Solitude that seem “magical” or fantastic are representations of García Márquez’s reality. García Márquez’s novel describes the unique reality of a Latin America caught between modernity and pre-industrialism, torn by civil war, and ravaged by imperialism. In this environment, what might otherwise seem incredible begins to seem commonplace both to the novelist and to his readers. García Márquez’s hometown witnessed a massacre much like the massacre of the workers in Macondo. In García Márquez’s Latin America, real life, in its horror and beauty, begins to seem like a fantasy at once horrible and beautiful, and García Márquez’s novel is an attempt to recreate and to capture that sense of real life. This is also a novel that grants myth—both biblical and indigenous Latin American—the same level of credibility as fact. It is sensitive to the magic that superstition and religion infuse into the world. One Hundred Years of Solitude, then, is a realistic novel in the sense that it asserts a unity between the surreal and the real: it asserts that magic is as real—as relevant, as present and as powerful—as what we normally take to be reality.
What is the attitude of One Hundred Years of Solitude toward modernity? What is its attitude toward tradition?
Modern technology and culture, along with the capitalism associated with them, often destabilize Macondo: the arrival of the train reduces the town to chaos, and the banana company is one of the few true forces of evil in the novel. Tradition in One Hundred Years of Solitude is a source of comfort and wisdom and a source of the novel’s formal inspiration, as well: One Hundred Years of Solitude owes a great deal to the indigenous Latin American folkloric and mythological traditions. But the division between tradition and modernity is not quite so simple. For instance, the moral codes adopted by the novel’s most respected characters are not traditional codes but are, instead, far more progressive. Aureliano Segundo, for instance, is rewarded for his extra-marital affair with Petra Cotes. Traditional Catholicism is seen as repressive, while the novel’s own version of modern moral codes prevails.
The famous critic Harold Bloom calls One Hundred Years of Solitude “The Bible of Macondo.” To what extent is this true? To what extent does One Hundred Years of Solitude pattern itself after—or diverge from—the Bible?
First of all, certain elements of One Hundred Years of Solitude’s plot are extremely similar to that of the Bible. The novel opens with two characters in an uncivilized area of the world, a world so new that many things still have no names. The characters, like Adam and Eve, establish a progeny that both populates the world and experiences the world’s gradual departure from a state of pristine beauty devoid of pain or death. When the heinous massacre occurs, in which three thousand people are killed, it rains for five years, cleansing the Earth in water in much the same way that the biblical flood in the time of Noah did. Finally, the book ends with an irreversible, apocalyptic destruction.
But beyond elements of the plot, stylistic qualities of the novel make the book function in a way similar to the Bible. Not only has the entire course of events been prophesied by Melquíades, but at the end of the book, the distinction between Melquíades’ prophesy and the actual text, One Hundred Years of Solitude which we are reading, is blurred. It is possible, then, that the novel is itself, like the Bible, a book of prophesy. But the prophesies do not necessarily function for the residents of Macondo as the Bible does for those who read it. If the book is indeed identical with Melquíades’ prophesies, because the prophesies are written in Sanskrit, those who inhabit Macondo cannot turn to them for guidance or information about the future. While the Bible has a long tradition of exegesis and interpretation, One Hundred Years of Solitude is available only to Aureliano, who finally deciphers it, and to us, the readers. As a result, when compared to the prophesies of the Bible, the novel’s prophesies are silent and inaccessible to those who could most use them.