One Hundred Years of Solitude | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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One Hundred Years of Solitude | Context

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Colombia

By the mid-16th century the region that is now Colombia—Gabriel García Márquez's native land—had been colonized by Spain, and indigenous populations had begun to be devastated by disease and enslavement in the mining and agriculture industries. As a result, Colombia entered the African slave trade to increase its labor force. The Roman Catholic Church played a pivotal role in representing the Spanish crown and providing social services in the region during this time period.

Colombia struggled violently toward independence from Spain in the early 1800s, finally accomplishing its goal when Simón Bolívar (Venezuelan military leader, 1783–1830) led the Republic of Colombia to its final victory. (At that time, Colombia consisted of present-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador; the countries would later separate.)

Colombia was plagued by civil wars in the years that followed, leading to the development of two political parties: the Conservatives, who favored land owners and the Catholic Church, and the Liberals, who favored workers. The country was riven with instability by factional fighting between the two parties and by continued civil war in the country, leading to the War of a Thousand Days in 1899, in which approximately 60,000 to 130,000 people died, and La Violencia in 1946, during which approximately 200,000 people died often cruel deaths between 1946 and 1964.

In 1930 Liberal Enrique Olaya Herrera was elected president, in part a backlash against the Conservative Party that had used military force, likely with the banana company's knowledge, against labor unions in the banana industry. The book's banana company is based on United Fruit, now known as Chiquita, which made money by partnering with corrupt governments and exploiting workers in Latin America. The economy of Colombia had long depended on plantation agriculture, which included the cultivation and export of coffee, bananas, and plantains. By the late 1920s, coffee and bananas accounted for nearly 75% of the country's agricultural exports. Industrialization did not begin in Colombia until the 1930s, following the Great Depression. In 1953 Conservative general Gustavo Rojas Pinilla was installed as a dictator, ending La Violencia. Following Pinilla's exit in 1957, Conservatives and Liberals agreed to share the presidency for the next 16 years.

Politics and Place

While working as a journalist in Bogota, García Márquez was influenced by the Lost Generation—the generation that reached adulthood during and immediately following World War I, a period of global instability during which many men died. The work of the American expatriates living and writing in Paris made García Márquez realize "their literature had a relationship with life" that his writing lacked. On April 9, 1948, Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, an extreme leftist leader, was assassinated. In response to his death the people of Bogota, including García Márquez, rioted. The events of that day, which led to a decade of civil unrest, helped García Márquez understand "the kind of country [he] was living in, and how little [his "intellectual"] short stories had to do with any of that."

After the publication of his first novel, Leaf Storm, Gabriel García Márquez realized his work failed to address Colombia's "political" reality and attempts to merge "literature and politics." Originally, One Hundred Years of Solitude, formerly titled "The House," featured strictly life inside the Buendía home. His concept eventually expanded to Macondo, a village that deteriorates as it's exposed to outside forces. This circular destruction is foreshadowed by Cataure and Visitación. The Indian prince and princess, who fled their hometown's insomnia plague that destroys memory, work as servants for the Buendías. The siblings, who have lost their land and social position and strive to save their memory and identity, represent once-thriving inhabitants, such as the South American Indians, and, eventually, the Buendías.

Parallels between Macondo and Aracataca—the bloody history of civil wars and Spanish colonialism, the banana company and United Fruit Company's impact on the town—appear, yet the fictional town represents a greater experience, featuring "the private lives of the people of Latin America." By writing about the deeply personal—family and town over the course of a century—García Márquez succeeded by "writ[ing] from the inside"—working against colonialism, against erasure. The intuitive and universal novel gives voice to a continent ravished by outsiders and dictatorships. In order to preserve memory, García Márquez offered a truer historical account with his literature. In his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech, the novelist insists, "The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary."

Gregory Rabassa, the Translator

Gregory Rabassa, a professor of Romance languages at Queens College in New York, read One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in Spanish in the United States, "straight through." At the time, the former code breaker for the Office of Strategic Services had completed translating Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, a work that was named the National Book Award winner for Translation in 1967. When Gabriel García Márquez asked Julio Cortázar, his friend, to recommend a translator, he answered, "Get Rabassa."

In 1969 Rabassa began translating the novel with the writer's rules in mind. One of which, the translator reports, was that the patriarch's name must always be José Arcadio Buendía, "never any truncated version." After Gabriel García Márquez read Rabassa's translation published in 1970 by Harper & Row, he named Rabassa the "best Latin American writer in the English language." Rabassa's translation served to bring One Hundred Years of Solitude to a worldwide audience.

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