Sunday, March 25, 2007

Disintegration of Macondo

After Colonel Aureliano Buendia dies, all of Macondo and the entire Buendia family begin spiraling downwards. The collapse of the family parallels the disintegration of the town, illustrating the link that exists between the household and the social and political surroundings. We basically see that there is only so long that a family can remain intact and stable within such a chaotic environment.

This once utopic community has been completely undermined by greedy foreign imperialists, the exact individuals and ideals that Colonel Aureliano Buendia had fought against for so very many years. These ruthless imperialists are responsible for Macondo’s most devastating event yet: the brutal massacre of the banana plantation workers. What is most fascinating regarding these events is how Jose Arcadio Segundo locks himself away in Melquiade’s room full of books, so he can forever preserve the wretched memory of this massacre in solitude. Like we discussed in class, the cruel authorities would strategically remove any evidence linked to these massacres, even if that meant permanently silencing witnesses and victims’ families. This makes the preservation of that memory even more important, because it is a struggle against government, imperialism and time.

The heavy rains that struck Macondo for nearly five years following the deadly massacre reveal the constant presence of nature and the effects of natural disaster. What is curious is that these rains lasted exactly 4 years, 11 months and 2 days, which is one of the only examples of ‘exact’ time in the entire novel. This destruction caused by nature surely has some biblical reference to it as well, where God flood the land in order to remove the evils that plagued it. This happened when Noah was sent with his arc to gather two of every animal and ultimately bring about a complete rebirth of civilization. Perhaps this flooding represents an opportunity to rebuild Macondo and continue the cycle over again, or perhaps it reveals something less optimistic, like that everything ends in chaos and destruction, essentially in anarchy.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

civil war?

A fight for conservative or liberal ideals? Citizens’ rights, wealth or land ownership? For years this convoluted war, between ‘rebeldes’ and ‘militares’, has raged violently around Macondo, and still no side has emerged victorious. Colonel Aureliano Buendia persists relentlessly with his rebel troops, unsure of what exactly he is fighting for. He has been fighting for so long, that he does not remember why he started in the first place. He simply continues out of habit and pride.

Marquez illustrates the suffering caused by war through the number of lives lost, the collapse of Macondo, the dismantling of the Buendia family and the psychological pain Colonel Aureliano Buendia endures. With failed peace talks, complex political issues, land disputes and brutal executions, all that is missing in Marquez’s description of war is foreign involvement and drug trafficking, then, all of a sudden the Macondian world would be transformed into modern day Columbia.

For decades, an equally complex civil war, with leftist rebels pitted against violent paramilitaries and foreign backed rightwing government forces, has ravaged throughout Colombia. The armed leftist rebel groups, such as FARC and ELN, rely heavily on lucrative drug trafficking and kidnapping operations, which have largely replaced their original political and ideological motivations. Powerful drug cartels and wealthy landowners finance heavily armed and ruthless paramilitary groups to counteract the rebel armies. And finally, US backed rightwing Colombian military forces invade FARC territory, cleverly disguised as a war on drugs executing the notorious ‘Plan Columbia’, when actual motivations can be linked to seizing control of mineral resources and untapped oil reserves.

There is no doubt that the devastation caused by civil war in Colombia is portrayed by the similar events in Marquez’s Macondo. However, what is most interesting, is the fact that Cien Anos de Soledad was not published until 1967, which is two years after the establishment of ELN, one year after the establishment of FARC, and nearly 10 years since the end of another bloody civil war where between 250 000 and 300 000 Colombians died. The cyclic nature of war is revealed in Marquez’s novel, where the intensity of the war continually rises and falls, consuming the lives of thousands of young men and women. Even today, 40 years later, the cycle of war continues in Colombia.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Macondian Family

Marquez brilliantly creates a picture where every action and every event is strongly contrasted. We see sadness and tragedy pitted against success, laughter and joy, death and mourning compared to birth and celebration. Marquez does not simply detail everything that occurs, he animates these events and makes them come to life. Dreadful and upsetting moments are exaggerated with elaborate descriptions and even transformed into disgustingly hilarious performances. For instance Melquiades virtually disintegrates with old age, he forgets his teeth, cannot be understood by anyone, rambles on about ‘the good old days’, and begins to smell awful. This old man is rotting away right in front of the rest of the family, which unfortunately occurs even today, where elderly family members are hidden in seniors homes until they die.

Rebeca, for example, has suffered a brutal upbringing and severe loneliness, which are both warped into her fanatical habit of dirt eating, thumb sucking and vomiting. Marquez even goes as far as carefully twisting events like death such that they are comical in a sick sort of way. First, the delinquent Iguana cousin bleeds to death because his tail is savagely chopped off. Then, we witness the trivialization of Prudencia Aguilar’s murder when Jose Arcadio Buendia engages in heated sex with his wife directly after killing this man.

Marquez also portrays the irony in Aureliano’s revolting obsession over significantly younger Remedios, because after they are married, we see that this extremely young women is in fact very happy with this man and that she loves him very much. Marquez also proposes peculiar solutions to the characters’ many difficulties. For example, is Rebeca’s only cure for her maniacal habits an intensely sexual relationship with her older brother that she has never met? Or maybe having carpenters tear her parents remains out of the walls so they can be laid to rest properly will help ease her suffering? Is the only way to contain Jose Arcadio Buendia’s lunacy by tying him up to a chestnut tree in the backyard? And can Ursula only cope with this chaos around her by allowing herself to be seduced by Pietro Crespi?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is celebrated for his innovative literary style of magic realism, but he also delivers extremely dark humor and a shocking portrayal of reality in this novel. I was initially going to describe this Macondian family as dysfunctional, however there is actually a great deal of truth to these events. Convoluted sexual relationships, hateful conflicts and jealousy between sisters, a father’s decline into madness, an oblivious mother wooed by a foreigner, an adventurous and risk-taking son, the tragic loss of life and surroundings laden with social and political turmoil, are all aspects, to name a few, that are too familiar in the lives of many individuals. It is very likely that at least one of the traits presented by Marquez is present in virtually every family in our society.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

HIELO: el gran invento

José Arcadio Buendía learns quickly enough that gypsies cannot be trusted. However, if you are isolated in the middle of the Columbian Jungle like José, then no price is too high to pay to look at, touch or purchase simple artifacts from the civilized world.

Despite his awful deals with Melquíades (a goat and a sheep for two ‘gold digging’ tools, a bunch of money for a magnifying glass, etc…) José proves that he is no fool. He discovers that the earth is round in a remarkably short amount of time, using the appropriate tools, which took philosophers, astronomers and explorers centuries to learn and prove before him. He also develops and improves his small village of Macundo by turning it into one of the “aldea(s) mas ordenada y laboriosa que cualquiera de las conocidas” (19). However, not all is accomplished without some errors, primarily his short-lived interest in alchemy, which saw the family fortune melted away into a steaming cauldron of molten metals.

The first chapter of this novel reveals José Arcadio Buendía’s struggles within this primitive village. He so greatly wishes to learn and discover anything new and amazing about the world. He even expresses his extreme desire to move away from Macundo with his entire family, unfortunately, his wife does not approve. José is also incredibly fascinated with Melquíades, who is essentially José’s only link to the outside world.

José expresses his frustration and negative view regarding the backwardness of his village, and the primitive men who surround him when he exclaims: “Aqui nos hemos de pudrir en vida sin recibir los beneficios de la ciencia” (23). I found the ending of this chapter quite touching in a way, because for the first time in his life, José sees ice. Sadly he is once again ripped off by the gypsies, and pays far too much simply to touch it.