Characterization, Symbolism, and Repetition in One Hundred Years of Solitude
The names of characters often suggest something about their personalities, either straightforwardly or ironically. Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Prudencio Aguilar is neither "prudent" nor "eagle-like" (aguila means "eagle" in Spanish). Repetition of names and behaviors is another technique of characterization. Certain character types, e.g., the contemplative, stubborn man, or the impetuous, forceful man, the patient and nurturing woman, and so on, are represented by more than one individual in the several generations of the Buendia family. All the Jose Arcadios, for example, are assumed to have at least some of the traits of the original Jose Arcadio Buendia (impetuous and forceful), and all the Aurelianos have something in common with Colonel Aureliano Buendia (tendency toward solitude and contemplation). The repetitions are not exact, but the use of similar names is one way to suggest more about a character than is actually said. There are also repetitions of particular behaviors, for example, secluding oneself in a room for experiments or study.
Some characters have characteristic signs to identify them. Examples include Pilar Ternera's laugh, Colonel Aureliano Buendia's solitary look, Aureliano Segundo's extravagance, Fernanda's continual muttering, and so on.
Physical descriptions are used sparingly, letting the reader fill in the details beyond such generalities as "skinny" or "fat," "beautiful," "huge." An exception is made for Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who seems to be drawn from an especially clear mental image of the author's, as though copied from a photograph.
Some of the more spectacular individuals are characterized by the effects they have on others. The founder, Jose Arcadio Buendia, is obeyed unquestioningly by his companions; his son Colonel Aureliano Buendia inspires respect and fear; Amaranta deliberately manipulates men's lust; Remedios the beautiful creates paroxysms of erotic passion.
Occasionally, a character can be identified by a characteristic type of speech. Jose Arcadio Buendia (the founder) is given to harsh, short, judgmental declarations: "The world is round, like an orange!" Ursula speaks sternly, also in short sentences. Fernanda del Carpio goes on at great length, in a vocabulary reminiscent of the sixteenth century (Spain's "Century of Gold" in literature), especially in her magnificent, one-sentence, three-page monologue. Jose Arcadio Segundo speaks very simply and directly. Unfortunately, some of these subtleties (particularly the antiquated vocabulary of Fernanda) are almost impossible to convey in translation, although Gregory Rabassa has made a noble effort.
Even this brief treatment, which leaves out numerous subplots involving dozens of characters, gives some idea of the enormous complexity and scope of the novel. As discussed in chapter II, on Garcia Marquez's life and career, it...