Progress and Innocence in One Hundred Year of Solitude
One Hundred Year of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez projects itself among the most famous and ambitious works in the history of literature. Epic in scope, Marquez weaves autobiography, allegory and historical allusion to create a surprisingly coherent story line about his forebears, his descendants and ours.
It has been said that there are only about 18 or so themes that describe the human condition. This quote was made in reference to Shakespeare, and posited that all of the books and movies that we digest and assimilate can be shown to have their roots in these canonical themes. In Cien Anos, Marquez addresses several of these themes in the subtle and interlocking ways that they deserve. This paper will concentrate on two interrelated themes: progress and innocence. In its exploration of these concerns, this novel provides no less than a rendering of the trajectory of human evolution.
Loss of innocence is a time-worn theme in the literature of every culture. It traditionally takes the form of some type of epiphany visited upon an unsophisticated character as she grows up and encounters the larger world. The focus of this theme is normally personal, in the point of view of an individual, or the omnipotent third person account of the reaction of an individual. While this aspect can be found in the novel, it additionally explores the loss of innocence of a family, people or race, called estirpe in the original edition.
In the Western sensibility, the march of progress is normally deemed positive and inevitable. In recent Western history, from the Middle Ages forward, successive improvements in the spread of knowledge, dissemination of culture, and the average life span are examples that we all think of as the overriding effect of progress. In non-Western cultures, the progress that we embrace has been questioned for centuries. Even from our own cultural perspective of the last half of the 20th Century, we have cast a different light on some artifacts of our progress such as the long-term effect of the imposition of the United Fruit Company in the region described in the book or the encounter between Francisco Pizarro and the Inca emperor Athualpa in the Andean highlands.
Cien Anos capped the ascendance of Latin American literature known as the "Boom". And for a generation of readers—and authors, magical realism in Latin American literature, pioneered by Borges, was drawn most accurately by Marquez. The first sentence of the book, which describes the Colonel's memory about discovering ice, is the most obvious and often cited trope for magical realism. The extended life span of several characters, the ascent of Remedios the Beauty and the wondrous objects brought by the gypsies are less often cited as vivid magical realism examples.
The magic, however, does undergo some transformation over the course of the novel. It is in this metamorphosis that the juxtaposition...