One Hundred Years of Solitude can be read as an allegory of Colombian history, with the book’s one-hundred-year span standing in for hundreds of years of the nation’s past. Many of the novel’s events—such as the Buendía family arriving in Macondo and establishing a town, the military conflict between the Liberal and Conservative parties, the expansion of the railway to connect colonial settlements, and the hegemony of the American Fruit Company over Colombian produce—echo the most critical developments of the Colombian nation. While at first, Márquez seems to be depicting a civilization in ascendance (a growing town with new technologies and possibilities), the town reverses its course, falling into disrepair caused by the repetitive destruction of civil wars and the stagnation of local innovation. Therefore, the novel suggests that civilization’s progress is a futile illusion.
Even in its infancy, Macondo does not seem to have great promise. When José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguaran leave their home of Riohacha, Colombia, to seek a better life for themselves, José Arcadio Buendía dreams of a city of mirrors, suggesting a city with no content of its own that instead reflects everything around it. While their hope had been to live in a secluded place free of the outside authority of others, Macondo’s new residents struggle with their desire to be free from outside influence, while also wanting the conveniences of modern life, which are only attainable through interaction with outsiders. José Arcadio Buendía is the best example of this tension, as he threatens to leave Macondo—the city he himself established—to move to a place with greater access to new modern inventions. However, José Arcadio Buendía’s interest in technology does not mean that he’s able to bring innovation to Macondo. When new technology is introduced to Macondo by the gypsies and others, it advances the town’s way of life, but it fails to spark people to innovate successfully on their own. Macondo seems to embody the hall of mirrors of its founding vision: it doesn’t create anything of its own, and therefore it can’t influence the outside world or even sustain itself without the ideas of others.
As the novel progresses, Macondo makes peace with itself as a city that is not wholly separate from the rest of society, and its measured embrace of outside influence allows it to thrive for a time: new residents come, new amenities become normal, and the economy begins to boom as industry arrives. However, these developments always come at a cost. For example, when the Colombian government sends a magistrate to govern Macondo, José Arcadio Buendía compromises with him to retain some of the independence that Macondo is accustomed to. Nonetheless, the introduction of outside politics brings strife to their peaceful town as political parties cleave the town and lead to decades of fruitless civil war. Furthermore, the introduction of the railroad brings with it the arrival of “gringos” who seek ways to profit from the land, including Mr. Herbert who sees bananas as a new investment opportunity, something the people of Macondo didn’t realize they could export to grow their economy. While the arrival of the American fruit company grows the town and its economy, the people of Macondo see the arrival of these new people as a challenge to their way of life, as gambling, drinking and prostitution increase in the presence of the newcomers.
Worse, the people of Macondo come to rely on the work provided by the plantation, the business that the influx of new residents brings, and the imported goods that begin to flood the town. Eventually, when José Arcadio Segundo joins the workers in fighting for their rights and 3000 protestors are massacred, the people of Macondo are so dedicated to the fruit company that they refuse to believe the massacre actually occurred. When the weather turns bad and the American fruit company evacuates Macondo, the workers leave, the imported goods stop coming, and there is not enough work for everyone, so the economy collapses, leading to Macondo’s rapid decline.
Though history is often depicted as constant forward progress, Márquez makes the point in this novel that many of the events of history repeat themselves or regress instead of constantly improving. The town of Macondo, by the novel’s end, has fallen into dilapidation and abandonment, and the town is eventually destroyed entirely by a hurricane, bringing it back to a state of wilderness, just as it was before the Buendía family arrived to develop the town. This shows that progress is an illusion, and that all civilizations are destined to eventually fall.
Progress and Civilization ThemeTracker
Progress and Civilization Quotes in One Hundred Years of Solitude
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
“We will not leave,” she said. “We will stay here, because we have had a son here.”
“We still have not had a death,” he said. “A person does not belong to a place until there is someone dead under the ground.”
Úrsula replied with a soft firmness:
“If I have to die for the rest of you to stay here, I will die.”
José Arcadio Buendía dreamed that night that right there a noisy city with houses having mirror walls rose up. He asked what city it was and they answered him with a name that he had never heard, that had no meaning at all, but that had a supernatural echo in his dream: Macondo.
In the meantime, Melquíades had printed on his plates everything that was printable in Macondo, and he left the daguerreotype laboratory to the fantasies of José Arcadio Buendía, who had resolved to use it to obtain scientific proof of the existence of God. Through a complicated process of superimposed exposures taken in different parts of the house, he was sure that sooner or later he would get a daguerreotype of God, if He existed, or put an end once and for all to the supposition of His existence.
On the next day, Wednesday, José Arcadio Buendía went back to the workshop. “This is a disaster,” he said. “Look at the air, listen to the buzzing of the sun, the same as yesterday and the day before. Today is Monday too.”
On a certain occasion when Father Nicanor brought a checker set to the chestnut tree and invited him to a game, José Arcadio Buendía would not accept, because according to him he could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules. Father Nicanor, who had never seen checkers played that way, could not play it again. Ever more startled at José Arcadio Buendía’s lucidity, he asked how it was possible that they had him tied to a tree. “Hoc est simplicissimus,” he replied. “Because I’m crazy.”
“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”
“What other reason could there be? Colonel Gerineldo Márquez answered. “For the great Liberal party.”
“You’re lucky because you know why,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve come to realize only just now that I’m fighting because of pride.”
“That’s bad,” Colonel Gerineldo Márquez said.
Colonel Aureliano Buendía was amused at his alarm. “Naturally,” he said. “But in any case, it’s better than not knowing why you’re fighting.” He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile:
“Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.”
They became great friends. They even came to think about the possibility of coordinating the popular elements of both parties, doing away with the influence of the military men and professional politicians, and setting up a humanitarian regime that would take the best from each doctrine.
But when they recovered from the noise of the whistles and the snorting, all the inhabitants ran out into the street and saw Aureliano Triste waving from the locomotive, and in a trance they saw the flower-bedecked train which was arriving for the first time eight months late. The innocent yellow train that was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo.
From very early in the morning he could be seen going through the town, even in the most outlying and miserable sections, trying to sell tickets with an anxiety that could only be conceivable in a dying man. “Here’s Divine Providence,” he hawked. “Don’t let it get away, because it only comes every hundred years.”
At first he attributed it to that the fact that Aureliano could speak about Rome as if he had lived there many years, but he soon became aware that he knew things that were not in the encyclopedias, such as the price of the items. “Everything is known,” was the only reply he received from Aureliano when he asked him where he had got that information from. Aureliano, for his part, was surprised that José Arcadio when seen from close by was so different from the image that he had formed of him when he saw him wandering through the house. He was capable of laughing, of allowing himself from time to time a feeling of nostalgia for the past of the house, and of showing concern for the state of misery present in Melquíades’ room. That drawing closer together of two solitary people of the same blood was far from friendship, but it did allow them both to bear up better under the unfathomable solitude that separated and united them at the same time.
Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane when Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.