Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, characters cannot break free of their family’s behavioral patterns: instead, they find themselves trapped within fates that echo their family history. Characters are haunted by the decisions they’ve made, but also by the decisions their ancestors have made, even becoming confused by the difference between past, present, and future. As a result, Márquez reveals the bulk of his characters to be fatalists, or people who believe that their fates have been predetermined and are thus resigned to whatever happens. By presenting the story as a predetermined narrative, set in stone, and impossible to revise no matter a person’s determination, Márquez suggests that fatalist progression of history is impossible to overcome.
One of the clearest ways that Márquez illustrates the circularity of time and the impossibility of overcoming the past is through the repetition of family names, which reflect (or determine) the characters’ personalities. Úrsula notes that the Aurelianos of the family are silent and withdrawn, often possessing the gift of a second sight; the José Arcadios, however, are generally stronger and more boisterous, often marked with a tragic fate. These qualities are predictable to the point of her becoming convinced that Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo, twins, must have switched identities when they were children because they match the temperament of the other’s name so well. This fixity between name and personality suggests that a character’s fate is sealed at birth and he or she has no ability to overcome it. The effect of reading these repeating names can also be confusing, making it difficult to recall which generation Márquez is referencing at any given time, but this confusion is intentional: it allows a hundred-year span of generations to appear as though they are existing simultaneously.
It’s not just readers who experience a collapse of past, present, and future—the characters feel it, too. This undermines their agency, because it makes them unable to logically associate cause and effect, thereby trapping them in a present moment that is out of their control. Pilar Ternera, for example, uses her cards to predict people’s futures, and characters named Aureliano also have psychic abilities, but they are not always correct in determining whether their visions reflect current events or the future, because of the confusion of repeated names and personalities. Characters tend to see the predictions as being set in stone, rather than as warnings that could allow them to adjust their actions to avoid these outcomes.
Furthermore, not long after Macondo is established, a plague descends on the town causing an insomnia that results in a collective amnesia, trapping the characters in an eternal present. Before a cure is found, Pilar Ternera begins using her cards to fill in the missing memories of the past in the same way she predicts the future, and these “memories” have a deterministic effect similar to her prophesies. Because of this amnesia and these faulty memories created by Pilar Ternera, Márquez suggests that whatever story one is told is true ends up determining a person’s fate. This relates to Melquíades, who is able to foretell the entire lifespan of Macondo and the Buendía family, though he keeps his forecast a secret until the destruction of Macondo. Melquíades’ meticulous prediction of generations to come suggests that the future is indeed predetermined and unchangeable.
Even the characters who attempt to entirely escape their histories (by living elsewhere, educating themselves, etc.) fail to overcome their past, seemingly because they remain emotionally devoted to home. Colonel Aureliano Buendía spends much of his life away from home, trying to protect the city he loves so dearly, but he ultimately follows in his father’s footsteps, secluding himself in the workshop to focus on his studies of alchemy and refusing to see the ways in which his life mirrors his father’s. Amaranta Úrsula perhaps comes closest to escaping her fate: she goes to school in Belgium and marries a Flemish man, Gaston. However, her nostalgia for home leads her back to Macondo, where she finds herself blinded by her childhood memory of the place, rather than seeing it for the failing city it truly is. The way she forsakes her passionate love with Gaston for the nostalgic joy that Aureliano brings her is yet another example of the way she remains firmly trapped in the past, rather than making a new life. Furthermore, Amaranta Úrsula wants to name her child with Aureliano “Rodrigo” (which is not a family name), but Aureliano insists on the name Aureliano, which implies that the next generation will not escape the past, either.
The Circularity of Time ThemeTracker
The Circularity of Time Quotes in One Hundred Years of Solitude
They were afraid that those two healthy products of two races that had interbred over the centuries would suffer the shame of breeding iguanas. There had already been a horrible precedent. An aunt of Úrsula’s, married to an uncle of José Arcadio Buendía, had a son who went through life wearing loose, baggy trousers and who bled to death after having lived forty-two years in the purest state of virginity, for he had been born and had grown up with a cartilaginous tail in the shape of a corkscrew and with a small tuft of hair on the tip. A pig’s tail that was never to be seen by any woman and that cost him his life when a butcher friend did him the favor of chopping it off with his cleaver. José Arcadio Buendía, with the whimsy of his nineteen years, resolved the problem with a single phrase: “I don’t care if I have piglets as long as they can talk.”
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.
“If we don’t ever sleep again, so much the better,” José Arcadio Buendía said in good humor. “That way we can get more out of life.” But the Indian woman explained that the most fearsome part of the sickness of insomnia was not the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory. She meant that when the sick person became used to his state of vigil, the recollection of his childhood began to be erased from his memory, then the name and notion of things, and finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until he sank into a kind of idiocy that had no past.
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.”
“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.”
From then on he was never sure who was who. Even when they grew up and life made them different, Úrsula still wondered if they themselves might not have made a mistake in some moment of their intricate game of confusion and had become changed forever.
She did not tell anyone about it because it would have been a public recognition of her uselessness. She concentrated on a silent schooling in the distances of things and people’s voices, so that she would still be able to see with her memory what the shadows of her cataracts no longer allowed her to.
He grew harder and harder ever since Colonel Gerineldo Márquez refused to back him up in a senile war. He locked himself up inside himself and the family finally thought of him as if he were dead.
Úrsula did not get up again after the nine nights of mourning for Amaranta, Santa Sofia de la Piedad took care of her. She took her meals to her bedroom and annatto water for her to wash in and kept her up to date on everything that happened in Macondo. Aureliano Segundo visited her frequently and he brought her clothing which she would place beside the bed along with the things most indispensible for daily life, so that in a short time she had built up a world within reach of her hand.
Úrsula was their most amusing plaything. They looked upon her as a big, broken-down doll that they carried back and forth from one corner to another wrapped in colored cloth and with her face painted with soot and annatto, and once they were on the point of plucking out her eyes with the pruning shears as they had done with the frogs. Nothing gave them as much excitement as the wanderings of her mind. Something, indeed, must have happened to her mind during the third year of the rain, for she was gradually losing her sense of reality and confusing present time with remote periods in her life to the point where, on one occasion, she spent three days weeping deeply over the death of Petronila Iguarán, her great-grandmother, buried for over a century.
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.
And then he saw the child. It was a dry and bloated bag of skin that all the ants in the world were dragging toward their holes along the stone path in the garden. Aureliano could not move. Not because he was paralyzed by horror but because at that prodigious instant Melquíades’ final keys were revealed to him and he saw the epigraph of the parchments perfectly placed in the order of man’s time and space: The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants.
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.