Exploring the concerns with literary histories and literary form addressed in García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude

Essay, 2016
11 Pages, Grade: 2:1


Exploring the concerns with literary histories and/or literary form in García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude

This essay will explore García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and the concerns it raises with literary histories and forms such as realism. I will be exploring the concerns aimed at literary histories which provide a version of reality that acts as a true representation while displaying only a version or subjective viewpoint of the world. First, this essay will place the text within the context of the New Novel in Latin America as a response to Post-Colonialism, and then as a magical realist novel which comes to questions forms of representation of reality. Amaryll Chanady in her work on the territorialisation of the imaginary in Latin America, makes a clear distinction between the fantastic and magical realism: ‘the magical realist writer “does not need to justify the mysterious nature of events, as the writer of fantastic stories has to. In fantastic literature the supernatural invades the world ruled by reason”.’[1] In fact, it is its matter-of-fact narrative which describes in great detail the everyday lives of the people of Macondo, despite the interweaving of the fantastical that allows for the text to question the realist form. By analyzing Márquez’ distortion of time and space, in connection to Eva Aldea’s essay on magical realism and Deleuze, I will argue that the text has the ability to display signs not as representations of reality, but as real in and of themselves. Through the analysis of the carnivalesque with David K. Danow and play and playfulness within the novel with Enrique A. Giordano, I will argue towards the text’s ability to embrace both the realist and the fantastic forms fully, embracing both within the limits of each other. Finally, by exploring the character Melquiades I will argue that the narrative in the form of the manuscript, is a force which not only subvert the realist form but also transcends it. Eva Aldea argues that ‘Thus One Hundred Years of Solitude takes us through a kind of apprenticeship of signs, from the illusory referentiality of realism,’ to ‘the essential signs of art which reveal the structure of reality itself’ and therefore this essay will aim to analyze the novel’s signs in an attempt to capture the concerns it raises in connection to literary histories and forms.[2]

In the Cambridge Companion to García Márquez, Philip Swanson places the text within the Latin American New Novel form, one which was seen by many as ‘a reaction against traditional realism based on an assumption that reality was observable, understandable and translatable into literature. Equally, many would regard 1967 and the appearance of One Hundred Years of Solitude as the culmination of that process.’[3] One Hundred Years of Solitude is a depiction of this New Novel form, as it aimed to display concerns within literary histories such as the realist novel. The movement away from traditional methods of representing reality is often referred to as magical realism, implementing elements of the fantastic within the conventional realist form. In the companion to Magical Realism by Stephen M. Hart and When-Chin Ouyang they state that the term was first used by Franz Roh, a German art critic who places the form within the context of Expressionism: ‘to indicate the demise of Expressionism, magical realism grew to become an important feature of the Boom literature of the 1960s in Latin America’ and that Post-Expressionism or rather, magical realism ‘embodies the ‘calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces’ and, thereby, represents ‘in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world ’.’[4] This ability to display the interior or invisible nature of this world, to embrace the magic present within our lives is a key feature of magical realism. Yet, also crucial to the form is its connections to Post-Colonial narratives and the culture of Latin America: ‘The Cuban Alejo Carpentier’s original notion of lo real maravilloso (the ‘marvellous real’) was based on the idea of rediscovering Latin American reality’.[5] Magical realism not only features as a movement away from realism, but also as a way of rediscovering one’s culture and of being able to display the magic in everyday life. Magic therefore, can be seen as an attempt to highlight the false versions of reality which are portrayed through literary histories, whether they are supplied through established cultures such as Europe and ‘First World’ countries or histories and realist text within our own traditions. Philip Swanson argues this further in relation to One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the very creation of Macondo and its founders we have a reflection of the colonization of Latin America: ‘The founding of Macondo echoes the chronicles of the ‘discovery’ and colonisation of the ‘New World’, and the plague of forgetfulness the loss of historical memory regarding the indigenous inheritance’.[6] Here we see a direct reference to reality, while also subverting realism by integrating fantastic elements such as the plague of forgetfulness. From the very beginning of the novel, José Arcadio Buendía invites his ‘offspring to read with their imaginations rather than in relation to their knowledge of reality: in a room plastered with unrealistic maps and fabulous drawings, he teaches them to read by telling them of ‘the wonders of the world’.[7] This can be argued as an invitation to the reader also, to drop any notions of reality he may have and therefore embark upon the story without holding any prejudices that realist novel would otherwise give. The ability to keep back disbelief in the face of the extraordinary within the ordinary, and see the benefits of the fantastic is crucial in the reading and writing of magical realism.

Key too magical realism is its own representation of reality, of not being hindered by the realist form and therefore expressing emotions and feelings more clearly. Luis Leal states that in magical realism, ‘key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality (as the realists did) or wound it (as the surrealists did) but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.’[8] Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, the narration is devoid of any magical explanation and presents the story with a matter-of-fact voice. Unlike realism and fantasy, magical realism is able to subvert the conventional way of representing reality, of exploring different varieties of culture and realities, and therefore not only create a new viewpoint onto the world, but also questions the hegemony imposed by Post-Colonialism. In David K. Danow work on the Carnivalesque, he states that in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the fantastic is presented as commonplace among the ‘peddlers of everyday reality.’[9] We see this concern for practical reality, in conjunction to the fantastic when ‘It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.’[10] Once again the statement is given without explanation, and in great detail gives an extraordinary statement which features in connection to the everyday. This is quickly followed with concern about the effects of such an event that ‘the worst part was the rain was affecting everything and the driest machines would have flowers popping out among their gears if they were not oiled every three days’.[11] Here we have a perfect display of the fantastic emerging and affecting the lives of the people in Macondo, merging them and their reality with magic. The use of technological imagery ‘Machines’ and its opposite in nature ‘flowers’ features as a representation of the conflict also between two cultures, and two literary forms. In her essay on magical realism and Deleuze, Eva Aldea argues that ‘Instead of privileging either the magic or the realism in the genre, reading magical realism through Deleuze provides a means to rethink the real and the magic as two orientations of the same Being.’[12] Rather than trying to merge two textual forms and their respective world-views, she suggests to see them as two sides of the same coin. Paying as much attention to the description and narration of everyday objects is just as crucial as understanding the fantastic that comes to affect it. Garcia Marquez displays the everyday life of the people of Macondo in such detail as to include all forms of mundane habits and household activities from sleeping to eating, and this allows him to anchor ‘ One Hundred Years of Solitude in both geography and history, whether it is by describing the preparation of a local dish, the social conventions or the political machinations of the region’.[13] Creating a fictional narrative which is a representation of his own culture and place in such detail allows him to reimagine Latin America. Yet, to Deleuze this would not be realism in the conventional way, as representation and therefore the detail of Latin America that Marques portrays is an illusion: ‘No art is imitative, no art can be imitative or figurative, because art is Real, and vice versa.’[14] Aldea takes this further and states that the realism within the text is ‘part of a whole regime of signs’ that also ‘underpins the illusion of representation, as well as guaranteeing it through the ‘reality effect.’[15] She argues that this is what creates the belief in the reality presented by the narrator. This regime of signs is a ‘system of language and world, of linguistic form and content, together. That is, a regime of signs is a system in which the ‘referent’ and the ‘sign’ combine laterally, without the hierarchical relationship of representation.’[16] This way of presenting the story and its realist components gives credibility and verisimilitude to the narrator who appearing as an external author to the text, is doubled as both subject and object. Combined with the matter-of-fact narration and Macondo being presented in great detail allows the reader to be completely immersed in the text, and subject to the author’s ideals and subversion of literary histories.

Following from the description of the lives and objects presented within One Hundred Years of Solitude, the narrator presents space within a similar frame. Rawdon Wilson in his essay on fictional space argues that ‘Magical Realism focuses the problem of fictional space. It does this by suggesting a model of how different geometries, inscribing boundaries that fold and refold like quicksilver, can superimpose themselves upon one another.’[17] Once again, magical realism distorts our pre-existing concepts of space and place, through the application of the fantastic. Eva Aldea places Macondo and the space within the text in the context of Deleuze and abstract expressionism, arguing that it is the State which affects time and space within the novel: ‘The State organizes space and time in the same way that the regime of signs organizes expression.’[18] Furthermore, she argues that ‘the State of Macondo is the ‘content’ of the regime of signs of which the text of One Hundred Years of Solitude is the ‘form’.’[19] For Deleuze, signs do not represent reality, yet, through the application of space within the text, it allows the State to give meaning to signs, and therefore also order and conformity. This is an indication of realism, which while present within the text, allows Marquez to undermine the literary form. Through the ‘the insertion of a divergent element into that system’ Eva Aldea argues that the fantastic then ‘has greater implications than merely undoing the realist form. Indeed, the magic in One Hundred Years of Solitude seems to imply great subversive potential.’[20] We see this represented in the world of One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the regime of signs portrays Macondo as our world, and its physical laws as those of our reality. When Jose Arcadio Buendia dies, the trickle of blood, having both an element of realism within space as it travels through the town, and its fantastical journey, portrays the resulting signs and symbols while undermining the prescribed ordered space of the State. As the blood ‘Came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs,’ it reaches the Buendia household, where through a series of climbing walls in an attempt to avoid staining rugs, it ‘went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.’[21] Eva Aldea states that what this fantastical event does is to ‘literally traverse several of the series of One Hundred Years of Solitude – the village, the house and the family – connecting and ramifying them. Thus, rather than having one specific significance, it makes series resonate through the association of ideas’.[22] Yet the trickle of blood, as a sign does not signify anything by itself, it is only through the application of realist space, within the confines of Macondo, and therefore Latin America that allows a connection between the fantastic and the everyday. Rather than directly representing reality, One Hundred Years of Solitude is able to create new associations through the application of magical elements such as the trickle of blood. Enrique A. Giordano takes this further in his essay on playfulness within One Hundred Years of Solitude. He situates play or playfulness within the context of Macondo and the narrative and argues that ‘According to Susan Stewart, play implies a transgression of the interpretative processes of common sense, a process of redemarcation or reframing.’[23] This allows for a greater level of communication or ‘ metacommunication among transmitter, message, and receiver.’[24] Play in this way acts in a similar way to the magical element present within magical realism. It subverts and substitutes within the context of a finite and definite space with set rules. Enrique A. Giordano likens this to a chess board where the space is inviolable through the use of rules, yet the pieces and their potential moves are infinite. Similarly, he states that Macondo is also a ‘framed space which, like the chessboard, constitutes a specific town, but is, simultaneously, all Spanish-American towns.’[25] The founders of Macondo are able to create and manipulate the space and create a fantastical town where people never die, and magic intertwines with the everyday only because there is an application of a spatial set of rules. In this way, while magical realism is seen as a departure from realism, the regimes of signs and the literary form and histories is needed for magical realism to exist. Garcia Marquez situates the reader within the confines of an illusory Latin America as an attempt to form a stable base in which to rediscover his culture.


[1] Amaryll Chanady, ‘The Territorialization of the Imagery in Latin America: Self-Affirmation and Resistance to Metropolitan Paradigms’ in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, ed. by Lois Parinson Zamora and others (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. 125-144 (p.132).

[2] Eva Aldea, Magical Realism and Deleuze: the indiscernibility of difference in postcolonial literature (London: Continuum, 2011), p. 55.

[3] Philip Swanson, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, in The Cambridge Companion to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ed. by Philip Swanson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 57-63 (p.57).

[4] Stephen M. Hart and Wen-chin Ouyang, ‘Introduction: Globalization of Magical Realism: New Politics of Aesthetics’ in A Companion to Magical Realism, ed. by Stephen M. Hart and others (Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2005), pp. 1-13 (p.1).

[5] Philip Swanson, 2010, p. 58.

[6] Philip Swanson, 2010, p. 58.

[7] Philip Swanson, 2010, p. 57.

[8] Luil Leal, ‘Magical Realis in Spanish American Literature’ in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, ed. by Lois Parinson Zamora and others (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. 119-124 (p.123).

[9] David K. Danow, The Spirit of Carnival: Magical Realism and the Grotesque (Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1955), p. 8.

[10] Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (London: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 92.

[11] Gabriel Garcia Marquez, p. 92.

[12] Eva Aldea, p. 43.

[13] Eva Aldea, p. 43.

[14] Eva Aldea, p. 47.

[15] Eva Aldea, p. 47.

[16] Eva Aldea, p. 47.

[17] Rawdon Wilson, ‘The Metamosphoses of Fictional Space: Magical Realism’ in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, ed. by Lois Parinson Zamora and others (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. 209-233 (p.210).

[18] Eva Aldea, p.48.

[19] Eva Aldea, p. 48.

[20] Eva Aldea, p. 48.

[21] Gabriel Garcia Marquez, p. 135.

[22] Eva Aldea, p.52.

[23] Enrique A. Giordano, ‘Play and Playfulness in García Márquez “One Hundred Years of Solitude”’, Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 42 (1988), 217-229 (p.218).

[24] Enrique A. Giordano, p. 218.

[25] Enrique A. Giordano, p. 218.

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Exploring the concerns with literary histories and literary form addressed in García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude
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'Some really good research here in an essay that explores the way in which realist form is troubled in One Hundred Years of Solitude. You bring the criticism together well and demonstrate some really good insights into the way that time and space are put under pressure by magical realism.'
exploring, garcía, márquez’, hundred, years, solitude
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English and Creative Writing Michael Amos (Author), 2016, Exploring the concerns with literary histories and literary form addressed in García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/344533


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