Death in One Hundred Years of Solitude

By Lois Simpson
Death is slow to visit Macondo in Gabriel García Márquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude, but once it does arrive, there is no stopping it. It moves into the community slowly at first, then gathers speed as it races across the one hundred years. When Arcadio José Buendía and Ursula establish Macondo, it is like a Utopia. Life prospers there with seemingly no end to it and representative of this idea is the fact that for many years there is no cemetery in Macondo. They come to this Utopia to get away from death and the fate of intermarriage but unknown to them, they carry the seeds of both within themselves. Death seeks after them all in the form of solitude which like death separates them physically, psychologically, and emotionally from those around them. The first child born in Macondo is Aureliano Buendía to Ursula, who in the novel represents life. In his adult years, Aureliano Buendía becomes the epitome of solitude and death, so in the very beginning of this Utopia, life gives birth to death. Since death cannot beget life, even the many sons that Aureliano fathers in his lifetime are all assassinated in the prime of their lives. While he always has a namesake in the family, he has no heir.
José Arcadio Buendía and his wife fled their native village to escape the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar and to hopefully prevent future generations of intermarriage that would eventually end up producing a child with a pig's tail. What they did not realize was that by fleeing, they actually increased the chances of intermarrying in future generations, since the newly established village of Macondo was so small. So, much like the Greek tragedy of Oedipus the King, their actions to prevent a future horror are actually the instruments that bring the horror about.
While death can be avoided for a time, it cannot be held off indefinitely and when death comes to their new home it eventually leads Prudencio to them again. "José Arcadio Buendía converse(s) with Prudencio Aguilar until dawn" and by morning his journey into solitude is complete as madness overcomes him (80). "Ten men were needed to get him down, fourteen to tie him up, twenty to drag him to the chestnut tree in the courtyard, where they left him tied up, barking in the strange language and giving off a green froth at the mouth" (81). When he finally dies he is no more separated from humanity than he is at the time of his insanity. During that period of his life he sometimes had days of lucidity where he was able to talk to Ursula, and after he died he also had intermittent episodes where his ghost talked with Ursula. Nothing had really changed for him after he died.
Death throughout this novel is closely related to solitude. The Buendía men are driven by some inner madness to a life of solitude. It is Aureliano, however, who is the epitome of solitude. Even when he is at the height of his popularity and surrounded by his men in war, he is separated from all the others. When he returns home one night, he gives "strict orders that no one should come closer (to him) than ten feet, not even Ursula" (160). When he sits in a room a circle is drawn around him that no one is allowed to cross. It is not, however, the circle that isolates Aureliano, but rather his "incapacity for love" (254). He is driven further and further into solitude which is like death to him. He is so miserable in his aloneness that he seeks to end it all, but his destiny is not in an early grave but rather in isolation. The coldness of his solitude, however, is much like the coldness of the grave. He is seen by others to be rotting on the inside where the solitude has taken hold. "Watch out for your heart, Aureliano... you are rotting alive" (169).
The book begins with a look into the future where Colonel Aureliano Buendía is standing in front of a firing squad, but he does not die there. It is just one more episode where he comes face to face with death, and it is death that looks away first. He has lived the most violet life but perversely, violent death only comes for others in his family. He has survived thirty-two wars, "fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad" and when he finally dies it is of old age while he is urinating" (106). It was Aureliano who said, "A person does not die when he should but when he can" (248).
In each generation, violent death comes to the Arcadios in the family while with only a few exceptions, overlooking the more warlike Aurelianos. The book begins with Aureliano in front of the firing squad but it is Arcadio who on another occasion. actually dies there. Each generation produces another Aureliano (named after the Colonel), and they all share the fate of solitude. Despite being born into a large family with friends all around, they are driven by some inner madness to seek out that solitude and eventually perish.
The very last Aureliano born into the Buendía family is born with the much feared pig's tail. He is different from all the other Buendías in more than the physical trait of a pig's tail. He is born to parents who truly love each other and want to raise a different Buendía than all the other generations. But fate would not allow such a diversion from the path of his family. His mother dies within hours of his birth and the father is lost in so much despair that the infant is left alone. He is forced into the solitude of his ancestors, but since he is helpless to fend for himself, he dies from it too.
Return to Gabo Papers