The Power of the Feminine in Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his work One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) spins a tale of postcolonial Columbia that will likely forever be thought of as a classic work of fiction, brought to light during what many think of a serious high point in Latin American Literature. The work is translated to many languages and even today sells a great many copies. (King) The development of the tale is that of the founding of a city by a single couple and all the ways in which this couple and their various offspring relate to the world, from within the scope of their town. The many generational tale encompasses a century and begins with the development of a core relationship, that between Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife and cousin Ursula. This work will first develop the context and methodology of the novel and then discuss the work through a feminist critical perspective. The work will argue the thesis that the interwoven female characters, with Ursula as their moral compass demonstrate Garcia Marquez's ideation of the power of Latin American women, as they serve as constant interlopers defining what is and what is not acceptable and moral for each other as well as for the whole, teaching one another through their lived experience how easy it can be to become the "other," the mistress instead of the wife. This concept can be seen in the manner in which the women of Macondo, all walking a fine line between wives and mistresses in an isolated system, dictated ultimately by what Ursula will accept or reject. Macondo can in fact be seen as an enlarged example of the family home, a village of mirrors, as was prophesied by Jose Arcadio Buendia and made a reality by Ursula.
Jose Arcadio Buendia builds his village from a vision he has while sleeping after many days of wandering with his new bride and cousin Ursula. Macondo is a sort of Eden set apart from others and demonstrative of a singular union, the one between this fated pair, Jose and Ursula:
At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. (Garcia Marquez 1)
The little village named Macondo does not remain a small village for long as the outside world encroaches upon it and demonstrates a great power over the seven generations of Buendias, taking mostly the men to and from as the political reality of the world demonstrates power over them. The context of the little village as it begins, is that it should be isolated from the world outside, and separated from the wars and conflicts associated with the turn of the 20th century and Columbia's colonialism. The work details an attempt by one fictional family to separate themselves from the devalued culture of their colonizers and by that same virtue their own culture, and in this case even their own family, which would have rejected their union, in collective fear of incestuous offspring. (Lanzen Harris)
One of the characters, not of the Buendia family, that travels between the world of Macondo and the outside world is the gypsy Melquiades, who returns indefatigable from his death in the outside world to Macondo, to live out a second life with the Buendia family.
Melquiades… introduces Jose Arcadio to the wonders of science, which absorbs the indefatigable patriarch to the exclusion of all else. He ends his life in madness, tied to a tree and babbling in Latin. Ursula, conversely, is strong and pragmatic. She is the only character who lives to see the beginning and end of the Buendia dynasty. Throughout her long life, she reinforces one of Garcia Marquez's central themes: that time is circular, and that it is characterized by endless repetitions and recurrences. The actual events of life in Macondo are described in mythic and epic terms, lending the work an atemporal quality. The ghosts of the dead are ever-present members of the family, and they, too, seem to defy time. (Lanzen Harris)
In many ways the work is a bildungsroman tale of the evolution of each generation, but no one is more evolving and yet more solid than Ursula. Yet, the final curtain reveals that no generation really evolved, as the story begins with a fear of the incestuous couple producing an offspring with a pigs tale, and ends with the actual even taking place, six generations removed from the mythical Adam and Eve characters found in work. Jose Arcadio Buendia, in comparison to Ursula is distracted and disinterested in his role as a father and grandfather. He to some extent falls prey to the political, bringing him to focus on things outside of family, seated firmly in science and nature. (Sangari 157) Jose Arcadio Buendia is in fact dismissed early in the work, leaving a legacy of repetitive familial misdeeds and a near constant presence without being present, much as he was in life.
Jose Arcadio Buendia finally got what he was looking for…That discovery excited him much more than any of his other harebrained undertakings. He stopped eating. He stopped sleeping… He would spend the nights walking around the room thinking aloud, searching for a way to apply the principles of the pendulum to oxcarts, to harrows, to everything that was useful when put into motion. (76-77)
Jose Arcadio Buendia was ever-present but without the authority of presence. Beyond his first few stoic decisions, and his care for Rebeca and others his whole existence in the novel is shadowy and disenchanted. He marks time that never passes an example of this is his lengthy diatribe regarding the fact that every day is the same and that today although he's been told that its Tuesday is actually Monday all over again. (77-78) Finally, he evolves into a ghost that travels to the house trying to make sense of things.
It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of Jose Arcadio Buendia with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight. (221)
Ursula on the other hand is describe throughout the work as a pragmatic, stoic and logical character. In one passage Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula are directly compared:
While Ursula and girls unpacked furniture, polished silverware, and hung pictures of maidens in boats full of roses, which gave a new life to the naked areas the masons have built, Jose Arcadio Buendia stop his pursuit of the image of God, convinced of His nonexistence, and he took the pianola a part in order to decipher its magical secret. (61)
Jose Arcadio Buendia was never his wife's equal in the practical even when the family was in dire need of his rationality. Ursula held the family together in almost every way. In many ways this can be thought of as the expression of feminine power within the work. Because although there were so much that was out of the control of the family Ursula still always manage to feed clothe and care for anyone and she deemed worthy of it. Bellow Watson discusses the realization of feminine power through the change in a standard stereotypical concept that of the only feminine power laying in the woman's ability to get what she wanted through her sexuality. Bellow Watson in fact states that feminine power is expressed especially in literature through the realization
Women, like other groups with minority status, adopt various forms of accommodation to protect themselves. The most essential form of ac-commodation for the weak is to conceal what power they do have and to avoid anything that looks like threat or competition. Therefore we must not expect either the literature written by women or that written by men based on their observations of women to tell us much about so sensitive a topic in the form of declarations, manifestos, plot summaries, or even the broad outlines of characterization. We begin instead to look at such techniques as ambiguity, equivocation, and expressive symbolic struc-ture. (113)
Ursula is fully aware of everything that is happening today and has happened in the past with regard to the practical aspects of her home. It is not until the very end of the story that Ursula begins to be described as bordering on senility, within the context one must remember that she is 130 years old that this…