Athenaeum Meeting Minutes – May 11, 2002 – Dog & Duck Pub

Attending:  Joel Aud, Pete Hansen, Bob Hardister, Alan Hunt, John Mays, Eli Pickering, Matt Thomas

Book for Discussion:  One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Pete: The novel was impenetrable. The fantastic events and layers of symbolism rendered the text difficult to unpack.

Matt: Marquez gives the reader a hope for redemption that never materializes. The story is for the most part tragic.

Eli: Jose Arcadia Buendia and Ursula are Adam and Eve figures. They are founders of Macondo, and the Buendia family. Like Adam and Eve they are driven form their home in Riohacha for the killing of Prudencio Aguilar (their original sin). Macondo is set by a stream with white stones like “prehistoric eggs” where “the world was so recent that many things lacked names”. It is reminiscent of Genesis where Adam gives a name the animals of the Lord’s creation.

John: The novel puts forth an overall pessimism of the human race.

John/Matt: There is no Christ figure in the story, but Malquiades may be a type of Old Testament profit. The entire story is emblematic of the life in general.

Alan: The Buendia family is referred to as a “race” (which is also reminiscent of Genesis).

Pete: The house itself is a character, and the fate of the family is reflected in its condition.

Eli: The chronology of the story can in no way be neatly mapped to a one hundred year period of time. Ursula herself dies at an age of 120+ years, although she is already a young woman when the town was founded. Instead the author uses “one hundred” in the title to signify a cycle, or complete revolution, in much the same way the Bible uses forty, or seven, of three.

Joel: Solitude is an important theme in the novel. Perhaps Marquez’s work is meant as an examination of man outside, or in isolation to the presence of God.

Eli: Solitude is not always bad. Some of Macondo’s finest moments occur early in its history when it remains isolated from the outside world.

John: Marquez is defying the myth that history is composed of the steady march of progress, where each successive era is better than the last. History is replete with the rise and fall of nations, suggesting a more cyclical pattern much like that experienced in Macondo.

Alan: One can generally map the course of human history from events in the book, but how do they compare specifically to Latin American history?

Eli: From an essay on the web (author unknown): “Critic Regina James points out in her book on Solitude that it can be read as a parable of civilization, specifically Greek civilization: first comes settlement, then agricultural development, then scientific inquiry (Jose Arcadia Buendia’s scientific experiments are a parody of this stage in development), then literature (Melquiades’ texts and Aureliano’s poetry) and finally, war and the building of an empire before a distinct decline (which will be reflected later in the book). But while this is certainly one rich way of reading Solitude, Marquez complicates this mode of reading by imbuing the book with a specific historical cycle that is a reflection of Latin America. The constant useless war, the futility of politics, and ultimate absurdity of the revolutionary project are themes not only in Solitude, but specific to Latin American History.”

Bob: That is a great phrase, “the futility of war and politics”. How ironic that Colonel Aureliano Buendia found it more difficult to end a war, even to lose it, than to fight one.

Matt: So many characters end up reduced to such useless tasks.

Pete: For instance, those little gold fishes! Colonel Aureliano Buendia made them just to melt them down and remake them. This is yet another “cycle” in the novel.

John: There are at least 10 cases of making and unmaking. The gold fishes are one, but also Amaranta’s shroud, and others.

Joel: Could this be a single voice writing the Old Testament independent of God?

John: The author’s literary influences grow largely from the work of Jorge Luis Borges, who together with Marquez is Latin America’s greatest authors. Borges’ book of essays is pure genius stacked with layers of allusion and imagery.

Bob: One Hundred Years of Solitude is also packed with layer upon layer of imagery. The characters can not be neatly identified with any one metaphor, but instead may be composites of many different symbols.

Eli: One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a Christian novel, it does represent the Catholic Church in a flattering light, but it shouldn’t be classified as an anti-Christian work either. There are miracles, and retribution for the wicked, which are all Christian themes. However, Marquez places sexual immorality on a pedestal.

Bob: But so often terrible things occur to characters after episodes of sexual debauchery that one can’t insist that Marquez is sympathetic to such behavior.

Eli: The most unsympathetic characters in the novel, like Fernanda and Amaranta, are chaste. The readers lack of appeal for them springs partly from this foundation of traditional sexual morals. Amaranta wears a black scarf on her hand as a sign of shame for her virginity!

Alan: If Marquez is not sympathetic to free love, how are we to take scenes like this from page 403 (Everyman’s), “…secluded by solitude and love and by the solitude of love in a house where it was impossible to sleep because of the noise from the red ants, Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula were the only happy beings, and the most happy on the face of the earth”?

Matt: The sex scenes were overdone. They were crafted to illicit a titillating/arousing response.

John: Matt’s is an opinion molded from the American stereotypical ideal (who let Mr. Kuhn in?) for sexual behavior. What Marquez is revealing is the more liberal Latin American cultural norm.

Eli: Either that or he is a pervert.

John/Pete: The author does not affirm sex either way. It’s just a part of the story.

Matt: The sex scenes go too far. They are too descriptive.

Joel: To gauge from a strictly legal point of view, we have to ask were the sec scenes written to arouse. This is not literature written to arouse.

Eli: Well they aroused me.

John/Pete: They were very well written, artfully employing oblique language with erotic results.

John: The magical events and scenes are there to support the metaphors. For instance the attraction all men have to Remedios the Beauty, to the extreme that men die mysteriously in her presence, underscore her character as the locus for all men’s lust.

Bob: Agreed. Many characters are archetypes analogous to figures in the Greek pantheon of mythology.

Joel: Our incredulity surrounding these magical events stem again from American cultural norms. The post industrial paradigm (Kuhn strikes again!) is deeply rooted in cause and effect. Other cultures like East Africa and South America would not find them so fantastic because they do not hold with our rationalist views.

Matt: Here is a funny scene from pg 330 (Everyman’s); After the four-and-a-half years of rain, “…the Arabs of the third generation were sitting in the same place [on the Street of the Turks] and in the same position as their fathers and grandfathers, taciturn, dauntless, invulnerable to time and disaster, as alive or as dead as they had been after the insomnia plague and Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s thirty-two wars. Their strength of spirit in the face and the ruins of the gaming tables, the fritter stands, the shooting galleries, and the alley where they interpreted dreams and predicted the future made Aureliano Segundo ask them with his usual informality what mysterious resources they had relied upon so as not to have gone awash in the storm, what the devil they had done not to drown, and one after one, from door to door, they returned a crafty smile and a dreamy look, and without any previous consultation they all gave the same answer: Swimming” (so much for magic)

Pete: That is typical of the novel. Marquez tells the story of Macondo with very little dialog, but instead uses large sections of prose that tend to be neatly wrapped up in a quick punch line.

Alan: Perhaps the use of magic in the novel is a literary device to move the story along. Each magical scene is capable of portraying a thought that otherwise would take a very long time to make.

Bob: Mr. Brown is responsible for the four-and-a-half years of rain. It is political commentary suggesting the power and scope of western influence in Latin America,

John: Marquez associates Mr. Brown with the banana plantation, and thus with colonialism in general.

Eli: We can identify at least two plagues, that of insomnia and rain. Perhaps the establishment of the plantation is a 3rd plague, like the locusts in Exodus. They swarm in consuming and exploiting the resources of Macondo.

Alan: What about the death of Aracadio Buendia? Did he explode? No entry wound was found, and his corpse was saturated by the irremovable smell of gun powder.

Bob: “Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo did not know where their amazement began. They stayed up all night looking at the pale electric bulbs fed by the plant of Aureliano Triste had when the train made it’s second trip, and it took time and effort for them to grow accustomed to its obsessive toom-toom. They became indignant over the living images that the prosperous Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortunes tears of affliction had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience who paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate the outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats.” (Everyman’s page 225) The people of Macondo can not understand the movies!

Eli: This use of magic, told straight faced by the author, is a class of literature called Magic Realism, and it is particularly associated with Latin American authors (although Salmon Rushdie fits the mold, too). From an interview with Marquez printed in Major 20th-Century Writers, “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes from the imagination while the truth is there is not a single line in all my work that does not have basis in reality”. He goes on to say the unique origins of the Caribbean, whose descendents were smugglers, pirates, and black slaves, fosters “an open-mindedness to look beyond apparent reality.”

Joel: The most popular show on the Sci-Fi Channel is “Crossing Over” in which the host communicates with the dead. We have not moved away from superstition, but dressed it up through new causality like channeling, etc.

John: The Bible tells us the priests of Egypt could match Moses’ first three miracles. Not that they could see them, or fake them, but could actually do them.

Alan: But Moses did make better snakes.

Eli: If there is a clear dividing point in the book, it has to be the introduction to the Segundo twins. The halves before and after could stand alone as independent novels. Note also the similarities in the opening of that chapter, and the opening of the book. Colonel Aureliano and Jose Arcadio Secundo reflect on the past while facing their death. Also, each Segundo brother takes on the characteristics of the opposite namesake, like a crossing of fate. Jose Arcadio and Aureliano Segundo are massive, impulsive and enterprising while Colonel Aureliano and Jose Arcadio Segundo are bony, solitary, and introspective.

Bob: The twins also weaken the family character, by dividing it into two persons.

Eli/John: The Colonel is the best character in the novel. He dies, head against a tree in the courtyard, pissing on the boots of his ghostly ancestor. Very cool.

Pete: The massacre is an important scene. What about the child on Aureliano’s shoulders? Does he die in the massacre?

John: What about the four-and-a-half years of rain? What does that symbolize?

Eli: It’s retribution for the massacre.

Pete: It is an allusion to Noah’s flood. The land has been corrupted by the exploitation and invasion of the plantation owners. The rain then is the flood that cleanses the land of its corruption.

John: Yes, except rather than provide a new beginning as in the time of Noah it accelerates the Macondo’s final destruction.

John: The second reading of the novel is very important. Once you know how the book will end, with Melquiades predestining the entire history of the family, you can pick out many subtle things missed the first time.

Matt: Political and religious authority is so inept as to be meaningless.

Pete: The discussion this evening illuminates how unreachable the test is. The allusions and symbolism mean everything to everyone. Truth surpasses argument.

John: That isn’t exactly the case. In any book the author’s intent does limit somewhat the scope of the reader’s interpretation (Mien Kampf, for instance could never be read as anything but anti-Semitic). In other words, the author’s intent drills far enough into the substance of his work to establish parameters for interpretation. Admittedly the edges where reader meets author are blurry, especially when the author fails to “drill too deeply”.

Pete: Not to misunderstand, the book is brilliant. The organic growth of language attaches itself to one’s mind. The novel is captivating but that is the limit of my appreciation.

Eli: You mean it’s not possible for the reader to find any meaning?

Pete: Careful not to put words in my mouth! The reader can not discern the author’s true meaning.

Alan: The story is an incoherent mess, but maybe what the author is saying is the history of Latin America is also a mess. Either way, the book does have universal appeal.

John: Solitude is not only in the novel, but in each readers own interpretation of the novel. Take this prose from page 373 (Everyman’s), “He was capable of laughing, of allowing himself from time to time a feeling of nostalgia for the past house, and showing concern for the state of misery present in Melquiades’ 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.” This passage illustrates Pete’s point that the novel is ambiguous. How are we to interpret such an obtuse passage as “solitude that separated and united them at the same time”?

Matt: Another thing to note upon the second reading is the house itself. Try to picture exactly what it looks like. We have already said it is a character unto itself whose condition mirrors that of the family, but did you notice how difficult it is to describe? Everyone reading the novel is bound to have a completely different mental image of its size, the location of the rooms, its furniture.

Alan: It is 388 feet from Ursula’s bed to the porch wall.

John: The subtle reference to nostalgia on page 373 (see quote above) is a romantic theme part and parcel with human life. Nostalgia leads us to think longingly of the past. The Romantics reintroduced us with a search for the primitive nobler race unencumbered by rationalism.

Eli: The image of the house papered in money was striking. I was reminded of Will Durant’s description in History of Civilization of the Roman Empire after the Punic wars, “All civilizations begin stoic, and en epicurean.” How much more epicurean can you get than to wallpaper the house with cash? The house never sees that level of glory again.

John: What an image of the chamber pots in Melquiades’ room. It has literally been turned into a dunghill.

Alan: But that depends on who is looking in on the room. Many characters do not see its despicable state.

John: Perhaps, but the narrator of the story who is above the perceptions of the individual characters perceives a dunghill.

Matt: One lesson for the Christian to take away from a non Christian novel is that solitude encompassed us all after the fall. Unity is restored only through the Church and the communion of the saints.

John: Absolutely. It is through the patient activity of the Church that we overcome solitude, and find community in Christ.

Voting for July:


(Joel) At Home in the Universe

(Joel) Paved with Good Intentions
(Pete) History of the Peloponnesian War 
(Eli) Inferno
(Matt) Art of War
(Matt) Atlas Shrugged
(John) The Trial
(Eli) War and Peace
(Bob) Fear and Trembling

Next Meeting:

June 8th at the Dog and Duck Pub

June Julius Caesar & Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare, with analysis from Brightest Heaven of Invention, Peter Leithart

July Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard

Athenaeum Meeting Minutes