“One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Cien Añosde Soledad) is a magical realist novel created by Gabriel García Márquez in 1967. This novel is referred to as the Don Quixote of Latin America because of its overwhelming popularity (Jay Corwin, 4). The novel does not have any clear and obvious philosophy that is why the perception of this novel is very individualistic. The tragic and mystique ending pushes to the idea that multiple aspects of life that are described in the novel are heavily criticized by García Márquez (Jay Corwin, 4). And one of these aspects is a partition of society on the basis of race. Gabriel García Márquez describes the interconnection of people who are set in a multiracial society that was common for the Caribbean that time. Racism was a real social problem, as colored people suffered from prejudges and abuse. They were considered inferior people and had no possibility to find a prestigious job and marry a white man, in spite of all their accomplishments. Although every reader comes to his or her own opinion about the meaning of the novel, the depiction of race in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” deserves a careful analysis.
In “One Hundred Years of Solitude” white women are at the top of racial hierarchy, while black women find their place on the margins of the socius, in most cases in brothels.
We face with racism in the very first chapter when it becomes clear that having the white identity is very important to the main characters of the novel. In the beginning of the narration, José Arcadio Buendía, Macondo’s founder, shows his scorn to the past and he treats to the time of the Spanish Conquest as to the period of heroism, not as to an epoch of bloody terror. He examines the remains of a Spanish suit of armor and galleon from that heroic age. The Buendía’s predominantly Spanish ancestry is never doubted. José Arcadio Buendía’s great-grandfather was “un criollo cultivador de tabaco” (Gabriel García Márquez, 103) while his wife Ursula Iguarán’s was Aragonese. The Spanish ancestors of the Buendías have left an indelible stamp on the land that previously belonged to indigenous inhabitants. The central myth about whiteness illustrates Buendías’ anxiety regarding the white color of skin and reproduction. The inter-racial affairs threaten whiteness – the hallmark of the upper social class. But in the novel the copulation of the whites leads to a bestial offspring. Maybe because of the limited availability of white partners, the members of the Buendías are threatened by incest, endogamy, and monstrosity. When Ursula warns her great-great-grandson she mentions this danger: “las mujeres de la calle, que echaban a perder la sangre; las mujeres de la casa, que parían hijos con cola de puerco (Gabriel García Márquez , 503)”. José Arcadio Buendía was so occupied with whitness that he builds a town that is associated with glass, light, and ice, in other words, with whiteness.
In the first two chapters, the readers plunge into Latin American world of brave
criollos, vanished Spaniards, mute Indians, and Gypsies. It is remarkable that the Gypsies, who are the first outsiders, are considered marginal in Europe, but in the novel, they point
the way to modernity.
The clue to the racial traits of Macondo’s inhabitants occurs at the time the
narrator tells about their similarity to the traders: “Eran hombres y mujeres como ellos, de
cabellos lacios y piel parda, que hablaban su misma lengua” (Gabriel García Márquez, 122). So, the hair texture, skin color, and other markers of racial type signifies about the racial composition in Macondo. Straight hair is usually associated with Indians. The adjectives that García Márquez uses while describing the Macondo’s inhabitants point to the Amerindian and African racial mix. The phrase “hombres y mujeres como ellos” that is translated as “men and women like them” means that the Buendías see their neighbors as faceless inhabitants. Úrsula Buendía prefers to keep a distance from them probably because of their lower origin. But generally these people are not raced. Ursula composes the guest-lists according to her sense of social exclusivity. The narrator says: “los únicos escogidos fueron los descendientes de los fundadores Era una realidad una selección de clase” (Gabriel García Márquez, 153).
Gabriel García Márquez invents a mystical disease – the insomnia plague. And the most awful consequence of this illness is amnesia. The Guajiros fear forgetfulness maybe because Indians are forgotten by the Latin American culture.
The narrator depicts Indians as servants, Gypsies as sages, Arabs as merchants and this is a traditional point of view.
In the chapter that ushers Guajiros and Arabs in Macondo the narrator tells about the arrival of the first mulata woman. She is a nameless young prostitute who is enslaved to her grandmother. The mulata arrives in first brothel in Macondo, and she is compared with a dog, as it is a common social opinion that dark-skinned women are animal-like and work mainly as prostitutes: “una mulata adolescente de aspecto desamparado con sus teticas de perra, estaba desnuda en la cama. Antes de esa noche, sesenta y tres hombres habían pasado por su cuarto” (Gabriel García Márquez, 142-43). Young Colonel Aureliano Buendía has spent time with this young dark-skinned prostitute and this resembles his brother Jose Arcadio who had a contact with a Gypsy girl. Both girls are racialized and nameless and both have an infantilized, public, and available sexuality. So, the author uses the racist stereotypes when he depicts negras and mulatas as prostitutes and compares bodies of black women with animals. Also, the whoring and animalization of dark-skinned characters is balanced by subjectivity. For instance, the part of the novel about the nameless girl constitutes a reference to the history of slavery in America, as well as the fact that since the first part of the novel, no character who has Afro-Colombian origin appears to be born in Macondo. The nameless mulata girl, whose ancestors were brought to America on slave ships by force, stands in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” as an image outside of history. Once García Márquez confessed that her story was more important as an image, than as a narrative event (Adelaida López-Mejía, 33).
Not only the story of nameless mulata girl is dehistoricized, but also the characters of seventeen sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendía are not developed as they serve only as a symbol in the novel. The Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s seventeen sons are described as dark-skinned, mulato or mixedrace man. They highlighted the popularity of illegitimacy and miscegenation in the countries of Latin America. These characters are not well developed, they are mentioned superficially unlike the legitimate white Buendía males.
They embody the link between illegitimacy and miscegenation in Latin America in 19th century. Mothers of these sons where sent to the Colonel in order to better the blood. The narrator refers to the skin colors of the Colonel’s illegitimate sons constantly. He describes the boys as having various skin colors: “niños de todas las edades, todos los colores” (Gabriel García Márquez, 256). Also, this feature is mentioned in the novel when the boys grew up and became men, they are described as (“diecisiete hombres de los más variados aspectos, de todos los tipos y colores” (Gabriel García Márquez, 331). They narrator says that they are skilled artisans (“artesanos hábiles” (Gabriel García Márquez, 332)) likely because in the Caribbean most mixed-race men were artisans. When the last Colonel’s illegitimate son, Aureliano Amador, dies, the narrator again mentions his skin color by naming him “anciano oscuro” (Gabriel García Márquez, 509).
Aureliano Triste is the most developed character the colonel’s illegitimate sons. He is identified as mulato. The symbols of progress and modernization - the train and ice – are brought to the town by this biracial boy. The criollograndfather’s dreams are carried out by the mulato Aureliano Triste. He inherited José Arcadio Buendía’s ambition and enterprise that are supposed to belong to the whites. Commonly, in Latin American literature illegitimate mulatos are tied to the racist notion of eugenic progress (Adelaida López-Mejía, 34).
Moreover, Aureliano Triste is a calm person, that is also considered a Colombian stereotype about Afro-Colombians. Though mulato boy brings significant changes to the town, readers remember José Arcadio Buendía as the scientist. His illegitimate grandson is a more realist register of the story. All Colonel’s mixed-race sons die because of the collective tragedy remaining faceless during the whole narration.
Women of African descent are developed more carefully than mixedrace males, but their characters are just a generalization of unfortunate stereotypes (like promiscuous and animalistic sexuality) that are associated with women of color.
The most memorable mulata in the novel is Petra Cotes. She has relations with Aureliano Segundo and his twin brother. As well as all other dark-skinned women in the novel, Petra has sexual availability. Her character symbolizes the stereotype about the illicit sexuality of black women, as she is a life-long concubine to Aureliano Segundo. His legitimate wife does not object to these affairs. The author wanted to tell that the Caribbean is noted for the tolerance towards “overlapping unions” and the situations when white men have black mistresses (Adelaida López-Mejía, 35). So, the Petra’s characterization also totally corresponds to García Márquez’s predictable association of dark-skinned women with hypersexuality. When Petra is suggested to light a votive candle in order to get the lover back, she is sure that he will return to her anyway: “la única vela que lo hará venir está siempre encendida” (Gabriel García Márquez, 318). Petra knows perfectly well that Aureliano Segundo’s passion is reserved for her. And even when Aureliano Segundo marries Fernanda, Petra is absolutely calm. The narrator compares her with a resting animal: “sin perder un solo instante su magnífico dominio de fiera en reposo” (Gabriel García Márquez, 318).
Aureliano Segundo’s white wife is rigid and this contrasts with Petra’s house full of dancing and music. Petra’s love somehow positively influences on Aureliano Segundo’s livestock: “bastaba con llevar a Petra Cotes a sus criaderos para que todo animal marcado con su hierro sucumbiera a la peste irremediable de la proliferación” (Gabriel García Márquez, 324). In literature, blacks are considered to possess sexual, musical, magical, and rhythmic powers. And the whites try to get certain advantages from these powers (Adelaida López-Mejía, 36). Additionally to animalistic similes and stereotyped hypersexuality, Petra shows strengths from the beginning of the novel and up to its end. She is gifted with courage, rationality, generosity, and the ability to manage money. Petra contemplates Fernanda with the aplomb that is one more mark of her clear-headedness. Petra’s generosity is the epithet with which she is introduced and it remains intact until the end of the novel. “Era una mulata limpia y joven, con unos ojos amarillos y almendrados que le daban a su rostro la ferocidad de una pantera, pero tenía un corazón generoso y una magnífica vocación para el amor” (Gabriel García Márquez, 301). Because of the generosity of Petra, the Buendías are able to eat well and Aureliano Segundo’s daughter has the possibility to study in Brussels.
One of the main topics of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is racism in Latin America. At the time the novel has been creating, blackness was associated with poverty, prostitution and ruin. But Gabriel García Márquez shows pity for the poor destiny of colored people and admiration of their moral strength. It is prominent that he does not describe the deaths of dark-skinned female characters, but he narrates the deaths of the white women (Ursula, Remedios, Amaranta, Fernanda, Amaranta Ursula). The arrogance of the whites leads to dramatic consequances, because of their unwillingness to marry colored people, the family degenerates and dies off.
Corwin, J. “Introduction”. transformativestudies.org. 2013. Web. Accessed 30 April 2016 at http://transformativestudies.org/wp-content/uploads/10.3798tia.1937-0237.13000.pdf
López-Mejía, A. “Race and Character in Cien años de soledad.” transformativestudies.org. 2013. Web. Accessed 30 April 2016 at http://transformativestudies.org/wp-content/uploads/10.3798tia.1937-0237.13002.pdf
Márquez, G. G. “Cien años de soledad”. (Ed. Jacques Joset). 1995, Madrid: Cátedra. Print.