Unlike the "proper" women of Macondo's founding generation, Pilar is a free-wheeling agent, answerable to no one—the complete opposite of proper and sexually repressed characters such as Úrsula and Fernanda del Carpio. She arrives in the Buendía household to help with the domestic tasks and progresses from managing the kitchen chores to sexually initiating the Buendía sons into manhood and fatherhood. Úrsula's son José Arcadio is the first to be drawn to this earthy woman with a smoky smell and irresistible sexiness. In Macondo's early days Pilar lends out rooms and never charges for her favors: "I'm happy knowing that people are happy in bed," she says. Her very name means strength (pilar = pillar in Spanish) and animal attraction (ternera = calf, veal).
The Secret of Pilar's Popularity
But sexual attraction is not the only reason this raunchy woman acts like a magnet for the Buendía men. It's her spontaneity, emotional understanding and unconditional devotion that draw them to her. Along with her raucous peals of laughter Pilar dispenses tenderness, compassion, and a joie de vivre that's missing in the Buendía women. Úrsula shows enormous strength in both domestic and political ways, but Pilar represents a different dimension of female power. In some ways she's as traditional as Úrsula, completely loyal and devoted to caring for her men. But Pilar cannot escape her low social status, nor she does not have the seal of approval that comes with marriage. She is not a wife, but a prostitute, and at the end of her life, a Madame stationed at the door of the brothel described as a sexual paradise.
Pilar gives birth to the first offspring of the Buendía sons, making it possible for the Buendía lineage to carry on. Despite being a pariah she occupies a privileged space in the novel, right alongside "decent" women. The only Buendía to decipher the gypsy manuscripts goes to Pilar for the advice he needed to continue on. Her powers go beyond the arts of domesticity—she heals the psyche and reads the future in the Tarot. During the family's plague of forgetfulness and insomnia, Pilar helps them figure out how to retrieve the past (instead of reading the future) from the cards. Even Buendía women like Úrsula, Rebeca, and Meme seek out Pilar and her cards, as do the men, during times of doubt or crisis. Clearly, Pilar, as possessor of the secrets of fertility, memory, eroticism and clairvoyance, occupies a primary and critical space in the novel. Pilar's Amazing Longevity
Pilar finds herself alone in her old age, but not lonely or beaten. In fact, the loss of her youth only enhances her knowledge and generosity. Described as a "sorceress" and "prophetess," Pilar's potent spirit attracts the last Buendías as it did the first. At the end of the repeated cycling of time, Pilar remains the clairvoyant, the counselor, the first in a chain of women who comfort the Buendía males, sustain them, and enable them not to give up trying to decode the gypsy's manuscripts.
Her role is also recreated and continued down the line by two more women: Petra Cotes and Nigromanta. Petra unknowingly is the lover of twin brothers José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo. Petra is explicitly associated with fertility through her amazing capability of making Aureliano Segundo's livestock procreate wildly and earn a fortune for him. Nigromanta sleeps with childhood friends Gabriel Márquez and Aureliano Babilonia. Nigromanta provides sexual healing and consoles Aureliano Babilonia.
The Importance of Pilar Ternera
Without the ministrations and support of Pilar Ternera, the Buendía men would have faltered in their search for knowledge and might never have been able to decipher the mysterious manuscripts left by Melquíades. Pilar's strengths are instruments in the Buendías' search for the secrets of their origins. If we accept that the quest that drives the novel is the need for knowledge of one's origins and the wisdom to understand the past, then it should be acknowledged that Pilar is second only to Úrsula on the roster of outstanding female characters who play a significant role in One Hundred Years of Solitude.