Readers often come to regard this book as either humorous or depressing. It's actually a bit of both. The comedy and tragedy of One Hundred Years of Solitude originates from two different sources: Shakespearean and contemporary.

In the days of Shakespeare, comedy wasn't necessarily humorous; it addressed life, renewal and the triumph of youth. The older form of tragedy was about death, endings and the elders outliving their children. Both these elements exist in the novel. There's the comedic way in which life burgeons. Children are conceived and born. They grow and become young adults, who have children of their own. Life persists in the face of war, calamity, and oppression.

There are also modern forms of comedy and tragedy in Gabo's work. The novel's farcical tongue-in-cheek elements lead to a self-inclusive humor that invites us to share the joke. We get the sense that in writing this book Gabriel García Márquez feels certain irreverence toward literary convention. He knows the limits of literature and he plays with them.

And so, we find that the humor is often one of manifestation—the way Aureliano Segundo and Petra Cotes's joie de vivre causes the animals to reproduce wildly. Or the way that Meme invites four nuns and sixty-eight classmates to visit Macondo for a week, during which meals have to be served in shifts and seventy-two chamber pots purchased in order to accommodate the hordes. As a skilled storyteller, García Márquez knows we need humor, sensuality and irreverence in order to balance his story's tragedies.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of One Hundred Years of Solitude is that of truth not revealed—of doors closed and history forgotten or rewritten to suit the purposes of those in power. This extends to a national level, with the forgotten revolutions of Colonel Arcadio Buendía—but this tragedy also finds its parallel elsewhere in the Buendía family. That this is redeemed by the truth in the final pages of the novel is one of the ironies that make us understand the plight of the Buendía's, and humanity, that much more fully.

Unpack these other contradicting forces:


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