"Aureliano could not move. Not because he was paralyzed by horror but because at that prodigious instant Melquíades' final keys were revealed to him and he saw the epigraph of the parchments perfectly placed in the order of time and space: The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants." — from One Hundred Years of Solitude
Though the parchments, Melquíades' historic creative output, appear early in the tale of the Buendías, it is not until the last three pages as the novel winds to completion that we learn what has been written on them. It is not until the end that we—along with the "last of the line"—understand how much Melquíades the gypsy was a soothsayer, a prophet, and the final arbiter of the family's fate. He knew everything all along.
With this revelation in the eleventh hour comes an entirely new way to read the novel we are just finishing. All of a sudden, the full tragedy of "fate" hits home. We learn that not only were the Buendías fated to their decline but every one of their actions—as a family and as individuals—was pre-determined. Their lives were literally written on parchments that predated them all—and could not have been read until the very moment they were deciphered by the last Buendía standing, "prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror." (p. 447)
Can you imagine this novel ending any other way? García Márquez couldn't have wrapped the novel up in a neater package. At once, Aureliano Babilonia's life's purpose is fulfilled, Melquíades' role cemented and the Buendía line's awkward choices understood, and in a way, sanctioned. The author (both Melquíades and who he has come to represent...García Márquez himself) has been tragicomically called out for what he is: a manipulator of men's souls and a creator in the most complete sense. The icing on the cake is what the parchment's revelation says about humanity—that perhaps we are all damned and redeemed by our heritage, our culture and our nature.
Gabo's masterstroke is complete with the final sentence: "Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth." In one stroke, he dashes all of our hopes for the future of humanity. Yet, considering the humor and irony we have come to expect from García Márquez, do races ever get a second chance? Are we in control of our own destiny, or does every family have a Melquíades of sorts?
William Kennedy wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." In the end, it is at once pessimistic, optimistic—and ultimately—realistic.
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