One of the most interesting, and confounding parts of the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude is a plague that begins with the arrival of Rebeca—a strange and awkward character who "carried her parents bones" and "liked to eat the damp earth of the courtyard." Needless to say, Rebeca is mysterious. Even after she assimilates into the Buendía clan, she is often found doing unusual things and retains a certain "other worldly" quality.
Perhaps, then, it is not that unusual to imagine that with Rebeca's arrival in town comes the most unique and debilitating plague in all of literature—five years of insomnia and memory loss visited on every man, woman and child in the town of Macondo. No sleeping? Is that possible? In One Hundred Years of Solitude it certainly is. And this illness changes things in Macondo—"In a state of hallucinated lucidity, not only did they see the images of their own dreams, but some saw the images of the dreams of others." The plague spreads from household to household on the wings of Úrsula Buendía's candy animals, "delicious little green roosters of insomnia," and it causes the people of the town to adapt in interesting ways. Outsiders can no longer travel through the town without a bell to mark their passage. Aureliano discovers a way to protect against memory loss and suddenly his laboratory and everyone's home or field is filled with inscriptions. Aureliano "realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use." A system of cataloguing their lives without the use of memory becomes common practice. At the same time, every experience becomes a first—and wonderment abounds.
When you can't sleep, your brain can't relax, rejuvenate, or regenerate. In Macondo, no one's mind gets a rest. Normally, this state would inevitably kill everyone trapped in its clutches. Not in Macondo. Instead, the Buendías are thrust into a dream world. Reality slips away. And as reality slips away for the community, so, too it slips away for the reader. Everything might have seemed a tiny bit surreal before the plague. After, just like in Macondo, our imaginations are ignited, our rationality is suspended, our dream life is awakened and all of a sudden, anything is possible.
Enjoy your sleepless night in the land of dreams. It can take you on one of the wildest rides of your life!
Read the second chapter explanation, The Fall of Innocence: Pages 1-86.