"It was then that [Meme] realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia. She had seen them before...but when Mauricio began to pursue her like a ghost that only she could identify in the crowd, she understood that the butterflies had something to do with him." — from One Hundred Years of Solitude
The passionate fruition of Meme and Mauricio Babilonia's love affair is one of the sweetest and strangest episodes in the host of strangely romantic episodes that riddle One Hundred Years of Solitude. With it, Gabriel García Márquez perfectly captures the crush of initial attraction and the blush of the beginnings of love. Meme and Mauricio, originally oblivious to each other in the great ocean of Macondo, are suddenly drawn to each other like a couple of magnets— drawn not only to one another's strangeness, but also by an immediate sense of comfort they find in their connection. Both lovers operate somewhat outside Macondo's social fabric and come from very different backgrounds. Mauricio is a sensitive mechanic for the Banana Company— Meme's mother hates everyone associated with the company. Meme is an educated proper young woman who hides her propensity for gossip and parties from her rigid mother. Meme finds herself both repulsed and attracted to Mauricio's bold advances under the nose of her disapproving mother. "Although she was flattered by the audacity and ingenuity of Mauricio Babilonia, she was moved by his innocence." (p. 309)
Swept up in their love affair, neither Meme nor Mauricio seem aware of the consequences of their actions. Spurred on by Pilar Ternera, who acts repeatedly as sexual advisor to the Buendías, Meme has "the same feeling of bravery that she had felt on the drunken evening." (p. 311) Mauricio, for his part, seems to be riding the wave of acceptance coming from a woman above his class stature. Chances are, he dared to hope she would ever show an interest in him, and indeed "at first his crudeness bothered her." (p. 310). Once they fall into their lovemaking routine, however, they have utterly thrown class differences and caution to the wind.
As with so many encounters in this novel, Meme's butterfly love affair end in tragedy so severe it seems almost impossible. Mauricio dies a broken man; Meme spends the rest of her life in silence living at a convent. If we could ask them whether or not it was worth it, what might they say? Being natives of Macondo, probably that fate had them in its clutches all along. After all, Fernanda says of Mauricio the first time she meets him, "He's a very strange man. You can see in his face that he's going to die." It is also an interesting twist that the butterflies that connect the lovers are also their downfall—had Fernanda not remembered butterflies from the dark of the movie theater, she might never have uncovered her daughter's secret.
No matter what happened in the end, the language García Márquez uses to capture the feelings in new love is particularly moving and magical. Meme finds herself "splashing in a bog of hesitation," "swallowing her blush and absorbed in tribulation," and "naked and trembling with love among the scorpions." Though the entire episode lasts a mere seven pages, it resonates with a passion so intense and real it seems to jump off the page. While love and sex are clearly important themes in One Hundred Years of Solitude, seldom is it handled with such ardor or with as stunning a visual cue as a steamy bathroom filled to overflowing with butterflies.
Use these questions to discuss pages 197–313 with your book club or answer some questions on your own!