When Colonel Aureliano Buendía returns from war, his family is excited—anticipating the return of a long lost brother, son and friend: "We'll finally have a man in the house again," Úrsula said. What they are met with instead is a man "captive in a trap of nostalgia" who is, at least for a time, unable to move on with his life. He sees for the first time that his mother is the only person who had ever "succeeded in penetrating his misery." He tries to kill himself because even Úrsula can no longer console or find him, "[Úrsula] spent the whole morning looking for a memory of her son in the most hidden corners, but she could find none."
Were this a different sort of novel, we might chalk up Colonel Aureliano's sudden melancholia as part of a natural reaction to the grief of war. But since this is a novel about generations of the loneliness in the Buendía family, Colonel Aureliano fits into a pattern instead. When he comes back to the house after years away, Colonel Aureliano Buendía has a choice. He can either reconnect with his family or lock himself away in solitude. He chooses the latter.
The tools he uses to keep his distance from family members and the world are interesting. Aside from literally issuing orders that no one—not even his mother—can come within 10 feet of him, he retreats in ways no one can see. One of the most repeated places Colonel Aureliano hides is in his remembrance of things past. He spends hours contemplating how his life would have been different given different choices. He doesn't attach himself to the flesh and blood people at the house in Macondo, he relives his childhood: "His only happy moments, since that remote afternoon when his father had taken him to see ice, had taken place in his silver workshop where he passed the time putting little gold fishes together."
We begin to recognize the trend. Rather than reconnect with his wife and children when he became disgruntled, José Arcadio Buendía talks to the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar, his dead enemy. Instead of looking deep into his mother's eyes and finding her, Colonel Aureliano Buendía lives in his memories of happier times. He gives up. Rather than choosing life, the Buendía men choose a spiritual death. They use nostalgia to perpetuate solitude and emotional distance until slowly—one by one—they shuffle off into eternal silence.
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