Oprah on Ursula and the Veil of Solitude
As you're making your way through the second half of this labyrinth of a story, no doubt you’ve been rocked by surprises! Page after page, we revel through carnivals, eating contests, siblings entangled in complicated love triangles—even an appearance by Death.
You’ve seen the Buendía family explode in size, despite their solitude. Two dozen children have been baptized. And even as the family multiplies, it dissipates. Older generations have shuffled off into the corners of nostalgia…to become living ghosts. This is a legend of life, death, rebirth…and all the dimensions in between!
From the beginning, Úrsula has been the moral core of the family. In every generation, through every trauma—Úrsula ruthlessly pursues what is right. Throughout her 100 years, Úrsula desperately searches for purity in her offspring, hoping somehow to lift the dark cloud that hovers over the family. But time and time again, they fail her.
It’s at once humorous and painful to see her family’s exaggerated reactions to Úrsula's "reprimands." Her grandson, Aureliano Segundo, has a mistress and a total disregard for money. At one point, to stop Úrsula’s nagging, he papers the entire house in money! It is a wonderful García Márquez touch of buffoonery, hyperbole, and irony. So much is said, with one grand gesture.
To Úrsula’s horror, the family is destined to repeat its foibles and follies, generation after generation. When José Arcadio Segundo runs cockfights and takes off on a mad waterway expedition, repeating the lost voyage of her husband, Úrsula says, "I know all of this by heart. It’s as if time has turned around and we’re back at the beginning." (p. 210)
Her words are more momentous than they seem. It is true in life, as it is in this novel, I believe, that the "trials" of each of our souls come back to us again and again and again, until we have learned…and healed what we need to heal. And through the outsized experience of the Buendía family, García Márquez reminds of us this truth, in the most extravagant and fantastical way.
The power struggles and reversals continue in every branch of the family tree. In her “battle” with Fernanda del Carpio, Úrsula has her wins and losses but will ultimately suffer the final humiliation at the hands of Fernanda's daughter and grandson. You’ll have to keep reading to witness Úrsula’s fate! Once an unshakable matriarch, Úrsula’s supernatural defiance of time finally catches up with her as she goes blind. "It occurred to her," García Márquez writes, "that her clumsiness was not the first victory of decrepitude and darkness but a sentence passed by time." (p. 269) The sentence is more than her blindness. She walks around clumsily, with her arm raised in front of her like the Archangel Gabriel, and she becomes a joke to her own family.
As she shrinks in size and authority—impacted by time as we all are—Úrsula’s darkness is punctuated by moments of keen insight into her family. She sees beyond what is visible, and still hopes her family will find love—or at least some kind of connection—no matter how hopeless it seems. She is the first to suspect Meme’s budding love affair with Mauricio.
Fortunately, before Úrsula's children die, she is able to see into their true hearts. She finally feels compassion for Aureliano, whose solitude has left him the only one who can’t see his father’s ghost. And Úrsula realizes that her daughter Amaranta’s actions weren’t born out of bitterness, but rather out of "a mortal struggle between a measureless love and an invincible cowardice." Not only does García Márquez articulate Úrsula’s forgiveness—in just ten words, he brilliantly expresses Amaranta’s mythic pain. Every word resonates. This is powerful writing.
Úrsula has buried her husband, her children and her grandchildren. She has seen history repeat itself…she has looked into the souls of her family, her people—herself. Is there anything she cannot survive?
The end of the novel holds even more surprises—buried treasure, painful homecomings, a massacre, mysterious births, forbidden love—and the ultimate secret will be revealed!
Read on, and find out what is next!