By Gene H. Bell-Villada
"What did you expect," murmured José Arcadio Segundo. "Time passes."
"That's how it goes," Úrsula said, "But not so much."
"When she said it, she realized that she had given the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle." (from page 361 of One Hundred Years of Solitude)
Certain caveats and distinctions are in order concerning the way time is represented in this novel. First, and most obvious, the effect of García Márquez's decision not to number his chapters is to make readers think of the book as a single entity whose twenty unmarked subdivisions exist not as discrete segments but interlinked members in a unitary whole: one text. This larger design is further stressed by the book's immediately visible format of lengthy, fluid, event-filled paragraphs interspersed with minimal (if carefully chosen) dialogue. From sentence to paragraph, and from episode to chapter to full text of García Márquez's seamless narrative, things never stop happening and time ceases only after the final line.
On the other hand, it's important to keep in mind that One Hundred Years of Solitude, while basically chronological and "linear" enough in its broad outlines, also shows abundant zigzags in time, both flashbacks of matters past and long leaps towards future events. One example of this is the youthful amour between Meme and Mauricio Babilonia, which is already in full swing before we are informed about the origins of the affair. There are many instances of this type of fluidity.
Time in this novel is subject to large-scale shifts in narrative, reminiscent of William Faulkner's now-classic works. In contrast to Faulkner, however, García Márquez's are unobtrusive, and call as little attention to themselves as his more celebrated violations of the laws of physics. His shifts in time seem as natural as the course of a human life.
Read up on the other major themes of One Hundred Years of Solitude:
Fate | Humor | Magic
Excerpted from Gene Bell-Villada's examination of the author's life and novels Garcia Marquez: The Man and His Work.