By James Higgins
"Solid, monumental like his grandfather, but with a joie de vivre and an irresistible good humor that they did not have, Aureliano Segundo scarcely had time to look after his animals. All he had to do was to take Petra Cotes to his breeding grounds and have her ride across his land in order to have every animal succumb to the plague of proliferation. Like all the good things that occurred in his long life, that tremendous fortune had its origins in chance." (from page 207 of One Hundred Years of Solitude)
The novel's central theme, highlighted by the title, is human isolation. If the solitude of the Buendías is directly linked to their egoism, it is so only in part, for it is too persuasive to be explained away so easily as an external condition. Disfigured "forever and from the beginning of the world by the pox of solitude" that prevents communication with others, the Buendías are a group of solitary individuals living together as strangers in the same house. As such, they personify the predicament of the human race.
The story of the Buendías also reveals the limited nature of the individual's control of his own destiny. Aureliano Triste's sketch of the railroad is "a direct descendant of the diagrams with which José Arcadio Buendía illustrated his scheme for solar warfare" and when José Arcadio Segundo shuts himself away to study Melquíades's manuscript, his face reflects "the irreparable fate of his great-grandfather." What is implied here is not merely that the human personality is largely shaped by heredity and environment, but also that individual life is subject to laws in that, since all men live out a limited range of experiences, every human existence corresponds in some senses to an archetypal pattern.
The world the Buendías inhabit is one that fails to come up to the level of their expectations, and their history is a catalogue of "lost dreams" and "numerous frustrated enterprises." Again and again the characters find fulfillment denied them. Not only are the Buendías' hopes and aspirations thwarted by life, but also misfortunes arbitrarily befall them, as when Colonel Aureliano sees first his wife die and later his sons, or when Rebeca and Meme tragically lose the men who brought them happiness.
For many of the characters indeed, life becomes synonymous with suffering, and a recurring motif is withdrawn from the world in a symbolic retreat to the refuge of the womb. Peace of mind is ultimately achieved only when the characters opt out of active emotional involvement in life, and accept the fate they have been given.
Read up on the other major themes of One Hundred Years of Solitude:
Time | Humor | Magic
Excerpted from the article "Cien Anos de Soledad" from the primary casebook on the novel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude: A Casebook.