Two Literary Giants: Gabriel García Márquez and William Faulkner
January 20, 2004
Whether you read William Faulkner for the first time in high school or have been meaning to, he is known around the world for making Mississippi in the post-Civil War South tangible—and populated with the craziest cast of misbegotten characters anywhere in literature. When Gabriel García Márquez first read Faulkner (he was the mostly widely translated American author of his generation) something clicked. From there an idea grew until it became, over time, a masterpiece of time and place to rival Faulkner's own.
Gabo Meets Yoknapatawpha About the time Faulkner was preparing to make the journey to Stockholm to receive the Nobel award, García Márquez, a generation younger than Faulkner, was beginning an uncertain career in journalism and creative writing on the Caribbean coast of his native Colombia. There he was first introduced to the mysterious land of Yoknapatawpha County and its principal town, Jefferson. These were the sites of much of Faulkner's writings; both were modeled after the northern Mississippi region in and around the city of Oxford where Faulkner had spent most of his life. Like Faulkner, García Márquez invented Macondo and based it on his past, and the small Colombian town of Aracataca, near the northern coast of Colombia where he spent his childhood. Faulkner and García Márquez are both dedicated to the struggle of human beings against social and material decadence, the common lot dealt to all in Yoknapatawpha County and the town of Macondo.
Parallel Towns, Parallel Visions García Márquez uses Macondo as a microcosm for the study of a whole society. This is a technique also used by Faulkner—he created a locale in which he examines the South, its great tragedy, and its system of traditional values. In One Hundred Years of Solitude the development of the Buendía family through six generations parallels Faulkner's creations like the Bundrens, Compsons and Sutpens—many of whom recur throughout Faulkner's works. Both novelists offer a panoramic view of the vicious circle of civil war and incestuous societal decadence. The paradise of Yoknapatawpha as undeveloped Indian Territory and of Macondo in its earliest years is lost when human exploiters come to violate the innocence of nature. In both writers work, the community struggles on in the wake of their lost innocence, and remake their lives because of it.
Linked by "Magical Realism" Magical realism, that is, the introduction by a novelist of the improbable and the fantastic within a realistic world, is evident in many of the writings of García Márquez. García Márquez takes the marvelous to great extremes in One Hundred Years of Solitude: gypsies with flying carpets, yellow flowers falling on Macondo like rain, the exaggerated sexual prowess of the Buendía males, and the apparent immortality of both the gypsy Melquíades and the ancient patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía. Though Faulkner is not a magical realist, he also found a sense of the marvelous and wondrous in his world; it is the central theme of some of his best works, especially As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and Light in August.
Gabo's Debt to Faulkner Both of these novelists deal with similar societies at a time when they are attempting to survive the jolting effects of civil strife and exploitation. Yet in the final analysis, García Márquez's debt to Faulkner is undeniable. Faulkner left as part of his legacy a moral tone and standard by which human beings could judge his characters and ultimately themselves. His faith in the human race was evident in his Nobel address when he insisted that man would not merely endure but prevail. Faulkner says, "[Man] is immortal, not because he among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul." Thirty-two years later in 1982, García Márquez made reference to Faulkner in his own Nobel address and to the enduring theme of solitude in both of their writings. He says that writers will invent a new utopia, "where no one will be able to decide for others how to die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible."
Both García Márquez and Faulkner seek to understand the human condition in all of its complexity. Macondo exists no longer and Faulkner's death brought the end of Yoknapatawpha, but above all both writers trusted in the hope that lingers propitiously above the ruin and ashes of destruction.