Part One: Questions and Summaries
2. Discuss the opening chapter. How do you feel it sets up the novel? What do you learn about Macondo that is important? What do you learn about the author's style?
3. In the first chapter, José Arcadio Buendía (the patriarch of the novel) uses the lab built by Melquíades to distill his wife's inheritance, essentially wiping it out. What do you think this act represents in the broader context of the book?
4. What is the significance of the fact that Macondo is surrounded by water and hidden from the rest of the world? How does this fact impact the way you read the events that happen in Macondo? Do you see similarities between Macondo and other historic or literary places?
5. In the first chapter, we are introduced to José Arcadio and Aureliano. These two names are then passed down from one generation to the next throughout the history of the Buendía family. Read carefully the way each is described. What can you take from the information García Márquez has provided you about each type of man?
6. What is the significance of the fact that in this novel, ice is considered the "greatest invention of our time?" What does this say about Macondo or its culture?
7. The gypsies return to Macondo with each spring season. Why is this significant? How do you read the gypsies are different from or similar to the inhabitants of Macondo?
8. Plagues that have affected humanity throughout the ages have been diseases that impact the body. What is the significance of the fact that the insomnia plague is a plague of the intellect? How do you read the fact that even though they can't sleep, the inhabitants of Macondo don't die?
9. Talk about the ghosts that crop up in the first part of this novel.
10. José Arcadio Buendía doesn't die, but at the end of Part One he ceases to participate in the activities of his family— his wife essentially takes his place at the head of the family. Why do you think this happens? How do you feel about the way it happens?
For a deeper understanding of Part One, read the chapter explanation!
Perhaps, then, it is not that unusual to imagine that with Rebeca's arrival in town comes the most unique and debilitating plague in all of literature—five years of insomnia and memory loss visited on every man, woman and child in the town of Macondo. No sleeping? Is that possible? In One Hundred Years of Solitude it certainly is. And this illness changes things in Macondo—"In a state of hallucinated lucidity, not only did they see the images of their own dreams, but some saw the images of the dreams of others." The plague spreads from household to household on the wings of Úrsula Buendía's candy animals, "delicious little green roosters of insomnia," and it causes the people of the town to adapt in interesting ways. Outsiders can no longer travel through the town without a bell to mark their passage. Aureliano discovers a way to protect against memory loss and suddenly his laboratory and everyone's home or field is filled with inscriptions. Aureliano "realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use." A system of cataloguing their lives without the use of memory becomes common practice. At the same time, every experience becomes a first—and wonderment abounds.
When you can't sleep, your brain can't relax, rejuvenate, or regenerate. In Macondo, no one's mind gets a rest. Normally, this state would inevitably kill everyone trapped in its clutches. Not in Macondo. Instead, the Buendías are thrust into a dream world. Reality slips away. And as reality slips away for the community, so, too it slips away for the reader. Everything might have seemed a tiny bit surreal before the plague. After, just like in Macondo, our imaginations are ignited, our rationality is suspended, our dream life is awakened and all of a sudden, anything is possible.
Enjoy your sleepless night in the land of dreams. It can take you on one of the wildest rides of your life!
Read the second chapter explanation, The Fall of Innocence: Pages 1-86.
The first part of One Hundred Years of Solitude ends with an inconceivable episode. The first time you meet the patriarch of the Buendía clan, José Arcadio Buendía, you'll find him strong and full of adventure, a defender of his wife's virtue, the natural leader of Macondo, a man of science and a seeker of knowledge. Yet, as the third chapter closes, he is driven mad by grief and disappointment—grief over the return of the ghost Prudencio Aguilar and the death of Melquíades and disappointment in his attempts to modernize his town. He lives the rest of his life a broken man—"[Úrsula and Amaranta] spoke to him and he looked at them without recognizing them. Later on, they built him a shelter of palm branches to protect him from the sun and the rain." While Gabriel García Márquez clearly meant to give the impression of strength to the man who founded Macondo, his exit from the novel in its early stages—especially when you compare him to his wife Úrsula who runs the family for more than one hundred years—is curious. So is the state he will remain: "soaked with rain and in a state of total innocence" (Page 86). Given little choice, the Buendías leave their patriarch tied to a tree for years to come.
No one in the novel is more fascinated by the promise of progress—of guiding the primitive society of Macondo to become one more advanced, scientific and fore-thinking than José Arcadio Buendía. He is fixated on it. As he gains knowledge, José Arcadio Buendía tries to share his experiments with the town but they are disinterested. Úrsula, as a result of her sojourn to find her son, is the one who reconnects Macondo with the modern world. She brings new people, merchants, peddlers and organized government. While José Arcadio Buendía is at odds with many of these changes, Úrsula finds ways to operate within them—she thrives. In the end, her husband becomes sentimental and lost. In choosing to remain innocent, José Arcadio Buendía relinquishes his right to guide the town or the Buendías—it is his disappointing and unexpected lot.
The exit of José Arcadio Buendía also helps set gender boundaries at the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude. According to scholar Luis Harss, "In García Márquez men are flighty creatures. Women are solid, sensible, unvarying and down to earth, paragons of order and stability. García Márquez puts it another way: 'My women are masculine.'" When José Arcadio Buendía goes mad, we see this all the more clearly. For all his supposed strength, it is Úrsula who emerges the true progressive and the unquestionable hero of Macondo.
Learn more about the first part of the novel! Find out why Macondo doesn't sleep.
Use these questions to discuss pages 1-86 with your book club or answer some questions on your own!