One Hundred Years of Solitude summary and theme

 One Hundred Years of Solitude summary and theme

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of five generations of the Buendía family, from the founding of their lineage and the town of Macondo until both are wiped out by a hurricane. The novel is written in third-person-omniscient past tense. Time shifts constantly: Chapters are narrated out of chronological order, and the relative importance of events has little relation to how much attention they receive on the page. Rather than following a single protagonist through a linear set of events, the novel contains many plots and subplots that revolve around both the central characters of the Buendía family across generations and the side characters who interact with them.

The book opens as Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembers his childhood in Macondo, when his father José Arcadio Buendía was interested in all the inventions brought to town by travelers. Subsequently, José Arcadio Buendía experiments with new inventions, including alchemy and the astrolabe. Úrsula Iguarán, his wife and the Buendía matriarch, becomes frustrated with his behavior and his preoccupation with tinkering instead of completing more practical projects.

Úrsula Iguarán and José Arcadio Buendía have three children: Colonel Aureliano Buendía, José Arcadio, and Amaranta. Colonel Aureliano Buendía lives a vibrant and exciting life as a Liberal general during wartime: He fights for Colombian independence from the Conservative government and survives multiple assassination attempts. He has 17 children by women he meets on his military campaigns, and he spends his retirement making tiny gold fishes in the Buendía house. José Arcadio becomes the father of Arcadio with Pilar Ternera; when she is pregnant, he leaves to become a sailor. He briefly returns, hale and hearty; while he is in Macondo, he marries Rebeca and stops the execution of his brother, the Colonel. Amaranta outlasts her brothers; she dies single and unhappy at home.

Arcadio has three children with Santa Sofía de Piedad: Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo. Arcadio dies after becoming a dictatorial ruler of Macondo; Santa Sofía retreats to the background for a few decades and then leaves Macondo to live with a cousin. Remedios the Beauty lives a short but mysterious life before she ascends into the sky. José Arcadio Segundo develops purpose as a leader of a workers' strike at a banana company that is exploiting the people of Macondo; he is the sole survivor when the workers are massacred.

Aureliano Segundo marries Fernanda del Carpio and takes Petra Cotes as a lover. Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda del Carpio have three children: Renata Remedios (Meme), José Arcadio, and Amaranta Úrsula. Meme falls in love with a mechanic, and Fernanda sends her to a convent. A nun drops Meme’s son, Aureliano, off at the family’s home later that year. José Arcadio goes to religious school and meets the Pope; on a visit home, he is murdered in his bed by teenagers looking for gold. Amaranta Úrsula is educated in Europe and returns to Macondo with her Belgian husband, Gaston; they are not completely happy together. When Gaston returns to Europe, Amaranta Úrsula begins a sexual relationship with her nephew, Aureliano, with whom she has the final child of the Buendía family.

At the end of the novel, Macondo and the Buendía family home are in ruins. The child of Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano is born with a pig’s tail because it is the product of incest, the fulfillment of an omen that appeared in the first generation of the Buendía family. Amaranta Úrsula dies in childbirth, and Aureliano takes the infant into the town square, where he drinks and loses the child. Later, he finds it being devoured by ants. He returns to the crumbling Buendía home, where he decodes the ancient writings of the wanderer Melquíades. As he reads the parchments, he realizes that the writings predicted all the events that befell the Buendía family. A windstorm rises as he is reading, and as he reads the last line, the storm wipes Macondo off the face of the earth.

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Úrsula Iguarán is the Buendía family matriarch. As a young woman, she marries her cousin, José Arcadio Buendía. Together with other young couples, they found the town of Macondo and begin their family there. Her mother convinces her that the result of any incestuous relationships, such as Úrsula's with her husband, will necessarily be a child born with a pig's tail, so Úrsula retains a lifelong fear of that possibility.

She founds a prosperous business in Macondo selling candy animals and raises the next four generations of Buendías. Her husband, always obsessive, becomes mentally ill, and she visits him every day to assist him with daily life tasks. When her sons and grandsons engage in military activity, with one going so far as to install himself as the leader of Macondo, she ensures they follow her will with violence. She refuses to let anyone else in the family take the gold that a guest left in the Buendía house during the war years, even when the family lives in poverty.


Úrsula is the archetypal matriarch, watching over the Buendía family for many generations. Her long life symbolizes the central role of the mother in Latin American culture. She is not only a maternal figure but also a successful businesswoman and community leader. Her peaceful death is a reward for a lifetime of remaining the most stable and capable member of the Buendía family.


José Arcadio Buendía is the husband and cousin of Úrsula Iguarán. He is the father of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, José Arcadio, and Amaranta. He is one of the founders of Macondo and well into his life acts as an informal community leader; others seek his advice before making important decisions. When traveling merchants come to town with new inventions, he feels that he must try out or purchase all of them. He experiments with alchemy and tries to find a route from Macondo to Colombia's capital.

José Arcadio is the archetypal dreamer. In contrast to his wife’s practicality, he busies himself imagining a fantasy world of the future. Symbolically, he represents the other piece necessary to founding a civilization; if Úrsula is the practical one, he represents the ability to dream and have vision. Because he fully embodies this archetype, he lacks other qualities to balance out his extreme tendencies. In his later years, he becomes mentally ill and must be permanently restrained. José Arcadio is a somewhat tragic figure whose death establishes an ominous pattern for the men in the Buendía family.


Melquíades is a mysterious traveler and the novel’s archetypal seer. He often wears a large black hat and is described as having "an untamed beard and sparrow hands" (1). He arrives in one of the early groups of wanderers to Macondo, and he is very excited to show José Arcadio the world's latest inventions. As a seer, Melquíades connects the “real” world to the world of mystery. He can see and understand things that others cannot. He communicates with the gods and has the ability to resurrect through alchemy. His age is indeterminate; he has traveled the world, and, most importantly, his writings predict the Buendía family’s fate.

Melquíades's resurrection represents his connection to the world’s mysteries. He is not a Christ figure, as he does not represent sacrifice; rather, he brings arcane knowledge, the meaning of which can be understood only many years in the future. His predictions link him to the Buendía family’s fate. For many years after his death, his ghost appears in the Buendía house. Family members see him, especially in his former workshop, which is left untended after his death until other Buendía descendants renew an interest in his work generations later.


Colonel Aureliano Buendía is the son of Úrsula Iguarán and José Arcadio Buendía. He is the first person to be born in Macondo. The novel opens as he faces a firing squad and thinks about the first time he sees ice. This event represents his duality as a soldier and an artist. He becomes politically aware and active as a young man when he professes Liberal sympathies despite his comfortable upbringing in a largely Conservative environment.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía is not a patriarch in the traditional sense because his lineage is destroyed. He meets Remedios Moscote when he is a young man and she is still a child. They marry, but she dies at 14 of blood poisoning. Over the course of his military career, he fathers 17 sons by different women across the country. He remains unaware of them until they converge on Macondo for a ceremony celebrating his service to the country. All but one of his sons is murdered by unknown assassins, cutting off his potential lineage.


Amaranta is one of the three children of Úrsula Iguarán and José Arcadio Buendía. She fights with Rebeca over the affections of Pietro Crespi and goes so far as to attempt to ruin Rebeca's wedding dress and even poison her to stop the marriage. When Rebeca marries José Arcadio instead, Amaranta rejects Pietro in favor of remaining alone. She is courted by Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, whom she also rejects.

Amaranta represents thwarted identity within a patriarchal model that allows her no options outside marriage and motherhood. When her original marriage plans fail, she has an incestuous sexual relationship with her nephew, Aureliano José. She tries to end the relationship for fear of becoming pregnant with a baby who has the pig’s tail Úrsula warned against; this occurs after he returns home from war with the idea of marrying her. She never marries or has children, rejecting each of her suitors once the man becomes serious about making a commitment. In her later years, she spends her time weaving her own death shroud; she is prepared for the moment of her own death. Her rejection of marriage left her with no other options for constructing a life or an identity outside the home.


José Arcadio is the son of Úrsula Iguarán and José Arcadio Buendía. He acts as a foil to his brother, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, because of his gregarious nature, his travels abroad, and his impulsive decision-making. The narrative arc between the two characters reaches its climax when José Arcadio threatens the firing squad and prevents the execution of the Colonel.

José Arcadio is the rebellious child. When he is young, he begins a sexual relationship with the older Pilar Ternera. When she tells him she's pregnant with Arcadio, their son, he leaves with a group of travelers and returns years later, a crude, tattooed sailor who auctions himself off to the highest bidder for sex, aware of his power over women. After his marriage to Rebeca, he steals land from others in Macondo and collects taxes from them. He dies under mysterious circumstances in his own bedroom, and his killer is never found. His son, José Arcadio, becomes one of the fathers of the next generation of Buendías.


Rebeca is the orphaned second cousin of Úrsula Iguarán. As a child, Rebeca arrives in Macondo under mysterious circumstances . She brings an insomnia plague and a bag of her parents' bones with her. When she is nervous, she exhibits symptoms of pica; namely, she secretly eats earth and whitewash. She does not speak for a long time. Rebeca seems to have suffered a serious trauma, but the circumstances that caused her condition are never named. Like many characters in the novel, Rebeca has a fatalistic attitude about her past; it is neither worth dwelling on nor worth trying to correct in the future.

Just as with many other characters—both male and female—her life choices center on and are defined by her relationship. As a young adult, she marries her adoptive brother José Arcadio. Together, they prosper and eventually purchase a home on the main square of Macondo. After his death, she retreats into their home and almost never leaves it for the rest of her life.


Arcadio is the child of José Arcadio and Pilar Ternera. He tries to have sex with his biological mother, but she sends Santa Sofía de Piedad to him instead. Sofía and Arcadio marry and have three children: Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo, and José Arcadio Segundo.

During the war between Liberals and Conservatives, Arcadio is named head of Macondo. He rules the town as a tyrant and locks up, assaults, or kills those who disagree with him. He also steals money from the town and embezzles. His mother deposes him and whips him for his behavior. This represents the recurrent idea in the novel that family codes—particularly those of the mother—overrule civic or military law. However, he is still subject to the rule of law in wartime.

When a rider comes to warn him of the Conservative army coming to town, Arcadio does not believe him. The army executes him when they arrive.


A daughter of one of the other founding families of Macondo, Pilar Ternera becomes the oldest character in the book. Her lifespan lasts far beyond that of a normal person; like Úrsula, she symbolizes the eternal feminine caretaker. She is the biological mother of Aureliano José and Arcadio. She also shelters and sometimes has sexual relationships with several other members of the Buendía family, which sets her apart from the traditional matriarch, Úrsula.

She is a lifelong sex worker who hosts other couples who need a private place to meet at her house. She eventually establishes a zoological brothel. Because of the role her career plays in Macondo, she tends to know everyone's private business. Additionally, she tells fortunes and reads the future through omens and cards. Some of her omens become plot points in the novel: For example, she tells Rebeca that her parents' bones need to be buried to be at rest, and she tells Colonel Aureliano Buendía to watch out for his mouth before a poisoning attempt.


Remedios the Beauty is the daughter of Arcadio and Santa Sofía de Piedad. When the French women that José Arcadio Segundo brings to town want to hold a carnival, Remedios the Beauty is named queen. She shares the title with Fernanda del Carpio, who arrives in Macondo and enchants Aureliano Segundo.

Remedios the Beauty is so beautiful that she must wear a homemade sack dress to minimize male attention toward her. Men repeatedly die by accident while trying to stare at or follow her, and she earns the reputation of having a scent that causes men to die. Her ascension while hanging laundry parallels the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. In the novel’s traditional Catholic worldview, this is a reward for her having tried to minimize her sexuality and remaining a virgin.



Major elements of this book have a non-chronological relationship to time. Time is fluid, and events that occurred at different points in time collapse in on one another. Events are frequently narrated out of order, and those attempting to keep a close eye on precisely the time often fail.

Within individual chapters, the most significant events are usually established early or narrated first, ranking them in order of importance rather than in chronological order. To stack the text in order of importance is to create an unstable relationship between time and memory. For example, in the chapter dedicated largely to the marital disagreement between Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo, the first event narrated is the long-term rainstorm. Instead of narrating the chapter chronologically—first the argument, then the rain, then the cessation of rain—events are narrated in descending order of importance. This effect can be disorienting, as past, present, and future intertwine.

Both the character Melquíadres and his workshop appear to exist apart from time. After Melquíades dies, his workshop does not age or decay, like the body of a saint. Jorsé Arcadio Segundo and the little Aureliano describe their perception of time in the workshop as though "it was always March there and always Monday" (348). The physical space of the workshop is out of temporal sync with the other rooms in the Buendía house. Time is described as though it sometimes "stumbles and had accidents" (348). The workshop’s relationship to time is not linear.

Though Melquíades’s workshop stays eerily the same after his death, the members of the Buendía family do not. Although a few characters live quite long—Úrsula until she is over 100 years old—all of the characters eventually die. Members of the Buendía family themselves are not stuck in time. Like any other person, they grow old, fade, and eventually die. Even though time may not be linear, all of the characters succumb to death. The apocalyptic winds that destroy Macondo also put an end to time, placing the power of fate above logic.


The Buendía family has a legacy in Macondo. Over time, they are well regarded for being one of the founding families. The earliest generation of Buendías—especially José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán—takes pride in both their family unit and in the legacy they create. Over time, each generation builds up the family in preparation for the future. For the most part, the parents want the best possible life for their children, and the children want their parents to be comfortable as they age. Though they take care of other as best they can, the family itself is only as strong as the individuals, and over time, the flaws of the members of the Buendía family bring its demise.

Once those who believe most strongly in the Buendía family die, the family itself begins to fall apart. For example, Úrsula holds fast in her later years to the control she has over Aureliano Segundo, Santa Sofía de Piedad, and the children José Arcadio, Aureliano, and Amaranta Úrsula. She raises them as she would her own children, even though she is elderly, and they are quite young. After Úrsula dies (342), the family unit weakens to the point of decay. Santa Sofía de Piedad keeps the household orderly and tidy for most of her life. In her later years, she disappears entirely, after which the house itself falls into disarray. Rather than being a single upstanding family unit, the members of the Buendía house who are left behind act like individuals who simply happen to have some interests in common.

A clear marker of the difference between the intended legacy of earlier generations and the true legacy of later generations is the treatment of the physical house itself. Though the elder women of the house keep it clean and tidy, the fourth- and fifth-generation Buendías barely clean the rooms they use every day, let alone those they do not inhabit. They let the forces of nature overtake the house as they attend to other things, primarily their sexual relationships. They do not think of themselves as a dynasty, nor do they consider the continuation of the family line. For example, when Amaranta Úrsula moves back into the family house in Macondo, she tries temporarily to keep a few rooms habitable, but she soon becomes overwhelmed. Instead, she and Aureliano inhabit only a couple of rooms as they let the rest of the house fall apart. They neither strive for nor do they celebrate the Buendía family legacy—instead, they have passionate sex and avoid going outside in public (405). The birth of the fifth-generation Buendía child with a pig’s tail brings the family dynasty to a close, ending it with incest, just as it began.


Throughout the book, omens and signs dictate characters’ behaviors. These omens represent fate. Thematically, the omens in the text concern whether any one character truly has free will and the ability to make decisions that do not have known outcomes. Omens, especially regarding travel, violence, and death, guide behavior and choices. Overall, characters appear to view the results of omens as inevitable. When the insomnia plague strikes the town of Macondo in Chapter 3, many citizens forget the names of objects and events from the past. Pilar helps combat the plague not by predicting the future but by predicting how individuals reacted to the past. She "conceived the trick of reading the past in cards as she had read the future before" (47). Using the tarot cards to foretell the future changes the way that the people behave, raising the question of whether suggestions about the future become self-fulfilling once they are known, or whether fate exists regardless of individuals’ prior knowledge of it.

Pilar foresees slivers of the future through direct omens and also through the reading of tarot cards. Though several members of the Buendía family come directly to her with their questions, she sometimes intuits outcomes without being asked. Her personal history is threaded through the history of the Buendía family. She is so close to them that she can predict life events or characteristics without needing the aid of the cards. She is a female seer, a character parallel to Melquíades. Each seer affects the fate of the Buendía family in different ways.

With her omens, Pilar spontaneously foreshadows what might happen to specific characters. When Amaranta receives an omen of death from a woman in a blue dress who resembles Pilar (278), the inevitability of her own imminent demise calms her. Instead of feeling panic, she prepares for the rites of death. The omen gives her comfort and strength as she weaves her own shroud, settles her affairs, and has herself measured for a coffin. She also chooses a specific outfit to wear at the time of her death. Instead of fighting the omen or disbelieving it, she takes it as truth and acts accordingly.


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