Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude uses both remembering and forgetting to show the thematic importance and even critique of how memory plays a key role in our understanding of the world around us. There are very key moments of remembering and forgetting that show how much of role memory has in the way people handle new and often stressful and frightening situations.
The novel starts out with a memory “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” (Marquez,1) which is used to first introduce the theme of memory into the novel and to act as a coping mechanism for Aureliano. Susan Vega-Gonzales says that “Memory is closely related to the reclamation of identity and history” so it only makes sense for Aureliano to be looking back to his history and to reclaim his identity when it is about to be taken from him with his death, but it also makes sense that a story that delves into an exploration of memory and how it effects people and the society they live in (Vega-González). This line at the beginning of the story also serves to show readers just how important of a role memory will play in this family’s life up to the very end of the story. By placing it in the very first line, it shows how this man, who is a second-generation member of the Macondo village, is deeply affected by memories, in a tradition that was passed down from his father and mother, and is continuously reinforced by characters such as Melquiades, who in his own right acts as a living memory for the family, since he was the first outsider to bear witness to the events that have transpired in this town.
There are some specific instances where this becomes clear, which I will be going into in greater depth than the previously mentioned example. The first of this is the insomnia plague, which takes the memory of those effected. At first it is interpreted to be a good thing that would allow for the people to be much more productive. Yet once the plague has been cured, they “referred to later as living like sleepwalkers which seems to suggest… a constant recycling of the past” which readers see happen many time throughout the story (Bell). This recycling is clearly seen at the end of the book when it we see a recurrence of the baby with a pigs tail being born because of historical inbreeding in the Buendia family, which Ursula tells us about in the beginning of the story in her explanation of her fears to have sex with her husband because her husband is also her cousin. Another example readers can see of the past coming back as a curse through memory is when Ursula “curse[s] the day that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha” because at some point in the story, when Ursula is remembering everything at the same time, she seems to remember this event as if she had lived it herself (Isip). Garcia Marquez did this to show that no matter if the memory is real, historical, or completely false, we still feel the impact of these memories and they alter who we are and what we do based on them.
However, when the people start to lose their memory, Jose Arcadio Buendia attempts “to restore memories by ways of “constructing”” a machine that will remember for them (Isip). This seems to imply that Garcia Marquez see’s memory as a mere construct and that the only true version is that of an outsider (Isip).
However, when we compare this section to the section where Ursula’s memories are all seeming to happen at once, this interpretation does not really hold up. Her memories all happen at the same time once she has gone blind and was older than most of the people in Macondo who were still alive and was one of the only remaining original settlers of Macondo. In this part, those memories keep her company (even the ones that she does not really remember, since she starts to confuse history and memory). In this moment, the memories are not functioning just as constructions to keep her alive but are turning her into what I can only compare to a walking google of information about the town and its history. Because she begins to serve this purpose, I cannot in good faith say that the memories are ‘mere constructions’ because that demeans them to a point that they no longer matter when in fact they play a key role in the rearing of the young children in the Buendia house at the time.
It’s also very interesting how Garcia Marquez does this, as it seems to perpetuate a perfection “in the twin arts of remembering and forgetting in order to play at “battledore and shuttlecock with the whole of existence”” because of how he balances the acts of remembering and forgetting in both extremes (Baah). Being able to remember is arguably one of the most human traits that we have. We don’t just remember that food is necessary and some people are bad like animals do, but we also remember small, seemingly inconsequential events in our lives. We remember that one day we took a walk and the sky was beautiful and the air was perfect. We remember that one dog we saw with the nice person talking it for a walk. But we also forget that conversation we had with a friend, and we forget that meal we had with our boss. In doing all of this, we create our own history and our own identity based off of this history. Garcia Marquez does the same thing with the two extremes his characters go through. When they forget everything, even things as simple as a cow that you milk to put the milk in the coffee, they fight to keep it. And yet when Ursula remembers everything, to ancestors she never met, and events that happened long before her birth, those around her fight to get rid of them. There seems to be a line that Garcia Marquez is pointing out to readers. A line of too much and too little memory. People are praised for having a good memory, but they are sensationalized for having a perfect memory. People are shamed for having a poor memory, yet it is alright to forget on occasion.
Memory is what makes us human, and readers of Garcia Marquez One Hundred years of Solitude get to see the extremes of what happens when memory is not exactly what we expect it to be.
Isip, J. D. “History And Memory In Almanac Of The Dead And One Hundred Years Of Solitude.” Atenea 31.1/2 (2011): 133-143. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Vega-González, Susana. “Memory and the Quest for Family History in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Song of Solomon.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 3.1 (2001):
Baah, Robert Nana. “Return To The Past In García Márquez’s El Amor En Los Tiempos Del Cólera.” Romance Notes 53.2 (2013): 203-212. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Bell, Michael. “Nietzsche, Borges, García Márquez On The Art Of Memory And Forgetting.” Romanic Review 98.2-3 (2007): 123-134. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Years later, she would remember the day her parents gave her access to the one thing that gave her strength in her most trying times.
She was the first, and she was destined for great things. Her mother had a plan all set out: what she was going to do in high school, what sports she would play growing up, what her prom dress would look like, who her husband would be and what he’d be like, what her grandchildren would be named. Yet the mothers plan was thrown incredibly off the path when her baby girl, and first born child, approached her one day when she was leaving class in her second year of school and said “Mommy! I don’t want to go to cheer today. I want to ride the Karate Bus!”
“Oh, honey! Only boys do that, that’s not something young ladies do” she laughed playfully as she rubbed the girls head, playing with her curls.
“I don’t care! I want to ride the Karate Bus!” the little girl pouted and pushed her mother away.
“Well, it’s already gone baby! Maybe next time,” she said as she put the girl, who was still pouting, in the car.
“You promise mommy?” the little girl looked at her mother so hopefully.
“We’ll see,” she answered with a smile.
The drive home was filled with the chatter of mother and daughter, with the mother patiently waiting while the little girl rambled on. She’d always known that her baby was a spirited child, but she would never guess just how much until many years later.
Time passed just as it always had, except that one question kept coming back for a year. Then in the third grade, when her parents were exhausted from all of the talking and begging and pleading, they gave her the only gift that she wanted for her birthday.
“No way!” the little girl screamed, “You’re gonna let me ride the Karate Bus?!”
Her parents laughed “Well, not exactly,” her father spoke in his deep, commanding voice, “We did sign you up for karate, but you aren’t going to the place with the Karate Bus”
The little girl was too excited to care about that detail, she just tackled her parents in the biggest hug her tiny arms could manage. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She repeated over and over to her parents as they held her.
Later that day they would talk about how much of a responsibility it was, and how it depended on her grades and her behavior (since she was known to be a bit temperamental at times) but she wasn’t listening. All that little girl could hear was the cheers that she would one day receive standing on that mat of her championship sparing match (though she didn’t know at the time what the event was called).
Day one of class, she walked in, belt tied wrong, and uniform too big. She’d never forget that first day of class when she saw one of the teachers jump horizontally into the air and spin twenty times before landing perfectly on his feet. That day she was told that she would need to get some sparing gear to make sure that she didn’t get hurt when the practiced hitting. So, her mom took her to the store and she looked at all of the different colors that they offered and she chose the pepto bismol pink one, because she was a girl and she thought that was the right color for her.
She came home from class crying that night. The teachers had made fun of her for her sparing gear and it almost made her want to quit. Almost.
Instead she stuck it out for three months, just long enough to have the instructor put her into a regional competition. He was convinced that she was going to go out in the first round of the tournament, and he made sure she knew it. Now this spirited little girl, who had never been told that she couldn’t do it before, knew that she had to prove him wrong.
She fought twelve rounds of single elimination that day. She won ten of them. It was that strength in her that made her parents transfer to a better school, with better trainers, and made her parents know that she would conquer the whole world just to spite it.
That mentality was put to the test years later.
Now our little girl is 16, in her junior year of high school. She’s a black belt, a certified referee for sparing tournaments up to the national level, an assistant teacher for her Masters. She’d officially tried every sport that her small town had to offer, and then some. The year started out smoothly, with her trying new things. But this year it was different. When she started to fail she didn’t fight back. She got quieter and quieter until she stopped speaking altogether. Her parents worried so much they took her to see every doctor they could think of: psychiatrist, General practitioner, pediatrician, neurologist. They put her on any medication they though would help: anti-acids, anti-depressants, anti-anxieties, more vitamins, meditation, yoga. Anything to make their baby girl who she was before.
Once they tried everything, a new problem arose. Her father was having stomach pains. So her mother did the same thing to him. Every doctor they could think of, every medication that had a hope of helping.
By spring they had figured out what was wrong. Cancer. The whole family was sure that this would be the end. One of them would die. Whether it was the Cancer that killed him, the silence that killer her, or the stress that killed mother, someone wasn’t going to make it.
Our little girl, who isn’t so little anymore, had always coped with hard times by going to her Masters. They didn’t need to know what was going on her life, and they worked out her emotions like no other remedy could. But one day, during a private lesson, the little girl broke down. In the middle of learning new stances and attacks she started to cry.
Her Master stared at her as she sat down on the mat, buried her head in her lap and cried before jumping up and walking off the mat.
When she walked back on, after composing herself, and bowed before him
“I’m sorry Sir, that was inappropriate of me. There is something going on outside of here that is very hard on my family right now, and I lost control. Will you forgive me sir?”
He stood there and looked at her for a while, both unmoving.
“My Lady”, he said, calling her by his pet name for her “Come here.”
She stood upright again and looked up to see that he had his arms open wide to hug her. She did as ordered and walked up to him. He hugged her while she cried and when she had calmed down a bit, he pulled back, and put his hands on her shoulders to make her look him in the eyes. And though not a word was said between them, they both knew what was being said.