With it being Valentine’s, I thought I’d have a look at some interesting ways novels have tackled the tension between the self, romance and others.
Some hot topics that tend to crop up during this time of year include love, solitude, and romance. I’d like to discuss these themes in relation to Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is set in a town called Macondo, and follows the ups and downs of the Buendia family over generations. Throughout the novel, we see different characters carried away by the passions of their hearts, leading to drastic changes in the family dynamic over the years.
Macondo itself becomes subject to often bizarre and magical fortunes, as well as its fair share of misfortunes. Its inhabitants experience love stories that are just as confusing, anxiety-inducing, plainly heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The relationships we witness in One Hundred Years of Solitude are complex, from the presence of concubines to the love triangle two sisters never seem to be relieved of. The most pressing thing about this novel is the counterbalance between solitude and love that plays out.
A character introduced earlier in the novel, Pilar Ternera, is an embodiment of female physicality; she is seen as a woman whose body acts as an escape for a number of men. Her characterisation is interesting, since she is presented as a woman who thrives at pleasing men, yet her own physical and emotional pleasure seems absent.
I’m not sure that this is down to an inability to present a dynamic woman on Márquez’s part; rather, his hyper-focus on sexuality and sensuality when it comes to Pilar Ternera is indicative of the counterbalancing themes of love and solitude. Her excess in the physical brings the emotion of the family to the forefront.
While emotional issues such as fatherhood, adultery, pedagogy, politics, and marriage weigh down on the Buendia household throughout the book, it is in the family that even the most introverted characters find solace.
By presenting sexuality and emotionality as oppositional, Márquez asks how much our fundamental relationships rely on the physical and how foundational companionship is to a relationship. We witness couples in their prime, through their more difficult periods, parenthood, and for a few, through to old age. Though the title accounts for a century, Márquez’s novel opens your eyes to the impermanence of life and its relationships. The generational narrative, however, serves to emphasise the impact generations can have on one another.
However, Márquez does not diminish the importance of physicality to the relationships we witness throughout the novel. There is something quite inexplicable in the way he depicts a scene between two people in love: physical proximity is contrasted to and in constant tension with emotionality. However, this is not to say that the two do not overlap, because the book is brimming with the emotional, physical and creative experiences of each generation.
The book can often feel labyrinthine, brimming with magic, love affairs, war, and discovery. The setting and characters in the novel are enmeshed in a way that feels inextricable, and you’ll find it difficult not to fall in love with Márquez’s style.