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” (GET CITE FROM BOOK) 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).
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.