Formulas or Stock Phrases (Essay Excerpt)
García Márquez employs the use of stock phrases throughout the novel. Clauses such as the much–discussed many years later continually emphasize the past of the future time not the events of a present. Likewise, other phrases, such as:
“Colonel Gerineldo Márquez was the first to perceive the emptiness of war.” (161); “Amaranta was the first to suspect that they had lost him forever.” (171); “…that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” (1); “He had been for a long time, ever since that distant day when Amaranta thought he was still a child and continued getting undressed in front of him.” (141); “In reality, José Arcadio Segundo was not a member of the family, nor would he ever be of any other since that distant dawn when Colonel Gerineldo Márquez took him to the barracks…” (262); “In reality she carried it on her hand in the black bandage…” (278). (Emphasis mine.)
These phrases serve as markers that comfort the reader by giving a sense of order to the chaos that is a story with so many characters and events. It’s reminiscent of epic poetry and oral tradition, which provide phrases for an audience so that they may recall an earlier event. It also has the religious connotation of the prayer refrain. And like prayer, the repetition of these phrases provides a sense of expectation, of inevitability. It is important, of course, to look closely at what is being repeated and what the author achieves. Each of these phrases represents an instance where the authorial voice is intrusive rather than objective. It is also a retrospective voice. The moving in and out of the past and then into the future creates the sense of a lack of present, which, of course, there is because Macondo no longer exists for the narrator. It underscores that these characters are fated to end up in these situations, it creates a mood of inevitability, which then renders time superfluous: no matter what, we will end up at the same place. But if on second reading the intrusive voice highlights the lack of a present for Macondo and its residents, it simultaneously serves to create a present between the narrator and the reader, as though the two were having a parallel conversation. Furthermore, these stock phrases also give a fairy tale quality to the narrative, the feeling of a story already told and retold similar to the effect of “Once upon a time”. Unlike the fairy tale, however, the magical realist story is informed by an ever-present past, in which what came before is crucial in the understanding of what will come after and is therefore very much a part of the present moment. Time is repetition. To make this thematic point, García Márquez reaches into Latin American tradition and extracts the custom of naming children after ancestors. Though the naming and renaming of characters to acknowledge or imbue them with certain familial traits is the most often cited repetition, it’s not only the repetition of names themselves that we should pay attention to. The author also repeats the sounds of names: Remedios, Rebeca, Renata Remedios, who will be known as Meme—another repetition of sound. This is not coincidental. By the time Meme is born we’ve noticed the clear reference to the trait the “Re”s share, they remain in a perpetual childlike state, exhibiting behaviors such as Rebeca’s thumb sucking and eating of the whitewash on the walls. This trait is further referenced in the nickname Meme. She is the only character who has a nickname. The double repetition of sound in REnata REmedios carries even more meaning in that it recalls the first Remedios and adds “renata,” Italian for reborn. Remedios Reborn and her traits are now compounded. There is also the repetitive occurrence of certain events on certain days of the week. In an almost biblical fashion, days become associated with particular types of events. For instance, Monday is the day the insomnia/memory plague infects the town, making it a place where time no is longer marked by change. It is also the day that keeps repeating itself (77-78). It’s also the day Amaranta Ursula dies (after giving birth on Sunday) and time effectively stops for Macondo and the Buendías. Tuesday is the day Colonel Aureliano Buendía is born, the day of his failed execution, the day of the “sad armistice”, and the day he dies. Thursday is the day Ursula dies (in the original Spanish text) and the day Melquíades dies. Friday is the day Ursula dies (in the English translation), the day Melquíades is found dead, and the day Amaranta is born. Sunday is the day of sin and incest: José Arcadio Buendía kills Prudencio Aguilar and then consummates his marriage to Ursula, Rebeca arrives at the house, Aureliano marries Remedios when she’s still a child, Father Nicanor divulges during his sermon that José Arcadio and Rebeca are not siblings, and the last Aureliano is born with a pig tail and dies. There is also a similar circularity in the way the author attributes events to certain months. March is when the gypsies come, Colonel Aureliano Buendía is born and dies. It is the month of renewal. So that by the end of the book, after Amaranta Ursula has died and Aureliano is left in the house alone with his nostalgia and the nostalgia of generations past, it is February. Macondo and the Buendía family’s story will come to an end in winter, before there is a chance for another spring renewal. This loop is familiar for Úrsula, who proclaims, “Yo esto me lo se de memoria” (Cien Años de Soledad, 225) upon hearing of José Arcadio Segundo’s plans to dig a canal to the sea, much liker her husband had searched for a route to the sea. In English, the line reads I know all of this by heart (193) and it’s a pity that there is no true translation for this expression, which if literally translated would be, “I know this from memory.” What makes this line so interesting is the subsequent statement that José Arcadio Segundo has no memory of his great-grandfather’s endeavors. While others continue their descent into forgetfulness, Úrsula is able to see patterns being repeated in the family line:
“Throughout the long history of the family the insistent repetition of names had made her draw some conclusions that seemed to be certain. While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the José Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign.” (181)
This recognition, then, leads her to expect certain traits from subsequent generations so that the prophecy is self-regenerating. But rather than circling back, each subsequent generation moves time slightly forward. They are not living the exact events of previous family members and its these changes that create the forward movement, that create a spiraling out (like the corkscrew tail of a pig that the last Aureliano is born with) from one center until the top stops spinning. As such, time does not progress at first, standing still as it spirals on itself before moving slightly forward. This is foreshadowed early on: “They would gather together to converse endlessly, to tell over and over for hours on end the same jokes, to complicate to the limits of exasperation the story about the capon, which was an endless game in which the narrator asked if they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they answered yes, the narrator would say that he had not asked them to say yes, but whether they wanted to hear the story about the capon, and when they answered no, the narrator told them that he had not asked them to say no, but whether they wanted to him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they remained silent the narrator told them that he had not asked them to remain silent but whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and no one could leave because the narrator would say that he had not asked them to leave but whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and so on and on in a vicious circle that lasted entire nights.” (45, emphasis mine) Here again we see a manipulation of time that contributes to the magical realist style. The capon, of course, is José Arcadio Buendía who won a cockfight from Prudencio Aguilar and ultimately killed him, causing the exodus from Riohacha that would circuitously lead to the demise of the Buendía line. There are minor variations in text from one sentence to the next, as though to account for a slight variation in family history, a history that Pilar Ternera refers to as “a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.” (396) With every turning of the wheel, the author cleverly represents each subsequent generation of Buendía, whose lack of memory results in an ignorance of family events and, tied to that, a lack of self-awareness. As such, each generation makes a new loop in history but is forever bound to the spiral of time. Generations of Aurelianos and Arcadios, Amarantas and Remedios are born, each being almost interchangeable with the generation that preceded it. By the end, after generations of name combinations (Aureliano José, Aureliano Segundo, Jose Arcadio Segundo, etc.) that evoke the traits of the original bearers, the characters have evolved and devolved through more than one hundred years of repetitive events. They have gone from being called José Arcadio and Aureliano and exhibiting distinctive traits, back to being called simply Aureliano and José Arcadio, though now the two branches of the family have become so intertwined that it is difficult to differentiate one’s characteristics from the other: The last José Arcadio descends into decadence, filling the pool with champagne, and thinking of Amaranta with his eyes open (371). This calls to mind the second José Arcadio (son of José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula) and his many nights of carousing and drinking champagne upon returning from his travels. It also alludes to Colonel Aureliano Buendía as he was born and died with his eyes open. To further emphasize the theme of a repetitive cycle, José Arcadio Buendía, the family patriarch, also exhibited confused traits, having “the savage violence of his uncommon strength” (78) and being pensive and solitary, spending “the whole night in bed with his eyes open.” (78). Again, the constant repetition evokes circularity, which in turn evokes the movement of time, if not its passage.
“What did you expect?” Úrsula sighed. “Time passes.” “That’s how it goes,” Aureliano admitted, “but not so much.” (124)
“[José Arcadio Segundo] turned his head toward the door, tried to smile, and without knowing it repeated an old phrase of Úrsula’s. ‘What did you expect?’ he murmured. ‘Time passes.’ ‘That’s how it goes,’ Úrsula said, ‘but not so much.’ When she said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was no passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle.” (335)
Furthermore, García Márquez uses temporal references early on within the same sentence to foreshadow what Pilar Ternera called “the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.” (396)
“Finally, one Tuesday in December, at lunchtime, all at once [José Arcadio Buendía] released the whole weight of his torment. The children would remember for the rest of their lives the august solemnity with which their father, devastated by his prolonged vigil and by the wrath of his imagination, revealed his discovery to them:
‘The earth is round, like an orange.’” (4) Then,
“…he gathered the men of the village in his little room, and he demonstrated to them, with theories that none of them could understand, the possibility of returning to where one had set out by consistently sailing east.” (5)
The patriarch unburdens himself “one Tuesday in December, at lunchtime”, so that in one phrase there exists a beginning (Tuesday is a day early in the week), an end (December is representative of the end as it’s the last month of the year), and a midpoint, the time of a shift and the novel does indeed shift. Instead of chronicling marriages and births, there are tragedies and death. Furthermore, the source of José Arcadio Buendía’s burden is highly significant, as what troubles him is circularity and “the possibility of returning to where one had set out by consistently sailing east.” Trouble is foreshadowed from the beginning. The sinful will be cast out, banished east of Eden to a bleak land. Temporal queues like this one abound and serve to lend a feeling of chronicle and so legitimize the bizarre occurrences of Macondo. The lines spoken by the colonel and then Úrsula repeat in the first half and then the second half of the novel. The author could not have summarized his theme more concisely. While this circularity of a “present past” does not in itself define magical realism, as I’ve previously stated, it does create a mood, the expectation of a magical reality. I still do not believe that the short story I brought into my first fiction class was a work of magical realism. Though along with a “present past” it also referenced a repetitive cycle of erroneous marriage, it lacked was the plight of a disenfranchised society and the treatment of the fabulous as mundane. In short, it lacked the true realism that makes the magic possible. Of course, I only wrote four pages. It’s possible that events that could be construed as magical would have cropped up had I continued to write. Yet, my classmates were right. The mood of the piece was such that it foreshadowed a magical reality. Perhaps the story failed because it did not live up to that potential. One Hundred Years of Solitude declares themes of abstraction and subjectivity, the promise of the unexpected even before we’ve opened the book. Time, solitude, and the magic necessary to sustain a time span that is longer than most human lives are all laid out in the title and so in reading we enter this world prepared for a distortion of time. That notion is supported from the first sentence: “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.” (1) Because of the abstraction and subjectivity of its themes (time and the fantastic) magical realism will likely remain difficult to define and will certainly always be impossible to willfully create. As Mexican literary scholar Luis Leal has said, “Magical realism is not a formula. You can’t write a novel of magical realism using a formula.” (Luis Leal: an auto/biography, 127) Leal notes that magical realist authors give expression to a culture and it is that culture that contains elements of what we consider magical realism. As such, it may be that Latin American works will always risk being labeled as magical realist. Alejo Carpentier, who coined the term “the marvelous real” in the 1950s, noted:
“In Latin America, the marvelous can be found around every corner, in the disorder, in our picturesque cities…our nature…and also in our history.”
Our cities, our nature, and our history are filled with societies not only open to the possibility of the inexplicable, but for whom the inexplicable forms a present reality out of a historic past, a past that will forever inform the future and events in between. This, I now believe, is what my classmates read in my short story all those years ago. Fifteen years ago, at that point I may not have yet read One Hundred Years of Solitude but the source of the magical realism was in me thanks to having been shaped by a culture in which being visited by the dead and people being accidentally buried alive is part of a collective truth; a living past as real as the discovery of ice. My own grandmother recalled her father bringing ice to their town. It was a story she told every so often, each time with a sense of wonder, a wonder I shared in hearing a story that sounded mythical to someone used to a contemporary setting. There is a prevailing supposition in the industrialized world that life in Latin American countries is not contemporary, that many of us exist in a remote and forgotten time, the reality of our societies being only that of the rural area. Our realities are often romanticized, characterized as a simpler past by readers from developed countries and some authors, including some Latin American in origin. Though this is slowly changing, there has been little regard for the industrial realities of our cities and the modern day strife brought on by those realities. This romanticizing keeps Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, India, East Asia, the American south, and much of the developing world in a former time in the minds of many. But when folklore and industry collide, the result is Macondo—Latin America, the developing world, the disenfranchised—all expressed in a spiral of time that loops on in the absence of memory; time measured only in repetition of events that keep the disenfranchised at a virtual stand still through one hundred years of solitude.
© Natalie Aristy 2009-2010
WORKS CITED García, Mario T. Luis Leal: an auto/biography. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. García Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1970. Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Cien Años de Soledad: Edición Comnmemorativa. Miami: Santillana USA Publishing Co., 2007. Morner, Kathleen and Rausch, Ralph. NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 1991. Terdiman, Richard. Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis. New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Time.” http://www.iep.utm.edu/time/#H11.
OTHER SOURCES Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. BBC Mundo. Alejo Carpentier interview, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/spanish/misc/newsid_4126000/4126885.stm Bell-Villada, Gene H. Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Johnston, Ian. “On Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.” http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/introser/marquez.HTM. Joset, Jacques. Cien años de soledad. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 1994. Parkinson Zamora, Lois and Faris, Wendy B. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. The Arrow of Time. “The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Order out of Chaos.” http://www.marxist.com/science-old/arrowoftime.html.