Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cien Anos de Soledad 2

Reading this book is my favorite homework assignment right now; it feels indulging to sit down for a couple hours of enjoyable reading. This isn't to say that it's an "easy read", as the characters and the plot of the war are confusing, but nevertheless I'm thoroughly enjoying discovering how this book is unfolding. (I realized that the first time I read this book in English I never made it past this second section!)

The themes that stuck out in my mind the most in this section of Cien Anos de Soledad are naming, the war's influence on Macondo and gender roles. In terms of naming, I liked that Ursula stated a clear pattern in the story of the Buendia family when she says that people with the same names develop similar and predictable personalities. I found it interesting that Ursula believes that if she raised Aureliano Segundo's son, who was named Jose Arcadio, she would be able to prevent her great-grandson from inheriting the "Jose Arcadio" impulsive character and tragic destiny. This indicates Ursula's power and guidance as the matriarch of the family and her ability to interfere with the fate of her family (even if her descendants continue to insist on using the same names!).

This second section of the book was predominated by a war between the Liberals and the Conservatives. The war completely alters life for Macondo and the Buendia family. In fact, I suppose that the Buendia family and the town of Macondo as a whole experience similar transformations in the course of history. I find it difficult to summarize what occurred during the war because there were so many episodes of it. Essentially, Macondo lost its innocence as it experienced numerous (public) deaths and the political divisions of the war. Meanwhile the Buendia family became divided and conflicted, especially surrounding the controversial figure of Colonel Aureliano Buendia. Ursula in particular became disgusted with her son the Colonel as his heart grew cold and hungry for power. There are also several mentions of the emptiness of war and the feeling of the war's infinity: it was an all-consuming affair, but to what avail? Interestingly enough, once the war is over, Ursula decides to reorganize the family house and make it a beautiful and more harmonious space again. Just as Macondo's carnival celebration ends in unexpected violence, it seems inevitable that the Buendia family will continue to experience its extreme ups and downs.

Ursula makes a number of comments about the "types" of men in her family. In her eyes the males in her family turn from obedient boys into men driven by the passions of having women, inventing, gaining power and fighting in the war. She sees them as all being the same, a statement which indicates that she sees the women of the house as being very different than the men. However, I think that the Buendia women also enjoy power, as Ursula is clearly the family's leader and an influential figure in Macondo. In addition, Amaranta refuses to marry any of her suitors and is determined to remain independent and a caretaker of the younger Buendias.

As always incest and memory are also prominent in this section. So much to digest from this section!


  1. Siena,
    I agree with what you say about the "types" of men in the Buendía family. It's interesting how the men keep cycling the names, but up til now Úrsula forbids the use of her own name, saying that too much suffering comes with it. I agree with you that the women of the family are very strong and independent (except remedios la bella, whose significance I still haven't quite figured out), and find it almost humorous that one of the Buendía men tries to ward off one of Remedios' suitors by saying that the the women of his family were no good.

  2. Indeed, naming is important here: both the proper names of the characters, and more generally (as I've tried to suggest) the question of how to affix words to things, and what happens when they grow apart.

    In fact, it's interest that there's a kind of reversal here. Whereas we ordinarily think that proper names are more or less arbitrary (that you'd be the same person if you had another name), here they are thought to indicate or even determine character: Aurelianos are one way; Arcadios are another.

    Yet we tend to think that other words are more or less attached to the objects they depict, and here the relation between words and things is otherwise much more tenuous.

  3. I think your idea surrounding Ursula being the family leader is quite true. The one difference I've noticed between the control that men and women like to have is that men enjoy gaining control over others for themselves, such as in war and love, whereas women like to control others in order to create an easier situation for others, such as in (as you stated) the reorganization of the family by Ursula and Amaranta's denial of marriage. It almost appeals to the age-old idea of women taking care of the home while men take care of the rest.

  4. I like that you touched upon the subject of naming because that is a recurring theme that I have had a hard time understanding. As a continuation of what Jon has said, I think that the idea of names as a defining factor of someone's life is quite apparent. Just as the objects began to lose their significance as the people of Macondo began to forget the names of things, maybe the people of Macondo would be forgotten if their names were to be forgotten. By naming each generation the same thing, the name, and therefore, the people belonging to those names, have become eternilized in the history of Macondo as well as in the memories of the people of Macondo.