When speaking of the excellence of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, one wonders how Garcia Marquez came to create such a richly composed imaginary world so similar to our everyday one and yet so different from it. He somehow handles a reality in which the limits of the real and the fantastic fade away naturally. This unique style of story-telling is known as “magic realism”, and is defined as a narrative technique in which the author emphasizes the fantastic quality of extraordinary events. In the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez successfully demonstrates the technique of magic realism through a skillful integration of fantasy and reality, and the peculiar description of the events and characters.
This feat requires analysis of his resources, especially the most important one: his narrative tone. The author has intuitively grasped the vital relationship that exists between space and tone when he noticed that tone could serve as the main unifying force in the novel. Tone belongs by all rights to the narrator’s voice: someone who would report all the incidents calm and untouched, without comments or moral judgments on what has happened. Garcia Marquez chose to employ this serious tone to make unbelievable ideas seems real, because it allows him to dispense with explanations and justifications. With his authentic presentation of events – the tone, there is no need to justify all the implausible phenomena in the story. His sole duty is to simply recount the tale in the most natural fashion, so that the intangible can be associated with the tangible with the greatest of ease. As Garcia Marquez has once asserted himself, “the key to writing One Hundred Years of Solitude was the idea of saying incredible things with a completely unperturbed face.” (McMurray, p. 87) In order to fuse the fantastic or improbable perfectly into realistic occurrences, the only effective way is to deliver them as if they were the implacable truth.
Examples for this remarkable narrative tone are palpable in the novel: “Just a moment, now we shall witness an undeniable proof of the infinite power of God.” (Marquez, p. 85) This statement was said by the priest who levitates by means of chocolate. By depicting this absurd occasion as an unquestionable truth, the author has merged the grotesque into his fictional world so naturally that no one suspect their existence. Consequently, his practice of magic realism in an “unperturbed expression” renders a satiric style throughout the novel.
The stabilized and “normalized” atmosphere in the novel assimilates marvelous things with village and household events, and converts them into acceptable phenomena which the reader can easily admit. This atmosphere is originated from the familiar domestic activities of Ursula, which creates a centre where decisive events happen and others slowly germinate. “Ursula’s function is to impregnate the fictional space with everyday realities so that the marvelous may enter it smoothly.” (Gullon, p. 133) It is through the presence of Ursula that the transition from the imaginary to the real can occur naturally without any remarkable notices or astonishment. Thus, narrative authenticity becomes more readily perceptible when what is related oscillates between impossible and everyday occurrences.
Numerous episodes in the novel also illustrate the author’s adroit manipulation of language and narrative focus for the purpose of fusing the real and fantastic elements of his fictional world. A striking case in point is his treatment of the mysterious death of Jose Arcadio: After his hunting trip with his wife, Jose Arcadio goes into the bedroom to change his clothes. Moments later the sound of a pistol shot signals his death and its strange aftermath:
A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.” (Marquez, p. 135)
Jose Arcadio’s death and its aftermath is utterly ridiculous, but it is made almost believable by the meticulous stylistic precision, and numerous everyday details surrounding the occurrence. This episode perfectly illustrates the author’s method of making the fantastic seem real, thus eliminating the barrier between objective and imaginary realities and creating a total fictional universe.
Garcia Marquez has erased the distinctive boundary between reality and fantasy by immersing proven and fabulous events indiscriminately with the application of his steady, unchanging tone. When the author narrates the story, he “never allows it to become evident, by interjection or amazement, that there may be a substantial difference between the extraordinary and the commonplace.” (Gullon, p. 130) For him, there is really no difference between what is probable or what is not. He does not doubt or question incredible happenings or facts throughout the story. As a result, under the operation of his imagination and narrative tone, prodigious events and miracles can naturally coexist with the ordinary.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, this fusion of fantasy and reality is patent in different aspects. As a diverting illustration, “this time, along with many other artifices, they brought a flying carpet. But they did not offer it as a fundamental contribution to the development of transport, rather as an object of recreation.” (Marquez, p. 31) For many years, the town of Macondo accepts the fantastic as an integral part of life without showing any signs of disbelief or amazement at such remarkable phenomenon. This is a circumstance that the author purposely invents to achieve his ultimate purpose. Although this existence of a flying carpet is obviously a fictional element of the novel, Garcia Marquez does not make it appear unreal. Rather he places it side by side with the familiar realities as equally true events, so that they are connected with one another inseparably.
The author provides a peculiar, exaggerated description of characters and events in order to give each occurrence a sense of reality. In describing Melquiades, Garcia Marquez says,
He was a fugitive from all the plagues and catastrophes that had ever lashed mankind. He had survived pellagra in Persia, scurvy in the Malayan archipelago, leprosy in Alexandria, beriberi in Japan, bubonic plague in Madagscar, an earthquake in Sicily, and a disastrous shipwreck in the strait of Magellan. (Marquez, p. 6)
Apparently, this statement is inconceivable. However, it is important to point out that this “deadpan” depiction of extraordinary people and extraordinary occurrences is indeed one of the principle stratagems the author employs to achieve a comic effect. Events and personal characteristics are spectacularly exaggerated, made quite absurdly larger than life, yet in a style that takes the hyperbole for granted, as though it were a meticulous fact. Hence, this hyperbole serves as an important device to intermingle the strange and exotic with reality.
Many of the fantasies of the novel are indeed absurd but logical exaggerations of real situations. Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garcia Marquez exaggerates events to gain fantasy. For example, “it rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.” (Marquez, p. 320) This hyperbole is employed to emphasize the severity of the rainstorm that destroyed the town. Although such long period of raining is very unlikely to occur, however, in another perspective, its specific numerical values gives the incident a considerable sense of reality. Once again, the overstated description has converted the fantastic element in the situation into an undeniable fact.
Magic realism as a technique of transforming the fabulous into true existence is represented by Garcia Marquez perfectly. He shows his taste for this narrative device – the blend of fantasy and hyperbole exhibited in a context of reality throughout the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. By telling the story in a serious and natural narrative tone, Garcia Marquez is able to produce a magical realm where everything is possible and believable. This is the main reason why the novel attracts, convinces and seduces the reader. With his manipulation to blur the distinction between the real and surreal, no one would doubt that this masterpiece is a remarkable breakthrough in the literary world of fiction.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.
Gullon, Ricardo. “Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Lost Art of Storytelling.” Diacritics. 1971:27-32.
McMurray, George R. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983.