Swirling in the realm of academia for several decades has been the controversial issue of the nature and impact of foreign contact on remote, traditional societies. While undeniably bringing industrialization, increasing economic output, and establishing the Western culture in “Third World” areas, the negative externalities of foreign contact must not be ignored. It is the contention of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, that the aforementioned “progress” is merely an illusion.
According to Garcia Marquez, a society that immerses itself in knowledge and technology invokes its own ruin. By using biblical references, the author demonstrates how the Colombian town of Macondo embarks on this path of destruction. As Macondo gradually accepts and embraces the outside world, it moves out of an Eden-like state, becomes ever more “Westernized” (and therefore evil), and spirals towards a Sodom and Gomorrah-like end. Through trade with the gypsies, contact with neighboring towns, the impact of national politics, and the capitalist system brought by the train and banana company, Macondo tasted the bitter fruit of knowledge, lost its innocence, and was annihilated.Order now
Macondo’s conception occurred at the beginning of time, when “the world was so recent that many things lacked names.”1 The town had begun in a similar fashion to the book of Genesis, with so little known about the world, that objects remained unnamed. Founded in purity, after Macondo’s patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula fled their previous town, life was begun anew. Carved out of a virgin forest, the village recreated Eden, as the people arranged “the business of their souls directly with God…. they had lost the evil of original sin.”
All were created equal, for Jose Arcadio Buendia had set up the placement of the original houses in such a way that all of them were equidistant from the river and all houses received the same amount of sunlight.3 As in The Garden, mortality was a foreign concept, as “there was no cemetery in Macondo at this time, for no one had died…”4 In this remote village amidst the Colombian swampland, disconnected from all outside influence, no one was favored, no one died, and the town prospered.
However, Macondo, paralleling the biblical account, consumed the forbidden fruit of knowledge when a wandering band of gypsies linked the town to foreign ideas and technology. The group brought scientific wonders like magnets, flying carpets, and alchemy to the town; all provocatively new items for Macondo. Despite the weak link established, for the group only appeared once per year, the town experienced dramatic repercussions. By bringing these inventions, domestic life was disrupted. Jose Arcadio Buendia was amazed by this knowledge, and “completely abandoned his domestic obligations… .
Ursula and the children broke their backs in the garden.”5 Other negative effects entered the Buendia household when the patriarch attempted to use his newly acquired knowledge of alchemy to double his wife’s supply of gold. “Ursula’s precious inheritance was reduced to a large piece of burnt hog cracklings” as a result.6 The Buendias’ son, Jose Aracadio, was even lured out of Macondo by a sensuous gypsy girl, demonstrating the divisive effects of foreign contact. The knowledge and technological wonders brought by the gypsies did not serve to better the community, but began to undermine its purity and success.
Further eroding Macondo’s Eden-like state was the establishment of a direct link to the outside world. Ursula chased her prodigal son to no avail, but in doing so found a route to other villages “that received mail every month in the year.”7 Macondo was deepening its ties and contact with foreigners, resulting in a slow but gradual spiral into sin and conflict; characteristics of post-Eden Genesis. From a village of twenty adobe houses, Macondo was “changed into an active town with stores and workshops and a permanent commercial route…”8 It must be stressed that the town’s devolution was a phased process. Although the town was rapidly becoming commercialized, Jose Arcadio Buendia continued to lay out the streets and houses,9 suggesting that at this point in time Macondo retained some of its founding traits, namely equality.
Yet, as the town grew ever more accustomed to Arabs trading in the streets and foreigners arriving on the new roads, a host of calamities began to strike the town. Rebeca, an outsider taking in by the Buendias, brought a plague of insomnia. Paralleling the biblical narrative of the golden calf, Macondo forgot its roots and even “the values of the written letters,”10 just as Israel forgot their God when they adopted a foreign religion. The growing town also introduced capitalism to the region, ending the equality upon which the society was founded. In one instance, a girl was enslaved by her grandmother and was forced to sleep with seventy men every night for ten years to pay off her debts.
No longer did the sun shine equally on all inhabitants. Due to the town’s rapid population growth, the national government determined it was necessary to rule Macondo through a magistrate. Don Moscote arrived and immediately ordered absurd changes, exemplified in the mandate that all houses were to be painted blue in celebration of the anniversary of national independence.12 The villages did not seek this foreign intervention into municipal affairs, for “no one was upset that the government had not helped them. On the contrary, they were happy that up until then it had let them grow in peace.”