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Relationships Between Literature And History

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1912 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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The novel which will be discussed in this essay is Cien Años de Soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez. One of most important factors in this very successful book is the relationship between literature and history, as stated in the essay question. This topic is so predominant because it involves the writer’s political concerns regarding his country, and the country in which the book was firstly released; Columbia. The book was published during the 1960s and it succeeded immediately. The two subjects that will be analysed in the book are therefore literature and history. First of all, literature involves the writer’s styles within the book, and also the topics he has chosen to include in his work. History, on the other hand, is the analysis of the history which takes place in the actual story of the book, but also the history and cultural changes which take place during the life of the writer. These two kinds of history, real and fictional, as we shall see below, are linked together in the book. In other words, the writer has created a novel where fictional things happen, but they actually represent real events in real life. We shall also analyse why it is that the writer has actually decided to do this.

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I have chosen to analyse this book, Cien Años de Soledad, because I believe it is the one which best sums up the topic which we will be analysing today. Basically, Cien Años de Soleded tells the real history of Latin America and of Columbia in a fictional way; “It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendía with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.” (pg 212)

The issues that have been stated in this quote, such as a lack of identity, tragedy, inability to obtain confidence and so on, are present in the book; they are expressed by using the story of the village of Macondo, somewhere in the South America. In the beginning of the novel, the town is created by a group of people, all of them under the age of thirty. This shows that at the initial stages of the construction of the town, everyone was young and one can say also inexperienced. The citizens who made up this new town were all quite prehistoric; by this I mean that they were not technologically advanced as we are today, or as Márquez was at the time of writing the book. This makes me think that the time in which the book was set is a completely different epoch from our own. Nevertheless when reading the book, the characters all change, mentally and physically, psychologically and materialistically. In fact, the book shows very many different generations of one particular family, which is the Buendía family. Towards the end of the book, the components which made up the town of Macondo are very different from the ones that built it, supposedly one hundred years before. The way that time passes in Márquez’s novel is unlike real time passing. That which happens in one hundred years in the novel, would never happen so suddenly in one hundred years in ‘real life’.

This shows that the writer is speeding up the subject of history, to include as much as he can into his own novel. He uses his literature to talk about the history of his country, which is a very complicated topic to talk about in political and cultural ways.

An interesting point in the book is that the main family, the Buendía’s, are shown through seven or eight different generations, and many of the characters have the same, or very similar, names. This makes it quite complicated to understand who actually does what in the novel. In fact, when reading it one usually needs a family tree of the Buendía family in front of them to understand better.

Márquez uses different styles of literature to express the topic of history in his novel. One of the most important ones, as mentioned above, is the way in which time passes in a speeded up manner. This enhances the fact that history is being told and retold throughout the story of the novel. He also uses magic features to make a relationship between what is real and what is magical in the real world and in the fictional world. It shows the ways in which magic features, such as the pig tail and the levitations, the ghosts and so on, are included in the novel not only to make it a more interesting fictional tale, but actually to represent important real life occurrences or at least ways of thinking. Conversely, really normal things can seem to be magical in the novel. An obvious example, which is even more important because it is expressed in the first sentence of the book, is the fact that the citizens of Macondo were uninformed about ‘ice’; when they discovered this matter it was a magical moment in their lives, they did not know what to do with it, what it was needed for an so on. This is an even more obvious example of the fact that the characters in the novel, at the beginning of the book, are still very ignorant and prehistoric, as we said before.

The interesting issue here arises when one stops to question why it is that the writer has chosen to depict the characters of the book in this way. Is he giving a direct criticism to the real people of his own country in the real world? Or better, is he criticising the social development of Columbia??

In my view, the writer is dissatisfied with the way in which Columbia is stabilising itself in the sphere of society. By this I mean that Columbia during the 1900s changed drastically to fit the social norms which were in some way imposed on them by other more culturally developed countries. And because of this, they lost identity and independence from the rest of the world. The writer, in my opinion, is afraid that his country, and Latin America, will become all one undistinguished land in which all the citizens have the same styles of life and the same ways of living.

Márquez shows this criticism in his novel; he does it in quite an obvious manner too. Throughout the whole of the book, there are forever battles and wars, people dying because of these wars. This is probably a method which the writer uses to criticise how there is always war in real life; he is stating that he wants peace on earth. Another obvious example is that the town of Macondo gets taken over by an industry, and the citizens get negatively affected by this. This is a criticism on how Columbia, and Latin America in general, has forever been colonised by other populations in the past. The history of Latin America is strongly affected by its colonies.

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In the module, we have also studied Pedro Paramo and La Ciudad y los Perros; these two books were also written during the middle of the twentieth century in the Hispanic countries of South America. They are also interesting books to analyse because they both hold very significant topics which were much talked about during those years in South America. La ciudad y los Perros is important to the Hispanic literature because it speaks of the world of some young boys inside a military school; the relationships between these boys is a complex argument and important topics such as class and race, the amount of money one has, are looked at within this novel. Pedro Paramo is a book which is different from the other two because it is much more surreal, in the sense that it does not really relate to the outside real world as much as the other two do.

Some of the best examples which show the ways in which literature and history are related will be analysed below. First of all, there is an event which takes place in the novel where many citizens of Macondo are treated badly, and finally get murdered, by the owners of a banana plantation which has taken over the town of Macondo. “the narrative makes references to American colonialism as expressed through the exploitation of banana plantations. To this effect, the narrative describes the banana strike of 1928, once again mixing fact and fiction…….. From 1948 to 1964, Colombia underwent a number of assassinations that where referred to as La violencia…One Hundred Years of Solitude picks up on the events of La violencia but mixes García Marquez’s experiences with the civil wars of the nineteenth century and the banana strike of 1928… important historical events according to critics and scholars of One Hundred Years of Solitude” (pg105, GG Marquez, a critical companion)

This quote makes a reference to the strong relationship between the event inside of the novel, and one which took place in the history of Columbia. Critics have stated that the writer is criticising the ways in which his country has been ruled and how the period of violencia was such a devastating one for the citizens of his country (and also for the ones within his fictional tale). “One Hundred Years of Solitude portrays a period of time that stretches from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. These years encompass Colombian civil wars, neo-colonialism, political violence, corruption, sexuality, death, and solitude, in the midst of other dominant themes.”(pg 103, GG Marquez, a critical companion)

This analysis enhances the fact that history is so present in the writer’s work. In fact, many different aspects of history are present and it is interesting to see which the ones that best interest the writer are. Solitude is probably one of the main feelings which Márquez feels when describing the way Columbia’s past has affected him. In fact, he includes this important word in the title of the novel to enhance his point.

The most recurring style which is used in this novel is magic realism; “Garcia Marquez is always associated with magic realism. In fact he is considered the central figure of magic realism…. In general terms, magic realism is nowadays used to describe fiction that juxtaposes the fantastic and the mythic with ordinary activities of daily life. The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is especially regarded as a work of magic realism.” (pg 16, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a critical companion)

This paper has attempted to give a short but substantial analysis on the various ways in which Gabriel García Márquez has expressed history in his literature. I think that he does this in a rather appealing way; he is able to create a strong relationship between the two factors and in the novel they are present in what one may call a modest way. His style of writing expresses how he can use fiction, the story of Macondo and its citizens, to represent events which took place in his country. Even events which did not actually happen in real life in his novel have got political substance, in other words hold a meaning. It is not simple to create such a strong relationship between history and literature, but this writer has done so successfully. This is probably the main reason why Cien Años de Soledad is such a well known piece of Hispanic literature, because is holds so many significant to topics which still relate to contemporary culture.


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