“One Hundred Years of Solitude”

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The African Palm Tree Forest
Tim Buendia, "The African Palm Tree Forest", Wikimedia Commons

Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Today’s students live in an online and literary world dominated by fantasy. The wildly popular Harry Potter series, Twilight, The Hunger Games, all capture young imaginations and give students an escape from the pressures of academic reality, parental expectations, difficult economic times, and a world that seems filled with war, climate change, and human suffering.

EDSITEment’s new unit, Magical Realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude for the Common Coreprovides an opportunity for students to explore magical realism in the hands of one of the world’s most gifted authors.

Through these lessons they will discover how Gabriel García Márquez meshes magical elements with a reality which is, in his view, fantastical in its own right. García Márquez actually recapitulates episodes in the history of Latin America through the story of real and magical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family. This fictional village of Macondo is modeled on García Márquez's hometown, Aracataca, Columbia.

Gabriel García Márquez said that everything he wrote is drawn from the first eight years of his life, a period when he lived with his maternal grandparents. His grandmother was a storyteller whose superstitions, legends, and realistic tone provided him with much source material. His grandfather, a veteran of the civil wars that had shaken Colombia over the years, gave García Márquez a foundation for the many wars fought by Colonel Aureliano Buendía. The town where his grandparents lived, Aracateca, served as a model for Macondo; in fact, “Macondo” was the name of a nearby banana plantation. The massacre described in his book was also nearby and actually occurred in 1928, the year he was born.

Magical realism, for which García Márquez has been rightly acclaimed, has been defined by many critics. However, there is still much disagreement about its meaning. English-speaking critics tend to place emphasis on the magical elements, while Spanish-speakers tend to stress the reality that underlies the novel. García Márquez himself defended the latter view when he articulated Latin America’s “outsized reality” in his Nobel Prize in Literature (1982) lecture, “The Solitude of Latin America.”

So, how does García Márquez blend magical and fantastical elements as well as realistic and historical elements into One Hundred Years of Solitude to create his own brand of magical realism? Each lesson in this new unit aligned to the Common Core tackles different aspects of that guiding question:

Lesson 1. has students tap into an interview where the author discusses the inspiration for some of his choices and a few tricks he used when integrating using “magical” elements into his work. They go on to identify examples of these elements and analyze how García Márquez used specific details and a “realistic” voice to give them credibility. Then, they hold a discussion to ascertain the impact the author’s matter-of-fact tone has on the narrative and on the reader.

Lesson 2. begins by having students read historical information about the county Columbia and biographical background about the author.  Then, they have a class discussion about the similarities they recognize between historical events, incidents from García Márquez’s life, and events and personalities represented in the novel. In a small group activity student analyze different sections of the text to determine the author’s use of specific details relating to historical artifacts, his underlying philosophy, and his stretching of an historical truth.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3 Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

Lesson 3. involves a close reading and analysis of García Márquez’s Márquez’s speech entitled “The Solitude of Latin America” delivered on the occasion of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1982). Students discuss the speech, an informational text, to understand the historical and cultural context Márquez drew upon when integrating “magical realism” into his novels. This eloquent speech is also stands as an excellent model for nonfiction writing.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude engages students in a suspension of disbelief as they experience his unique Latin American reality. In his own words, that is “a reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty …”

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