In this triumph of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles a century of the remarkable Buendía family’s history in the fictional Colombian town of Macondo. The three lessons presented here explore the fantastic elements of this imaginary world, the real history that lies behind them, and García Márquez’s own philosophical musings on writing about Latin America.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1984.
Today’s students live in an online and literary world dominated by fantasy. The wildly popular book and film series: Harry Potter, Twilight, and 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.
This unit provides 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 fantastical events experienced over the course of one century by the Buendía family. The fictional village of Macondo is modeled on García Márquez's hometown, Aracataca, Columbia.
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.”
In Lesson 1, students are introduced to the term “magical realism” and go on to investigate how García Márquez used magical and fantastical elements to enrich his story of the Buendía family and the history of Macondo. In Lesson 2, students ascertain the realistic elements in this author’s style. They trace how García Márquez used actual events and people from his own life and factual incidents from Colombian history to create his epic. In Lesson 3, students turn to an informational text, García Márquez’s 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “The Solitude of Latin America.” They pay witness to the author’s observations on how the lines between the fantastic and realistic intersect in the culture and history of Latin America so vividly depicted in this novel.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
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).
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.
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.
At the age of eight, García Márquez left Aracateca to rejoin his parents and they then sent him to boarding school. At twelve he won a scholarship to a Jesuit high school in Bogotá, where he showed his love of literature, stories, and drawing; however, upon graduation, he followed his parents’ wishes and began the study of law at the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá. He loathed law school, however, and began instead to write short stories, a number of which were published; he also used the time to catch up on his reading of both modern literature and the classics. He felt liberated by Kafka’s Metamorphosis and was particularly influenced by Faulkner’s creation of the world of Yoknapatawpha County.
García Márquez finally dropped out of law school to take a position as a writer for a Colombian newspaper. When he wrote an exposé that annoyed the government, the paper sent him to cover a story in Europe. He parlayed this assignment into a role as a foreign correspondent and roamed Europe as a journalist; he later said that this journalistic training was extremely important in shaping his fiction writing. Eventually his career took him to Cuba to cover the revolution there. He became friends with Fidel Castro and flirted with socialism himself. Although some of his writing was published, he was not a great success.
Then, in 1965, García Márquez revisited his hometown and felt an inspiration. He wrote daily for eighteen months, almost bankrupting his family, and finally finished One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel was an immediate success, becoming one of the most popular works of magical realism, selling half a million copies in a few years. García Márquez once said that he tried to tap “the magic in commonplace events.”
García Márquez continued to write, moved to Mexico, and began to support numerous leftist causes with the proceeds of his books. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. He continued to write and teach for many years; his death in 2014 was mourned throughout the world.
Have students write an essay using the following prompt:
There are repeated magic incidents and fantastic descriptions of events, many of them with a factual basis in Latin American history, in García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. How does the author’s frequent use of “magical realism,” as this technique has been labeled, color and shape the reader’s experience of this novel?
In their essays, students should include a definition of magical realism, examples of this technique, and textual evidence to support their arguments.
You may use the Final Assessment Rubric provided for both student self-assessment and your own final assessment.
1. Circularity of Time
A part of the fantastic elements García Márquez used to structure his novel is inherent in the old adage: History repeats itself. Rather than employing strict chronological order, the plot of the narrative is marked by constant shifts of time, often to the past, sometimes even to the future.
Have students consider the effect of the circular and repetitive structure found in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Identify episodes from the text where García Márquez employs the following literary devices:
Take one of these literary devices and write a short essay explaining how effective García Márquez was in using it to suspend chronological time in those episodes.
Compare García Márquez’s use of circular time structure in One Hundred Years of Solitude with another writer you have studied who has applied circularity in his/her work. (i.e., Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; Toni Morrison’s Beloved; Tim O'Brien’s The Things They Carried;Kurt Vonnegut’sSlaughterhouse-Five.)
2. Re-telling an Event with Magical Realism
Have students respond to the following prompt:
Take a current event from the news or historical event that you are familiar with and write a short story retelling the event in the style of magical realism. In your narrative, employ the literary devices used in One Hundred Years of Solitude such as magical events; occurrences and supernatural figures told with specific detail and matter-of-fact tone; factual incidents and persons; circular time structure; repetition; hyperbole; extended paragraphs, etc.
Julia Alavarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies
Credit: photo by Bill Eichner ©
Set in the Dominican Republic during the rule of Rafael Trujillo, In the Time of the Butterflies fictionalizes historical figures (four Mirabal sisters, their parents, Trujillo himself, and his subordinates) in order to dramatize the Dominican people’s heroic efforts to overthrow this dictator’s brutal regime. The sisters are distinctive personalities, each engaged in the struggle for independence. With unique structure of time frames and alternating voices, Julia Alvarez has written a complex coming-of-age novel that provides a context for students to look at the struggles of women to secure their human, civil, and economic rights in countries around the world today.
In this unit, students undertake a careful analysis to see how each individual demonstrates courage in the course of her family’s turbulent life events. Students additionally analyze a speech delivered in 2006 by a daughter of one of the sisters to understand better the historical legacy of these extraordinary women.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
Las Mariposas—“The Butterflies”—was the name used by Dominicans to describe the Mirabal sisters, who were assassinated by the dictator Rafael Trujillo for trying to lead a democratic revolution. In 1960, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa were beaten to death on a lonely mountain road by Trujillo’s henchmen, who placed their bodies in their Jeep and threw it over a cliff to make their deaths appear accidental. Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) is their story. Based on Alvarez’s personal knowledge of the political situation in the Dominican Republic and her family’s own participation in the resistance movement, the novel conveys authenticity. It is also grounded in extensive research. Alvarez interviewed the surviving sister Dedé and other family members to create unforgettable characters and bridge the gap between biography and fiction.
The story takes place on the tropical island of Hispaniola, shared between Haiti in the west and the Dominican Republic in the east. The island is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the Caribbean Sea on the south. Three decades of Trujillo’s iron rule had turned this country into a place of terror where political enemies were jailed or “disappeared.” Torture was a routine tactic of the government, and the secret police were everywhere, always listening. Children were coached to idolize El Jefe lest their parents win disapproval and be punished severely.
The four Mirabal girls were raised comfortably and educated well by their doting parents. Three of the sisters were drawn into danger, risking their lives, families, and homes by planning for a revolution. The lives of the Mirabal sisters, and more particularly their murders, galvanized the opposition to the regime. Trujillo was assassinated in the year following their deaths.
Structurally, the novel presents a challenge to the student. First, the book is divided into three chronological sections dealing with events in the 1940s, the 1950s, and finally 1960, the year of their deaths. Within these main sections, each chapter focuses on one sister. Maria Teresa’s story is told through her diary entries in the first person; Patria’s story is a first-person narrative, as is Minerva’s; Dedé’s chapters are written in third person. A frame story interwoven into Dedé’s chapters introduces an unnamed woman writer, presumably Alvarez herself, interviewing Dedé in 1994 at the family home and museum, which now preserves the story of the Butterflies; this is also a limited third-person narrative. Finally, at the very end, Dedé speaks in first person in the Epilogue. Once students understand this complex narrative structure, they will be able to fit the events of the story into a coherent whole. Through Alvarez’s masterful storytelling the reader experiences growing tension as the story winds toward its inevitable conclusion.
The courage shown by the Mirabal women has been recognized not only in the Dominican Republic, but throughout Latin America. In 1993, recognition by the world community came in the form of The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted as a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly. In 1999, the UN designated November 25, the anniversary of the Mirabals’ deaths, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Additional information may be found in the PDF extension to these Background Notes.
This summative assessment requires students to write a character analysis using materials already generated in the lesson. Students will synthesize information from their reading of the novel, their class discussions, and written work to write a cohesive study of one character using courage as an organizing theme and providing textual documentation for their contentions. Students should use whatever citation requirements and formatting you normally require for essays.
1. Each year on November 25, the anniversary of their deaths, the courage of the Mirabal sisters Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa is commemorated in Latin America. The United Nations named that date for the annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
2. In 1979, The United Nations adopted The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In 1993, the UN added the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which spells out the role of the state in preventing violence against women and specifically cites the Mirabal sisters.
Have students analyze a speech, a nonfiction primary source that delivers a factual account of the historical events depicted in the novel.