n his article "Gabriel García Márquez and the Lost Art of Storytelling," originally published in 1971, Ricardo Gullón analyzes the style that would come to be known as magic realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude, published only four years earlier in 1967. While in the past forty years many critics have written about magic realism and how it might differ from the fantastic or the marvelous real, this essay remains the most insightful study of the various components that make García Márquez's inimitable style work. After all, sixteen years after it was originally published, Gullón's article was reprinted in G.R. McMurray's Critical Essays on Gabriel García Márquez. According to Gullón, the most crucial element of García Márquez's masterpiece that allows the reader to accept as real what would otherwise be considered otherworldly events, is the fact that the narrator maintains an unwavering, almost matter-of-fact tone throughout the novel:
For [the narrator] there is no difference between what is likely and what is not; he fulfills his missionhis dutyof telling all, speaking as naturally of the dead as he does of the living, associating with the greatest of ease the intangible with the tangible. His steadfastness reveals itself in his unchanging, constant tone. From the first page to the last he maintains the same tone levels, without fluctuation or variation. (130)
For over forty years the reader of the novel in English has missed the impact of what could be the central line to García Márquez's masterpiece.
There are myriad examples of this throughout the novel, many of which have been discussed at length in just as many articles and books. One example is when the plague of insomnia comes to Macondo:
Los niños también están despiertos dijo la India con su condici fatalista. Una vez que entra en la casa, nadie escapa a la peste.
Habían contraído, en efecto, la enfermedad del insomnio. Úrsula, que había aprendido de su madre el valor medicinal de las plantas, preparó e hizo beber a todos un brebaje de acónito, pero no consiguieron dormir, sino que estuvieron todo el día soñando despiertos. En ese estado de alucinada lucidez no sólo veían las imágenes de sus propios sueños, sino que los unos veían las imágenes soñadas por los otros. (134-5)
'The children are awake too,' the Indian said with her fatalistic conviction. 'Once it gets into a house no one can escape the plague.'
They had indeed contracted the illness of insomnia. Úrsula, who had learned from her mother the medicinal value of plants, prepared and made them all drink a brew of monkshood, but they could not get to sleep and spent the whole day dreaming on their feet. In that state of hallucinated lucidity, not only did they see the images of their own dreams, but some saw the images dreamed by others. (46)
Along with passage after passage of the same, constant tone, the matter-of-fact manner in which the narrator introduces the illness of insomnia, an apparently contagious disease that will go on to infect the whole town, lulls the reader into accepting as real in the world of the novel what would under other circumstances be considered extraordinary.
There exists, however, a single line that abruptly interrupts the otherwise consistently detached narrative tone that persists throughout the novel. As this line is found in what several critics have looked at as the central scene of the novel, it would seem that this single break in tone is intentional on the part of the author and is therefore of particular importance in the novel. However, looking at the Gregory Rabassa's English translation of the novel, it is astonishing to find that this crucial line fails to adequately transmit the impact it has in the original Spanish version. While two articles have appeared pointing out several minor translation "slips" in Rabassa's renowned English version, what I see as the mistranslation of a key word at a central point in the novel has until now gone unnoticed.1
It is important to note the emphasis Gullón places on the consistency of the narrative tone which, according to him, persists "without fluctuation or variation" throughout the novel:
The narrator's speaking unfazedly, calmly (even when describing tragic events), does not prevent him from becoming a center of consciousness. Quite the contrary. The distance between the narrator and what he narrates reinforces his objectivity and allows him to speak without judging. What is said is ethically qualified because of the way it is said. (132)
The above passage is particularly significant in the context of this paper, as Gullón claims that the narrative tone is constant "even when describing tragic events." Furthermore, he asserts that the distance maintained from the events of the novel give the narrator a certain ethical authority. However, it is precisely in the description of the most tragic event of the novel that a sudden break in tone occurs. So if we accept what Gullón says about the ethical qualification of the narrator precisely because he maintains a consistent tone throughout, the impact that this single change in tone has on the reader is all the more powerful.
García Márquez's own words on the narrative tone employed in Cien años de soledad reinforce Gullón's assertions, and serve to further highlight the anomaly of a single break in this tone:
The tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness [...] What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face. (The Paris Review Interviews II, 188)
This brick face with which the story had been told throughoutfrom the recounting of the discovery of ice in the first pages, to the plague of insomnia and the labeling of all things in order to remember their function, to the levitation of the priest when he drinks hot chocolatesuddenly crumbles in one culminating moment, in one crucial line of what has been said to be the central scene of the novel. In his article "Banana Strike and Military Massacre: One Hundred Years of Solitude and What Happened in 1928," Gene H. Bell-Villada calls this episode "the highest point in García Márquez's extensive chronicle of Macondo (127)." Bell-Villada compares this scene to the climax of a musical composition, noting that it takes place roughly five-sevenths of the way through the novel.
Just past the midway point of the novel, when José Arcadio Segundo joins the thousands of striking banana plantation workers and their families at the train station, the tension is high as armed soldiers surround them in the square. After a period of waiting, the captain warns the crowd that they have five minutes to disperse, or his men will open fire. When that time elapses, and he offers the crowd one more minute, José Arcadio Segundo responds "¡Cabrones! Les regalamos el minuto que falta (422)." "'You bastards!' he shouted. 'Take the extra minute and stick it up your ass!' (310)."2 Following the captain's warning, and José Arcadio Segundo's rejection of the extra minute offered, the soldiers open fire on the peasant workers and their families, and the narrator describes the horrific scene as some sort of hallucination. I cite the scene extensively in Spanish here, followed by Rabassa's English translation, in order to better highlight the line that breaks with the previously consistent narrative tone:
Varias voces gritaron al mismo tiempo: "!Tírense al suelo! ¡Tírense al suelo!" Ya los de las primeras líneas lo habían hecho, barridos por las ráfagas de metralla. Los sobrevivientes, en vez de tirarse al suelo, trataron de volver a la plazoleta, y el pánico dio entonces un coletazo de dragón, y los mandó en una oleada compacta contra la otra oleada compacta que se movía en sentido contrario, despedida por el otro coletazo de dragón de la calle opuesta, donde también las ametralladoras disparaban sin tregua. Estaban acorralados, girando en un torbellino gigantesco que poco a poco se reducía a su epicentro porque sus bordes iban siendo sistemáticamente recortados en redondo, como pelando una cebolla, por las tijeras insaciables y metódicas de la metralla. El niño vio una mujer arrodillada, con los brazos en cruz, en un espacio limpio, misteriosamente vedado a la estampida. Allí lo puso José Arcadio Segundo, en el instante de derrumbarse con la cara bañada en sangre, antes de que el tropel colosal arrasara con el espacio vacío, con la mujer arrodillada, con la luz del alto cielo de sequía, y con el puto mundo donde Úrsula Iguarán había vendido tantos animalitos de caramelo. (424)
Several voices shouted at the same time: "Get down! Get down!
The people in front had already done so, swept down by the wave of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down, tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon's tail as one compact wave ran against another which was moving in the opposite direction, toward the other dragon's tail in the street across the way, where the machine guns were also firing without cease. They were penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns. The child saw a woman kneeling with her arms in the shape of a cross in an open space, mysteriously free of the stampede. José Arcadio Segundo put him up there at the moment he fell with his face bathed in blood, before the colossal troop wiped out the empty space, the kneeling woman, the light of the high, drought-stricken sky, and the whorish world where Úrsula Iguarán had sold so many little candy animals." (312)
The burst of emotion in the final line of the original Spanish version, "y con el puto mundo donde Úrsula Iguarán había vendido tantos animalitos de caramelo" (emphasis mine), abruptly contrasts with the consistently more distant narrative tone throughout the previous and subsequent pages of the novel. This sudden change delivers a huge impact on the reader, particularly in light of the fact that the tone of the previous hundreds of pages is consistently detached. Such a change in this central passage of a 400-page novel underscores a significant turning point in the narrative. Not only does the narrator for the first and only time show emotion, and in a very forceful manner, in the same phrase he also hearkens back to the more innocent time of the earlier years of Macondo. This serves to emphasize the tragic moment of the workers and their families being systematically mowed down by the soldiers. Furthermore, following this scene the decline of the Buendía clan only intensifies, as they fulfill their destiny to be wiped off the face of the earth, along with any memory of the massacre.
Gregory Rabassa's English translation of this crucial line, "and the whorish world where Úrsula Iguarán had sold so many little candy animals," does not adequately transmit the emotional impact the original Spanish version has on the reader. In the first and only moment of the novel in which the narrator is suddenly not so emotionally distant from what is taking place, Rabassa chose to translate "puto mundo" as "whorish world." It appears that he took the English translation for the Spanish noun, "puta" (whore), and put it in its adjectival form in front of the word "world," hence "whorish world" for "puto mundo." The problem with this is that in Spanish, when "puto/a" is used as an adjective in a context such as in this passage, the equivalent meaning in English would be much closer to the expletive "fucking," used as an adjective. While this is certainly not an expression that would be heard in formal Spanish (something that only adds to the impact its uncharacteristic use by the narrator has on the reader in Spanish), in colloquial Spanish a sentence like "¡Ese puto gato me mordió!" might be translated as "That fucking cat bit me!"
Thus, for over forty years the reader of the novel in English has missed the impact of what could be the central line to García Márquez's masterpiece. Now, it is entirely possible that Rebassa wanted to avoid using such a harsh word in English as the adjective "fucking" preceding "world", but he did not avoid such harsh language in other instances, as pointed out above. The English expletive "fucking" in this instance would indeed be a more faithful translation than "whorish," which does not adequately transmit the impact the Spanish version has on the reader. My revised translation of the passage reads:
José Arcadio Segundo put him up there at the moment he fell with his face bathed in blood, before the colossal troop wiped out the empty space, the kneeling woman, the light of the high, drought-stricken sky, and the fucking world where Úrsula Iguarán had sold so many little candy animals.
While the expletive used in this revised translation might seem offensive to some readers, it more adequately transmits the abrupt bitterness in tone expressed by the narrator in the original Spanish version, the only time in the novel he displays any such emotion.
This is particularly noteworthy, considering again the scene during which the narrator can seemingly no longer contain his emotion: the massacre of thousands of men, women and children by government troops based on a real massacre that occurred in 1928 near García Márquez's childhood town. It is highly significant that the singular break in narrative tone in the entire novel occurs at this precise moment, the episode that is most closely linked to historical events. Gene H. Bell-Villada, Lucila Inés Mena and Ariel Dorfman are a few of many critics who have focused on the massacre of the banana strikers as being the central scene of the novel.3 In his article "The Banana Massacre in Cien años de soledad: A Micro-Structural Example of Myth, History and Bricolage," Robert Lewis Sims points out that García Márquez had clearly read the government's official account of the event, which claimed, among other things, that there were no women and children present and that only nine men were killed (5). García Márquez's detailed alternative version of this tragic event in his work of fiction offers perhaps a more accurate account of the massacre of three thousand people.
Based on a truly tragic event in Colombian history, it is as if this scene, one indelibly marked in the memory of the author as well as the Colombian people, were too much for even the narrator to maintain the "brick face" he sustains throughout the rest of the novel. There is indeed a before and after to this scene, as the more innocent times of Macondo before the massacre are now a distant memory. Furthermore, the tragic events of that day are systematically erased from the memory of the people, while they are symbolically washed away with the four years, eleven months and two days of rain that follows. The fact that the narrator in a sense loses his cool at this moment, a highly emotional one whose full impact has not been transmitted to English readers of the novel, only emphasizes the magnitude of this central scene in what is regarded as Latin America's greatest novel.
1 Gene Dilmore's "One Hundred Years of Solitude: Some Translation Corrections," (1984), and Chester S. Halka's "One Hundred Years of Solitude: Two Additional Translation Corrections," both published in the Journal of Modern Literature, point out what they see as minor translation "slips", none of which has a significant impact on the reading of the English version.
2 Interestingly, Rabassa chooses to translate this particular line with an expletive in English, where none was used in Spanish, just the opposite of what is found in the crucial line discussed in this paper.
3 In addition to Bell-Villada, Lucila Inés Mena points this out in her article "Cien años de soledad: Novela de 'La violencia'," while Ariel Dorfman also discusses the centrality of this scene in his aricle "Someone Writes to the Future: Meditations on Hope and Violence in García Márquez."
Bell-Villada, Gene. "Banana Strike and Military Massacre: One Hundred Years of Solitude and What Happened in 1928." Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Casebook. Ed. Gene H. Bell-Villada. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 127-38.
Dilmore, Gene. "One Hundred Years of Solitude: Some Translation Corrections." Journal of Modern Literature 11.2 (1984): 311-4.
Dorfman, Ariel. "Some Writes to the Future: Meditations on Hope and Violence in García Márquez." Transition 52 (1991): 18-34.
García Márquez, Gabriel. Cien años de soledad. Ed. Jacques Joset. 8th Ed. Madrid: Cátedra, 1967.
-. Interview. "Gabriel García Márquez: The Art of Fiction." The Paris Review
Interviews II. Ed. Phillip Gourevitch. New York: Picador, 2007. 178-206.
-. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.
Gullón, Ricardo. "Gabriel García Márquez and the Lost Art of Storytelling." Trans. José G. Sanchez. Diacritics 1.1 (1971): 27-32. Rpt. in Critical Essays on Gabriel García Márquez. Ed. G.R. McMurray. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987. 129-40.
Halka, Chester S. "One Hundred Years of Solitude: Two Additional Translation Corrections." Journal of Modern Literature 24.1 (2000): 173-5.
Mena, Lucila Inés. "Cien anos de soledad: Novela de 'La violencia'." Hispamerica: Revista de Literatura 13 (1976): 3-23.
Sims, Robert Lewis. "The Banana Massacre in Cien años de soledad: A Micro-Structural Example of Myth, History and Bricolage." Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, 8.3 (1979): 3-23.