Posts Tagged ‘Labyrinth of solitude’

The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz and it’s possible correlation with Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude

 An essay by Beachmount 

Solitude is sometimes thought of as “Longing for a place”, but different connotations can readily be attached to this.  It represents something external, a place different than the normal reality that at any given moment projects its  realism onto the sensory receptors of the human psyche.

Few people ever come in touch with the world of complete solitude.  It is a place where reality merges with fantasy, where external visions become dimmed and fused with subconscious desires and dreams.  It is a shaman’s world, a world that touches the inner sanctum of the human experience, the universe in which escape from reality means surrendering to another world, where the surreal coexists with the real and blends into spectrums of colourful images acting as protective shields against rejected reality.

The most poignant and germane statement that Octavio Paz made in his didactic literary expose: “The Labyrinth of Solitude[1] that directly relate to Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude is perhaps the following:

 “ But sometimes they (society) deny the aspirations of important minorities and too often they even deny man’s profoundest instincts.  When this last occurs, society lives through a period of crisis: it either explodes or stagnates.  Its components cease to be human beings and are converted into mere soulless instruments” (GGM 201)

This is clearly what took place during the 1928 strike by banana workers employed by the American  “United Fruit Company”, who’s greedy, exploitative modus operandi[2] denied even the most basic hopes and desires of the working class, whose presence and efforts made possible the very existence of the company.  It is lucidly clear that Márquez used this incidence as one of several underlying images in 100 Years of Solitude. 

Octavio Paz also refers to “The Orphic cult” one of many which emerged after the destruction of the Greek Achaean civilization.  They were:” uprooted, transplanted beings, who dreamed of fashioning an organization from which they could not be separated”.  It is very tempting to compare Jose Arcadio Buendía and his follower’s migration across the mountains[3] to this kind of “Orphic cult”, having a desire to go back to the beginning of time, to start over again and yet, they could not completely escape the past.  They created a kind of solitude, an escape from reality into a surrealistic world in which a two-way mirror reflected both the future and the past.  Yesterday was relived again and again, yet it wasn’t the past, it was equally much the future.  It was a revolving door kept active by repetitious use of the names of the founding fathers, when christening the newborn of Maconda, and the return of the dead as apparitions.  It was reflections of the past that ensured continuity. Yet, progress into the unknown, the future, resting on the nostalgic laurels of the past, came creeping into the lives of everyone.

In Márquez’s imagery, a hundred years of solitude passed, before the anguish of humanity’s fractured society broke out of its prison.  It was a society ruled by the duplicity of standards our social order had imposed upon itself.   It temporarily broke out of its detention of solitude, only to find itself trapped in another that in its essence was a disguised manifestation of the earlier. 

Have we entered a new world where solitude imposes different meanings or project images upon our psyche unlike those of the past?  Is it possible to attain solitude and communion with our inner utopian realm of surreal euphoria in a world that has become electronically digitized in practically all aspects?  One must speculate, if not indeed seriously contemplate the possibility that regardless of progress, we still live in a state of self-imposed solitude, where true love is a state of mind existing only within phantom-like parameters in a surrealistic world that only the shaman of the past, that once existed within all of us, was able to infiltrate.

  When Buendía deciphers Melquíades parchments he recognized that it was a divination of the last century, written before it began, the century of solitude that included his own destiny never to leave the room he was in, a perpetual life in solitude.  The script could never be repeated.  He said that races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.   Is this not Márquez condemning the past as an unsuitable model for the future, a failure that must be rectified by the introduction of something better, something that must come from within, something imaged in the dreams of men who live in solitude?  A new Maconda.

In an era of literary renaissance, Márquez became an impressionist with a profoundly different way of writing a novel.  He created a literary cocktail of sharply focused realism, blended with surrealistic impressionism and abstractions, flavoured with dashes of sexuality and religion.  His masterly ability to intertwine bizarre fantasy or completely absurd magic with realism and abstract nuances of solitude changed the way the literary map of the world is interpreted.


The immediate area around Santa Marta is very familiar territory to the writer. The banana plantations lie between Santa Marta and Aracataca, where Márquez was born on March 6, 1928.   In 1928, Santa Marta was no more than a sleepy little port town with a few houses and warehouses, mostly belonging to The United Fruit Company.  Today, as well as in the early 1980’s, when I lived in Colombia, it is a highly popular tourist attraction, with wonderful beaches and fine resort hotels.

 The banana business is still thriving in the area, long after The United Fruit company departed, but conditions for the plantation workers has essentially not improved.  Disputes between plantation owners and union leaders frequently leeds to murder and pandemonium.  The dream of  “A new and better Maconda” has not materialized.  Greed and indifference to the plight of the poor prevails; only the banana plantation owners are no longer gringos[4].  History repeats itself, for we are human beings genetically disposed to live in tightly knit clans, structured, classified, stratified and outwardly disposed to appear civilized through self-imposed codes of behavior that  often run contrary to our inherited animal instincts.  Distant echoes from our place of origin still impose the primal edict that only the fittest survive. 



[1] Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude, trans. Lysander Kemp. N.Y.: Grove Press, 1961.

[2] “We were told to squeeze every penny possible out of the operation.” A statement once told to the writer by Mr. Cavenar Farr, a personal friend, who for 25 years was chief accountant for United Fruit Company in Honduras.

[3] Cordillera Andino, rising sharply just behind the Pacific coastal plains and forming a natural barrier separating the interior of Columbia from the hot, humid pacific coastal area.  A large swampy area separates the mountains from the coast.

[4] The name “Gringo” comes from the words “Green go” a reference to the green uniforms the United States marines used during the interventionist action against Sandino in Nicaragua in the late 1920’s.  Green go (home) became Gringo.

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This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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