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Solitude

Lesson 85 Chapter 3 Module 8

I know I mentioned in the email that today we were learning about loneliness and solitude, but that is not what today’s lesson is actually about.

While we’ve looked at titles like Love, Anger, and Madness and War and Peace to give us guidance to the primary premise for a book, today’s title can be read in a few different ways.

That is because unlike a concept or premise (the main point of the story), a book or longer essay can have multiple themes or lessons to share. And it isn't always stated in a title (often it isn't!)

Today’s excerpt, from Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, is no exception.

For most, the premise that jumps out here is the solitude. But a quick reading of the concept and synopsis tells you that the book is actually about the life and events of seven generations of a family, over one hundred years, in the town of Macondo, Colombia.

As you start to read the story, you learn that the town is where the solitude exists, as the patriarch of the first generation, José Arcadio Buendía, founded it and kept his family there—secluded from the rest of the passing world.

And passing is what today’s excerpt is about.

José’s wife, Úrsula, is the recurring character in it, first speaking with her son and then having the same conversation with her great-grandson (named after his great-grandfather, in the family tradition.)

It is a complex telling of this particular theme and lesson, so let’s break it down:

  • In the first excerpt, her son Aureliano is telling her about how things have changed since he was away at war. Her response is simple, almost flippant, because for her nothing changed; life just happened. “What did you expect, time passes?” she quips. To which his response is filled with a sadness and nostalgia for the time he remembers, “That’s how it goes, but not so much.”
  • In the second excerpt, it is her great-grandson passing off her comments with flippancy. (In the extended scene before, we learn that she has been in a three-year near comatose state over the death of her daughter, and the family has allowed the house and town to fall into a state of disgust (not even disrepair.)) As she looks over it all, she is horrified, herself remembering how things were before she “went away.” But the younger José quips “What did you expect, time passes?” to which she replies “That’s how it goes, but not so much.”
  • She immediately remembers her prior conversation, and how much time has passed, but for her, not so much. The same was true of her son. The same is true of the book, which weaves flashbacks and flash-forwards in with the magic and realism of South American culture and beliefs.

This is a technique that is often used with important themes or takeaways in in a piece: repeating them.

You usually don’t want to restate the same exact words without new context, that just feels redundant. (As an editor, I would make that exact note in the sidebar: “Consider word choice, this is redundant.”)

But when you can frame them in a new situation or scene, to add depth to their lesson and allow the reader to see how the theme itself has evolved and changed along with the characters and concept, it stays with them much longer.

Sure, this is a book about the solitude of an entire family (and, by extension, an entire town—so characters AND setting). But one of the most important lessons to take away is that for some of us time will just pass by, while for others it doesn’t pass so much.

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