Teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude
with The Sound and the Fury
Current classroom concerns with multiculturalism encourage the expansion of the canon and the inclusion of texts from other cultures. Even if this were not the case, however, there would be compelling critical and pedagogical reasons to teach William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Viewing Faulkner as a novelist in the New World underscores the expectations that accompany this role and offers new insights into his text. It highlights the role of narrative voice in both works. It helps undergraduate students to understand better the methods and techniques that contribute to the creation of such novels. It assists the students in understanding the subtlety of literary relations. It offers a sample of the quality and style of writing south of our border. It emphasizes Faulkner's impact there and illustrates his very wide reception. Furthermore, it allows a teacher to make a transition to the postmodern American novel, which owes much to writers like Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges.
Land and Nature
In regard to the land, I emphasize the number importance of the New World in explaining their similarities and the intertextuality. Both novelists define themselves as literary artists by defining in turn their relatively new cultures. They achieve a special effect by choosing a few square miles of land, highlighting its changes through time, and defining its myths, values, and characters. Jefferson and Macondo are solitary, underdeveloped communities in comparison with other parts of the world, and both assert their dignity while struggling with a sense of cultural inferiority because of their past. In different ways, the principal characters succeed or fail to mediate this collision of the past with the present.
Since most undergraduate courses do not allow for the detailed defining of their communities and the delineating of their literary relationship through several novels and short stories, it is important that students understand that comparing any two of their texts is like comparing segments of two large murals. Faulkner devoted much of his creative life to fleshing out Yoknapatawpha County, and Garcia Marquez wrote a number of short stories and three other novels about small, rural villages before conceiving One Hundred Years of Solitude. A teacher can illustrate this mural quality by highlighting one of the differences between the two novels. In The Sound and the Fury Faulkner portrays the nuclear family of Jason Compson III as it is about to disintegrate. While Jefferson serves as background, understanding the novel without a full appreciation of that communal and cultural milieu would be impossible. Faulkner shifts that focus when he adds the Appendix in 1946 and includes the larger, extended Compson family and some history of the community. In One Hundred Years of Solitude Garcia Marquez opts for this expanded tableau when he depicts the extended family of Jose Arcadio Buendia and captures the history of Maconda as well. In calling attention to this difference, the teacher can make references to other texts by Faulkner which offer a more expansive view and by Garcia Marquez which provide a more detailed focus.
Both novelists realize that the land was a teeming, untamed wilderness in the not-too-distant past. Directly and symbolically, they express sympathy with North and South American Indian attitudes toward the natural world. Faulkner's "The Bear," from Go Down Moses, offers the most striking example, showing this initial harmony between nature and man, with Sam Fathers and Boon as figures contrasting to Major de Spain and Cass Edmonds. This quality figures centrally in The Sound and the Fury as well. Dilsey displays a wholesomeness, compassion and spiritual sense of giving which contrasts sharply with the three Compson brothers. Her solution may not be for everyone, but she possesses a faith that gives her meaning and purpose. She is firm and forthright when necessary, but her heart and her sense of humanity which cuts across race, class, and social mores mediate her relationship to the others. She moves on a different time plane. The clock strikes five times, and she corrects it and says it is eight o'clock. Her sense of self and her dignity allow her to confront Jason when necessary. While her presence may not be enough to redeem the Compsons nor the novel, she is at peace with herself and not part of the fragmented, alienated, modern world. In contrast, Jason severs himself from the land and can find no peace. He has substituted commercial values for communal ones. He loves no one, and never will. He has basically a sterile relationship with his girlfriend, Lorraine, that of a buyer to prostitute and client. Quentin suffers isolation and alienation beyond solitude. He feels he has no mother, for his mother gives him no support. He looks to his father to affirm certain moral and spiritual values of the past, but Mr. Compson affirms the relativity of the modern era: "every man is the arbiter of his own virtues but let no man prescribe for another mans wellbeing" (178). Mr. Compson tries to assure Quentin that women are never virgins, and that "purity is a negative state and therefore contrary to nature" (116). Nevertheless, Quentin loathes his sexual feelings and scorns Natalie for arousing him sexually. He imagines an incestuous relationship with Caddy to protect her from her own sexuality. He is out of touch with his natural desires. All of these factors contribute to his suicide.
I suggest discussing Benjy's relationship to the natural world after the students have finished the whole novel, as a comparison with the other characters proves helpful. Although isolated by his muteness, Benjy feels more at one with nature than his brothers. His simplicity and self-centeredness, his olfactory sensations, for instance, his ability to smell death and his predisposition for flowers, imply that he feels a harmony with nature.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude Garcia Marquez similarly uses the natural world to structure his novel and portray his characters. The narrator describes the landscape around Macondo in the early days as a "paradise of dampness and silence, going back to before original sin" (11). As the founder's name, Jose Arcadio Buendia, implies, a harmony exists at that time between man and nature. When the patriarch goes insane and tries to stop the changes caused by the progression of time by insisting that it is Monday, they tie him to a chestnut tree, symbolic of his own roots in the soil. When he dies, the natural world weeps for him with tiny, yellow flowers (144). In contrast, his son, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, involves himself in the political and military life of the country and becomes distanced from the land. He is soon engulfed in a solitude which is destructive and isolating, as the chalk circles which he has drawn around himself imply. He dies while urinating on that chestnut tree, the symbol of his father's legacy. He has tried to remember that simpler time when his father took him to see the gypsy's ice exhibit, but he cannot. Instead of flowers, nature responds to his death with vultures. Similarly, at the end of the novel, when Amaranta Ursula, who has few ties to the past, and Aureliano, who does not know his parents, conceive the child with the pig's tail, nature expresses its disapproval. Ants drag the child away and a hurricane "full of voices of the past" destroys the village (421).
The Land And The Family
Macondo undergoes analogous changes in its history, a transition which helps define its characters. The village passes through four periods: the epoch of harmony, innocence, and primitive democracy marked by the founder, Jose Arcadio Buendia; the period of mythic heroes, wars and the imposition of governmental order dominated by Colonel Aureliano and Jose Arcadio; the years of decadent abundance heralded by the arrival of the banana company; and the final destruction marked by the severing of ties with the past.
As with The Sound and the Fury, the novel has no main character. The protagonist is the Buendia family as a whole and their community. The danger of incest serves as a unifying plot device. Its centrality probably does derive from Faulkner, although not necessarily from The Sound and the Fury. Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia oversee the family during the first period. Like Dilsey, Ursula functions as the matriarch, concerned with keeping the doors and windows open, holding the family together, and preventing the birth of the child with the pig's tail. In Jose Arcadio Buendia's world, magic and science, the marvelous and the real, nature and man are one. Several changes mark the end of that era: the arrival of the Gypsies, the immigrants, and the magistrate; the discovery of the cure for the plague of forgetting; and Jose Arcadio Buendia's madness. Amazing individual feats by Jose Arcadio and Aureliano highlight the era of politics and wars. Jose Arcadio is an archetype of the sexual hero, sailor, and adventurer. Colonel Aureliano, the mythic warrior/soldier, attains a complexity and psychological depth which sets him apart. He fails everything he undertakes, including his suicide. His greatest achievement is his survival.
Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda head the family during the third period, but the banana company exercises primary control. The walling off of Jose Arcadio's grave symbolizes the break with the age of the individual. As in Yoknapatawpha County, the Industrial Revolution brings change. The marvelous events of the past no longer occur. Those which do take place have Christian overtones (Remedios ascending to heaven, the arrival of the Wandering Jew) or technological implications (the incredible production of livestock). Like the community in general, Aureliano Segundo has trouble controlling his excesses. He lives for the moment and gives little thought to the past or the future. The banana company gains mastery of nature. It brings on four years, eleven months, and two days of rain to hide its massacre and abrogate its contract.
I find students' reading of this third section to be slower, so I take the opportunity to discuss solitude in the works. I emphasize that Garcia Marquez, like Octavio Paz, believes solitude to be part of the universal human experience and a factor in cultural identity (Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa 11; Octavio Paz The Labyrinth of Solitude). From a multicultural perspective, I suggest that a similar type of solitude may exist between the New World countries which helps explain the literary intertextuality. I ask the students to consider how the frontier experience and the cowboy affected our psyche and our cultural values. I connect that to the similar "vaquero" and "gaucho" figures of Latin America and associate the cowboy/ vaquero/ gaucho to the rugged individualism and "shoot from the hip" spontaneity of characters like Colonel Aureliano, his brother, Jose Arcadio, and Jason. I suggest that Jason, like the Buendia brothers, experiences life as a battle for individual survival against threatening, outside forces. Quentin Compson, Ike McCaslin, and Macondo's founder, Jose Arcadio Buendia, manifest a different type of solitude common to the New World, one prescribed by a need for harmony in a family or communal setting. In contrast with Jason's and the Buendia brothers' orientation toward conquest, they are searching for meaning, self-definition and definition of the community. The relative newness of the present cultures of the New World and of the national and local identities of these countries has helped engender this solitary sense.
The transition between the third and fourth periods also lends itself to an introduction of some material history which affected Oxford and Aracataca. Both novelists make direct or indirect references to certain historical events and trends. For Faulkner that includes the dissolution of the Old South, the decline of the landed gentry class, the arrival of sharecropping, and the industrialization of the South. One could even get into a discussion of the Civil War. Civil Wars and the Industrial Revolution also figured in the history of Aracataca where Garcia Marquez grew up. One could present material on the history of Columbia and of this strife and make reference to the role of the United Fruit Company in Central and South America. The fourth section also offers the opportunity to include some historical material.
This last period stresses the importance of maintaining a bond with history, with one's heritage and one's identity. I suggest developing this theme while presenting the banana company's massacre of demonstrators and the way in which they manipulate and distort those historical events. This loss of the past parallels and corresponds to the familial and communal loss which occurs with the death and departure of the principal characters. This highlights, from a multicultural perspective, how the Spanish conquest imposed European culture on some very advanced, native civilizations, and how that past remains largely inaccessible and lost.
The major characters of this last period, Aureliano Babilonia, who does not know his parents, and Amaranta Ursula, who is included to "toss all items and customs from the past into the trash," have no sense of heritage nor history (383). Everyone with a knowledge of Macondo or of the family legacy has died or departed. In this context of solitude, isolation and estrangement, they conceive the child with the pig's tail. Nature rectifies this violation and seeks a new balance by destroying the village and the family. Thus, land and family work together to define the community and the characters.
Time And Narration
Two types of time govern One Hundred Years of Solitude: the historical time with its births and deaths, beginnings and endings, and its stress on memory; and the mythical time of creation with its emphasis on the frozen moment in which past, present, and future coalesce. Ultimately, the latter predominates (Vargas Llosa 547). The opening line of the work sets the pattern for time throughout: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice" (1). Present time lies between the moment when he will face the firing squad and the moment when he first discovered ice. The future, the present, and the past are contained within the same instant. The narration here and in other parts of the novel then moves back to the past and flows toward that future moment. These concentric circles emphasize reality as myth, legend, fiction, and history.
A similar contrast occurs with the narrative focus. Faulkner's novel moves from the self to other, from the interior to the exterior, from Benjy's and Quentin's montage and stream-of-consciousness to Jason's more rational but very subjective interior monologue to the limited, omniscient narrator who is not a character in the story. It emphasizes differing modes of apprehending truth and reality, and implies that objective truth and reality do exist. In Garcia Marquez, one discovers at the end that the narrator who seems not to be a character in the novel is actually Melquiades. Melquiades contributes substantially to the imaginative quality of the work and assumes the roles of Wandering Jew, Picaro, God, Mephistopheles, street merchant, and wise man. The real and the marvelous, the self and other, objectivity and subjectivity, truth and fiction flow into each other. This emphasizes the fictional nature of reality in which myth and legend and fact and history weigh in with equal importance. Comparing Faulkner and Garcia Marquez in this way underscores the movement from the monist attitudes of modernism to the pluralist perspectives of postmodernism.
Reading The Sound and the Fury and One Hundred Years of Solitude together fulfills diverse classroom needs. This multicultural approach promotes understanding among the cultures of the New World by showing how they have enriched each other, and how their artistic development has been linked. Furthermore, highlighting the intertextual qualities provides important insights into the more particular themes and methods of each novelist.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1990. All page references to this work are to the same source.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. All page references to this work are to the same source.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, and Mario Vargas Llosa. La novela en America Latina: Dialogo. Lima: Carlos Milla Batres, 1968.
Guibert, Rita. Seven Voices. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.
Harss, Luis. Los neustros. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 1969.
Hornback, Vernon T., Jr. "The Uses of Time in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury." Papers on English Language and Literature 1 (1965): 50-58.
Kennedy, William. "The Yellow Trolley Car in Barcelona and Other Visions." Atlantic Monthly Jan. 1973: 50-59.
Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. Trans. Lysander Kemp. New York: Grove Press, 1962.
Vargas Llosa, Mario. Garcia Marquez: historia de un deicidio. Barcelona: Barral Ediciones, 1971.