The society Gabriel Garcia Marquez presents in One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of mystery, love, challenge, and intense magical realism. Despite the seemingly unrealistic events which occur in the novel, Marquez’s characters appear relatable and tangible to the reader. All of them, the men and the women, experience trials and tribulations as they navigate the family struggles which unfold in the world of Macondo.
The men and women of the Buendía family are both equally prominent in Solitude, but they are attributed very different, almost contradictory, genders roles and are therefore forced to operate in different spheres of societal influence. The men perform in opposition of the household, seeking power, pleasure, and knowledge in the outside world. In contrast, the women “exercise ultimate influence within the domestic realm, where they exhibit superior morality, resourcefulness and pragmatism.”
Though women’s primary function in Solitude is reproduction and the perpetuation of the family bloodline, they have many more duties besides that. They also use their bodies to their advantage, as a means of gaining power and controlling the men in their lives. In addition, the women are the sole managers of household, a position which many devote their entire lives to maintaining. All these are functions placed on the women in Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The first defining factor of women in One Hundred Years of Solitude is sex. Sex is so paramount to the way women are portrayed in Solitude because, as previously stated, the successful continuation of the Buendía bloodline is presented as a woman’s main function throughout the entirety of the book. The nature of female sex in Solitude is best described as “a tension between prostitution and virginity, which co-exist in constant conflict and are both considered valuable by society in different circumstances.”
Sex is a constant theme, particularly for the women, in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It seems to be a link and a factor intertwining all of the various characters in the novel, men and women. Many characters in this novel are driven by and controlled through sex, however, sex and sexuality are very different for men and women.
In regards to female sex in Solitude, virginity is very significant. Marquez relates virginity as a core element of femininity and dignity for the women in this novel, despite the fact that consummating marriages and continuing the bloodline is also very central. Virginity is seen as even more important for the young women in Solitude. The significance of virginity for young women is expressed in a scene at the beginning of Chapter 4, involving Pietro Crespi and Ursula’s daughters. Ursula is reluctant to leave Rebeca and Amaranta alone with the Italian because of his handsomeness and mystique. “Pietro Crespi taught them how to dance. He showed them the steps without touching them…under the friendly eye of Ursula, who did not leave the room for a moment while her daughters had their lesson.”
In contrast to this, later on in the novel, it is shown that virginity decreases in value over time. An example of this is Ursula’s clear change of heart regarding her daughter’s virginity—Ursula attempts to solidify Amaranta’s marriage to Colonel Gerineldo Marquez. “Ursula would bring them coffee and milk and biscuits and would take over the children so that they would not bother them.”
Amaranta is an especially interesting character in regards to virginity in Solitude, because she, despite the emphasis on sex in this novel, dies a virgin. Though she does express sexual feelings, particularly for Colonel Gerineldo Marquez, she refuses to marry him. “But the day on which Colonel Gerineldo Marquez repeated his wish to marry her, she rejected him.” Amaranta rejects the Colonel even though it is clear she has feelings for him: “…in spite of the fact that she was dying to see him, she had the strength to not go out and meet him.” This entire scene, especially Amaranta’s “strength” for not giving in to the Colonel, suggests that continued virginity, for women, is the complete overcoming of passions.
For Amaranta, this continued virginity takes a visual symbol in the shape of her black bandage: “…the black bandage on her hand, for she interpreted it as an allusion to her virginity.” Amaranta’s continued wearing of the bandage can be construed as her exhibiting it with pride, as well as a visual reflection of her decision to remain celibate. When Amaranta eventually dies, she declares her conscience clean, “thus expressing how this path of self-mastery allowed her to attain to an inner peace despite her hateful life.”
On the other hand, there are many women in Solitude who do not choose to maintain their virginity. For these women, their virginity is instead seen as superficial and trite. This portrayal is evident when Marquez compares the deflowering of women to an act involving animals. “Ursula at the time did not know about the custom of sending virgins to the bedrooms of soldiers in the same way that hens are turned loose with fine roosters…” This comparison—which diminishes women who are losing their virginity to simply animals engaged in a trivial act—shows how the loss of virginity is also seen as very insignificant.