Gabriel Garcia Marquez: His Fables and Techniques
Another one of Garcia Marquez’s great subterfuges found in his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is the use of the banal and common to
cause surprise. This technique I would call Magnification. Within his novels and short stories, we find many examples of that. One of them occurs in the beginning, when the Colonel takes his grandson to a fair so that he may “find out what ice is.” And in the same novel, he wrote that an insomnia plague killed all the birds, raising a common night event –as lack of sleep– to the category of a plague, which is just a literary recourse to cause humor and surprise. One would say that Garcia Marquez wants to sweep people off his feet by such eye openers.
This element of surprise goes hand in hand with his masterful use of humor. Henri Bergson once said that humor is like a continuous line of seriousness that ends up abruptly. For example, in most humorous TV programs there is always a leading personage doing or saying something
with an adust demeanor, and suddenly he is stopped on his tracks –sometimes with an action that would have been otherwise violent. That is the case in one the Charlie Chaplin’s short films. He is posing as an elegant Englishman walking by, and suddenly he steps on a banana peel which makes him fall. He raises himself half way, still sitting on the floor, but his face continuous being serious as if nothing has happened. Then a funny grimace would make people laugh for a long time.
Garcia Marquez’s use of humor has no parallel with other literary writers of his time. In his short story La Siesta del Martes (The Tuesday Nap)
there is a passage when a woman, serious as death, comes to a little town where everybody is having a nap, except the town priest. After some serious talk in which the woman relates to the town priest the death of his son. The man used to work as a boxer on Saturday nights. Garcia Marquez ends up this interlocution with some kind of dark humor. In spite of the circumspection with which most of the story is handled, the following sentences –more than likely– would have made the reader sketch a big smile on his/her face. The woman and the priest end up saying the following:
“That’s so– said the woman–. Each morsel that I ate at that time tasted to the beatings they gave my son on Saturday nights.”
“The will of God is inscrutable”, said the priest.
Of course, the woman’s solemn answer and the pious one of the priest take the serious story to another level, as if Garcia Marquez would be having fun surprising the reader with some little dark humor.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez had said many a time that he inherited the solemnity –with which he writes his stories– from his Grandmother, Dona Tranquilina. She used to narrate –or I would say invent– many stories to the very young Marquez, and she would tell them in all seriousness, even when what she was saying was consciously or intuitively known by both to be a lie.
Thus, the condition of truthfulness or verisimilitude in a story not necessarily resides in the factual element of it, but in the manner in which it is told. I bet Garcia Marquez’s Grandmother was dead serious when her solemn voice would enthrall young Marquez with her fables. He had no other choice but to believe in them.
The more weird, outlandish and fantastic the elements of the story, the more absorbed he must have been.
Therefore, in time, a more experienced Garcia Marquez would create his stories and novels fully conscious that he was recreating reality. History was, after all, the way somebody have told it, and this somebody was a human being. This way Marquez embarked in the difficult task of recreating a Latin American history plagued with tyrants and economic difficulties by holding it against the mirror of a funny solemnity. Thus, he tried to present a chaotic tale of injustice as a story of human error, raising the particular to the level of the universal. No more was Latin America the foolish kid of the block, known as the world. Instead, in his magnificent way of retelling history, the blooper, the mistake and the sin was committed not by a race –once considered inferior or degraded–, but by the whole of humanity.