Balance of Roles of Men and Women In ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’
In his book One Hundred years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez presents a society with what seems to be a balance of roles of men and women. Each has roles that are distinctive of the other and both are portrayed to be comfortable in their own niches. The men seek power and knowledge and understanding of the real world while the women are moral, practical and capable. The men are often pictured outside the household and seeking to make sense of the world around them while the women use their skills to navigate and survive the domestic dominion. Their limited engagement with the outside world makes them ignorant of it, but conversely, their innocence, virtue and experience with age makes them very insightful, even clairvoyant at times. Their primary purpose is reproduction and the continuation of the bloodline, but throughout the book these are numerous occasions where women use their bodies to manipulate people and to gain power. The highest form of power a woman can attain however, comes from taking on the role of the custodian of the household and encouraging the furthering of the bloodline to the best of her capacity. Set in Latin America, the patriarchal system of the time is clearly reflected in the book, and Marquez has created an array of characters to portray the different females with a variety of roles in Colombian Society.
Sex is the most essential in the representation of the women in the book because successful continuation of the bloodline is presented as their main function throughout the novel and it is a direct reflection of the role of women in colombian society at the time. The book has two stark contrasts of female sexuality coexisting side by side throughout the novel: Virginity and prostitution*. While virginity is the highest form of self-restraint and honour for a woman, prostitution,whether for money or power, is the force that drives relationships. Virginity is presented as a core pillar of honor for young women,which is why Ursula is so reluctant to leave her daughters alone with Pietro Crespi (pg.64), however, Ursula’s promotion of Amaranta’s marriage to Colonel Marquez (pg.142) also indicates that the value of virtue decreases with age and is eventually overridden by a woman’s duty to procreate. Amaranta personifies the innocence of virtue and her decision to stay a virgin until death implies that true virtue is only achieved when one can overcome all carnal urges.. At the same time,through the characterization or Pilar Tener, Marquez deems virginity as almost futile and presents prostitution as an ingrained female behaviour. Pilar is said to have ‘never refused the countless men that sought her out, without giving her money or love and only occasionally pleasure’ (p156).
In most cases women seek either love or money and use sex to get it; an example of this could be Nigromanta who demands payment from Aureliano when she realises she cannot win his affection. It is evident through various such examples that prostitution is the woman’s only concrete value outside of marriage and their ability to enthral men is their greatest asset. Either way, be it virtuous behavior or prostitution a woman’s sexual behaviour is what dictates the course of her life in the novel. A woman’s main function may be sex, however, their highest duty that they must carry onto death,is to be the custodian of the household. No matter what their character, this duty converts them into a maternal figure (portrayed most evidently by Ursula), who must take it upon herself to protect, maintain and deliver justice in the domestic domain. By stating that “Ursula’s capacity for work was the same as that of her husband”(p12) Marquez points out her essential role in the Buendia household and the important role of all women in the domestic realm in Colombian society. In the beginning of the book when her husband gets obsessed with science she takes charge and fulfills both her duty and his without compliant ( Pg.11) which shows how wholeheartedly she is dedicated to the maintenance of her family. When Jose Arcadio Buendia is prepared to move his house and declares that they are to move alone, Ursula stops him and declares that “ [i]f [she has] to die for the rest of [them]to stay [there], [she will die](p17). Her willingness to sacrifice her life to guarantee the survival of her family is evidence of the significance of her role, and the fact that she was able to convince her husband to stay shows the sphere of influence that females have on household decisions.
Even when Ursula ‘had reached an age where she had a right to rest’ (pg. 56) she uses her lifelong savings to enlarge the house,which is another example of her unwavering dedication to be of service to her household. The “Main reason behind the construction was a desire to have a proper place for the girls to receive visitors” (p63) which is a display of her love and concern not just for her kids but also for the generations of Buendias to come after her death. While on her deathbed Ursula prays that a Buendia never marry inside the family because ‘their children would be born with the tail of a pig’ (p342), and by turning her prayer into a prophecy of sorts and having that exact reason be the downfall of the bloodline, Marquez successfully shows females as powerful mother figures who try their level best to save their family till their very last breath, but are unable to do so because of their inability to control the actions of their children.
Thus, Women are established as sexual beings responsible for furthering the bloodline but also as matriarchs that are protectors and providers of a family with an unwavering will to do what is best for their families. Marquez limits the role of women in the routine of daily reality. They never abandon their duties and exercise power admirably in the limited domain that they are allowed. The author both empowers women and strips them of their power in the book which presents the complex nature of the role of women in society at the time. He successfully makes the reader understand the limitations and duties that women had at the time and the relationship between women and sex in history.
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