The following example essay focuses on death in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and ‘The House of the Spirits’. Read the introduction, body and conclusion of the essay, scroll down.
Attitudes toward death tend to differ between cultures. The Latin American novels ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and ‘The House of the Spirits’ show us an attitude toward mortality that stems from many of the attitudes towards life itself. Death in the novels serves as a commentary on life, society, the characters and their spirituality.
Each death and the way in which it is received, mourned and celebrated by the other characters is unique but each as significant as the life that preceded it. Consciousness transcends death and is inborn in the next generations ensuring that physical death is not the end. In other cases however a person ‘dies’ in a spiritual or emotional sense well before their actual physical mortality. The deaths are not incidental, rather the timing and manner of each is crafted and developed by the author for a distinct reason often reflecting the life, relationships and spiritual standing of the individual character.
The reactions to death are unusual and often less dramatic than expected. This arises from the characters’ belief that death isn’t a permanent separation but instead, the creation of a more spiritual relationship. As Clara nears death, in ‘The House of the Spirits’, she reflects on the way she wishes her grandaughter to receive her passing. ‘She hoped that Alba would be calm, because in her case death would not be separation, but a way of being more united.
’1 Ursula is the character in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ who, due to her longevity, witnesses the most deaths.She mourns the loss of her family and friends but with a certain manner of acquiescence, understanding that death happens to all. Her religion and belief in the afterlife allows her to be calm following the loss of her family, accepting that the spirits of the deceased will live on, along with all their characteristics and memories.Throughout both novels, the physical death of each character does not necessarily entail the end of their spiritual existence or their influence on the ‘still-living’ characters.
Likewise, several characters experience a spiritual or emotional death well before their last breath. Social and religious constructs such as the possibility of an afterlife, and a universal, inherited consciousness make the re-appearance of characters after their death an acceptable and logical phenomenon. Each re-appearance seems to serve a purpose, as those who return continue to advise and guide the living. In ‘The House of the Spirits”, Clara continues to act as the family’s spiritual guardian long after she dies.This is important to her family, ‘Fortunately Clara returned, or perhaps she never left.’2 At the time of her physical death, she calmly accepts that her purpose on earth has been fulfilled, and seems to simply leave her life rather than have it taken from her.
She returns to the family home often, sometimes to observe, and other times with advice. Similarly, in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ the gypsy Melquï¿½ades returns to Macondo in a metaphysical form to converse with and guide Aureliano Segundo. Although Melquï¿½ades refuses to translate his old, seemingly senseless notations, he spends almost every afternoon in his old room talking with Aureliano Segundo, trying to ‘infuse him with his old wisdom’3 and giving clues to the meaning of his manuscripts. He is a man full of scientific wisdom and it seems understandable that he should continue to share his knowledge with the family beyond his death.As well as through a spiritual after-life, the consciousness transcends death and is reborn in other people of succeeding generations. The concept of a universal collective consciousness being passed from generation to generation is evident. In the instance where Melquï¿½ades appears in the old room ‘Aureliano Segundo recognised him at once, because hereditary memory had been transmitted from generation to generation and had come to him through the memory of his grandfather’4. Similarly, in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, the names given to the children assign a propensity for certain characteristics and behaviours.
Subsequently the characters have many similar experiences and relationships, affecting the world and others in much that same way as their predecessors.The names of both the novels imply a continuity of consciousness regardless of physical death, time or change. ‘The House of the Spirits’ is a title that doesn’t refer to any particular person or event, but rather uses the house as a constant figure that holds the spirits, souls and consciousness’s from previous generations. Likewise, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ indicates a continuity of a feature, in this case solitude, over the entire novel. The very first character of the novel in a sense creates the solitude that remains with the subsequent generations in both a geographical and spiritual sense.Some characters cease to exist within the social and emotional world before the time of their actually physical passing.
This often occurs due to a dramatic or emotionally scarring incident in their life. Colonel Aureliano Buendia and Colonel Gerineldo Marquez suffer the tragedies of war and withdraw into their own minds, neglecting their family, friends and social obligations. This is a social death that in many ways retracts a person from life to the same or greater extent as a physical death. Both these characters lose all capability of loving, and become emotionless and oblivious to the world revolving around them. Their families learn that they are beyond normal relationships, however Ursula tries to find any last remaining compassion and nostalgia within her son Colonel Aureliano Buendia, asking him to at least remember them all if he goes away again.
The Colonel replies in a way that shows he knows that the war has killed him, if only in his soul. ”I’m sorry’…’Its just that the war has done away with everything.”5Rebecca, the widow of Josï¿½ Arcadio, also confines her self to her house, breaking any connections with the ever changing outside world, and with her family. Many years later Ursula is shocked that Rebecca is still living because through years of living as a hermit Rebecca had rendered herself dead in the minds of everyone. In her first social contact for many years, Rebecca sends the Buendias some money to pay for the renovations that were done on her house. However the coins she sends were withdrawn from circulation many years before. ‘It was then that they saw to what a fantastic point her separation from the world had arrived and they understood that it would be impossible to rescue her from her stubborn enclosure while she still had a breath of life in her’.6On the other hand, this form of spiritual and social death does not occur in the characters in ‘The House of the Spirits’. These people are very insistent on life and struggle to survive, not only physically but spiritually.
When Alba is on death’s door, Clara appears, advising that ‘the point was not to die, because death came anyway, but to live which would be a miracle.’7The death of many of the characters is often used quite deliberately in order to convey a message or further the plot. The death of Prudencio Aquilar is the first in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. It is the catalyst for all the ensuing events in the lives of Ursula and Josï¿½ Arcadio. Likewise, the accidental death of Rosa the Beauty, in ‘The House of the Spirits’, causes Esteban, her fiancee, to flee town and become the patron of Tres Marï¿½as. This death instigates the events that result due to Esteban’s bereavement.The calmness and reconciliation that Esteban finds at the end of his life, allows Alba to culminate the cycle of hate caused by Esteban and indirectly by Rosa’s death.
Some characters die for their cause in life, sacrificing themselves for what they believe in. Specific incidences of martyrdom can be seen in the death of the members of the armies and political parties in both novels, who lay down their lives for their passionate beliefs. In a similar way, those men who are captivated by their love for Remedios either kill themselves or die from ‘..her powers of death.’8 They feel so affected and intoxicated by their love, feeling that if death will bring them any resolution they are prepared to forgo the remainder of their lives.In these novels, death comes in many forms, for many reasons, each deliberate and specific to the individual character. The family sagas of ‘The House of the Spirits’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ are not just the histories of the lives of the characters, but also the history of their deaths. The deaths are not incidental; the authors have employed them to convey messages.These messages are different and purposeful, some commenting on the importance of maintaining strong relationships and existence in the social world whilst still living, others implying the insignificance of physical death in spiritualistic lives. Whatever the individual meaning, in each novel, spirituality ensures an appreciation that death is not necessarily the end of being, it is just another stage. As Clara says ‘Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown….dying is like being born; just a change.