An Old English Paper
“Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!” – The Smiths, “Paint a Vulgar Picture”
I wrote this in high school, and found I still had it saved on a hard drive. I’ll resist editing it. This was from my 11th grade IB English HL class.
Describing Place through Family History
Family plays a very important role in history. Each family’s experience is a unique memory of the culture around it. Michael Ondaatje portrays Ceylon as he recounts his family history in his memoir, Running in the Family. Similarly, Gabriel Garcia Márquez uses the Buendía family to tell the history of the mythical town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both authors describe each place in terms of their customs, geography, and government through the histories and experiences of the Ondaatje and Buendía families.
The popular customs of each setting are revealed through each family. In Ceylon, gambling is very popular among all classes, for it was “The only occupation that could hope to avert one from drink and romance” (Ondaatje 48). Ondaatje’s grandmother, Lalla, is one of the icons of Ceylonese gambling. With imagery, Ondaatje depicts Lalla with “a blue jacaranda blossom pinned to the shoulder of her dusty black dress, [as she looked] off into the drama of the one-hundred-yard stretch with the intensity of one preparing for the coming of the Magi” (Ondaatje 49) to clearly illustrate how the Ceylonese partake in gambling as they establish it as a popular pastime. Ondaatje creates this imagery to beautifully display the traditions of the Ondaatje family, which also reveals the customs of Ceylon. By using imagery to describe the customs of both Ceylon and the Ondaatje family, Ondaatje creates a cultural context necessary to understand other situations occurring in the book. Márquez also describes a popular custom through the Buendía family, addressing machismo ideology. Colonel Aureliano Buendía, part of the second generation of the Buendías, is the prime example of the machismo custom, showing many of the same conventional, machismo characteristics. He gradually gains a stronger sense of machismo as the civil war progresses. A leader for the liberal party during the war, Colonel Aureliano Buendía soon realizes that he’s “fighting because of pride” (Márquez 148), a strong machismo trait. The strength of his machismo personality grows, as he later remarks that “The important thing is that from now on we’ll be fighting only for power” (Márquez 183), the lust for power being another machismo characteristic. Márquez creates stronger machismo characterization of Colonel Aureliano Buendía through these effects of war. He uses this characterization to disprove the machismo sense in Latin America by showing its detrimental affects through Colonel Aureliano Buendía. He also uses imagery to invalidate the glory from war, as veterans in Macondo are “dying of hunger, living through rage, rotting of old age amid the exquisite shit of glory” (Márquez 262). Márquez contradicts this type of glory, stating that glory cannot come from the deaths of others or through “a flag soiled with blood and gunpowder” (Márquez 262). Through characterization, Márquez describes the machismo ideology in Macondo while commenting on its detrimental effects. Through both families’ experiences, Ondaatje and Márquez describe the cultural customs of each place.
Both authors also depict the geography through the family history of each location. Ondaatje describes the beautiful geography of Ceylon by using imagery to describe his parent’s house. He notes the beautiful wilderness engulfing everything in Ceylon, as he can “walk ten yards out of the house, and be surrounded by versions of green” (Ondaatje 167). Ondaatje also observes that “This is the colour of landscape, this is the silence, that surrounded [his] parents’ marriage” (Ondaatje 167), connecting how the landscape can reflect the family’s traits. The family also illustrates the wilderness of Ceylon when Ondaatje recalls that “snakes also had the habit of coming into the house” (Ondaatje 98), proving the landscape has not been tamed yet by modernization. Ondaatje recounts the natural surroundings in Ceylon with stunning imagery, deriving from descriptions and stories of his family. Márquez also illustrates the geography through the Buendía family. Aureliano, from the sixth generation of Buendía’s, travels through the town of Macondo after the banana company incident, trying “to reconstruct in his imagination the annihilated splendor of the old banana-company town, whose dry swimming pool was filled to the brim with rotting men’s and women’s shoes” (Márquez 413). Aureliano sees other devastating changes in Macondo when walking “through the dusty and solitary streets, examining . . . [the] houses in ruin, the metal screens on the windows broken by rust and the dying birds” (Márquez 413). Márquez creates the strong imagery Aureliano experiences to illustrate the landscape and also express the deep injustices occurring in Macondo due to the banana company’s intrusion into their town. Through the history of the Buendía family, Márquez describes the desolation of Macondo, as the family’s lineage begins to fade with Aureliano. Through the family’s experiences, Ondaatje and Márquez describe the different geography in each place.
Through each family, both authors describe the government of each setting, as both families hold power within their communities. Ondaatje writes of his father’s control of the railroads in Ceylon. Mervyn Ondaatje, “Being an officer in the Ceylon Light Infantry, was allowed free train passes” (Ondaatje 148), but abuses the privilege as “he pulled out an army pistol . . . and threatened to kill the driver unless he stopped the train” (Ondaatje 148). Mervyn “believed that he owned the railway by birthright” (Ondaatje 148) and “wore the railway as if it was a public suit of clothes” (Ondaatje 148). Eventually, “Messages [were sent] to arrange for a relative to meet and remove him from the train” (Ondaatje 149). Ondaatje’s characterization of Mervyn’s unrestrained control of power reflects the status of the government in Ceylon at the time. Mervyn’s administration of the rails proves many things about Ceylon’s government and infrastructure, such as a lack of security on the railroads and poor mental health diagnosis when joining the military. Mervyn’s characterization of control shows the insecurity of the government in Ceylon, and also of the country itself, while conveying Ceylon as a wild jungle, still untamed by industrialization and infrastructure. Márquez also illustrates the government in Macondo through the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía, founder of Macondo, defends the town’s rights against federal orders for “all of the houses to be painted blue” (Márquez 61). As Don Apolinar Moscote, the new magistrate, arrives in Macondo, he issues the federal orders straight away, against the wishes of Úrsula and José Arcadio Buendía, who want their house “to be white, like a dove” (Márquez 62). José Arcadio Buendía immediately defends his leadership role in the community, explaining that Macondo does not need a magistrate for “they had not founded a town so that the first upstart who came along would tell them what to do” (Márquez 62). Through José Arcadio Buendía’s refusal to acknowledge the power of the federal government, Márquez gives evidence that the country in which Macondo is in has a currently developing infrastructure, still weak in rural areas. Both families illustrate the weak governments of each place they reside in through their experiences in administration and rule.
Ondaatje and Márquez describe places through the history of each family in different features of customs, geography, and government. Both authors also show different aspects though these features, such as imagery, cultural context, characterization, and symbolism. The history and experiences of the Ondaatje’s and the Buendía’s reveal many things throughout the novels. It is through the memories and experiences of the unusual family members that truly captures Macondo and Ceylon’s unique, sensual essences.
Ondaatje, Michael. Running in the Family. New York, New York.: Vintage International, 1993.
Garcia Márquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. 1967. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York, New York: Harper Perennial Moderns Classics, 1998.