The novel is organized around the development of the town. The first five chapters detail the founding and early years of Macondo. This is then followed by four chapters describing military uprisings, civil wars, and revolutions. The next five chapters represent a period of prosperity for the town, with a concurrent loss of innocence. The final chapters reveal the inner decadence of the town and its final destruction in a whirlwind.
While the novel is fantastic and magical, it also reveals significant information about the history of Colombia, particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the years between 1884 and 1902, Colombia experienced three civil wars. The events of the novel parallel this period of Columbian history surprisingly closely. Indeed, many critics identify one of the novel’s major characters, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, as the historical figure Colonel Uribe Uribe. This period in Colombian history is full of chaos and confusion, just as in the novel. Certainly, the characters in the novel seem to have little idea of what they are fighting for or why they are fighting.
The second important historical event treated in the novel is the incursion of American investors and the Banana Massacre of 1928. In the early years of the twentieth century, United Fruit Company, an American concern, began building huge banana plantations in the vicinity of Aracataca. Likewise, in the novel, Americans arrive in Macondo and begin developing the area. In the novel, the Banana Company engineers magically change the course of the river; in Columbia, the erection of dams and dikes did indeed change the flow of the river.
Further, in the real town of Ciénaga, near Aracataca, labor unrest erupted into violence in 1928. On December 6, a large number of striking banana workers were massacred at the railway station by government troops. It is still uncertain how many people were actually killed, despite the many investigations. It is clear that the government attempted to mask its involvement in the massacre. This event is dramatically rendered in the novel. José Arcadio Segundo is present with the striking workers at the train station when the army opens fire with machine guns. He witnesses two hundred train cars filled with the dead and wounded. Yet, when he attempts to report the massacre, he finds that no one will believe him and that everyone denies any such event took place. Critics suggest that this denial represents the reluctance of the real witnesses of the Ciénaga massacre to speak out about what they had seen.
Riohacha (ree-oh-HAHCH-ah). Coastal town, the birthplace of Macondo’s founders, José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán. In the sixteenth century, according to the novel, the pirate Francis Drake attacked the town. It is here that Buendía murders Prudencio Aguilar in response to his taunting about Buendía’s supposed impotence. Aguilar’s ghost will not leave José and Úrsula alone, and so it is that Macondo’s founders set off on their expedition to their new home.