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“No One Writes to the Colonel” by G. G. Marquez Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 11th, 2021

The Columbian novelist and short-story writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was much impressed by two masterpieces of world literature, such as the story “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway and the novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus. The author combined the “objective” prose and philosophical symbolism of Hemingway with the existentialistic prose of Camus and created one of his most famous story “No one Writes to the Colonel”.

The action of the story took place in Columbia. At that time the situation of violence and terror reigned there because of the desperate fight between numerous political parties. Gabriel Marquez gave the concrete time of the main actions in the story. That was the period from October till December 1956. The writer also mentioned a lot of other dates, such as the year of the main hero’s birth and the time when his son Augustine was born. That chronology was relative to the author. He paid more attention to the so-called general situation of the world instead of concrete historical events. Marquez tried to escape the uncovered violence in the narration, but he described the moral condition of the world captured by violence. Similar motive readers could see in the work of Alber Camus, where people fought against the epidemic of plague (Bacon, 1984).

The general image of violence in the world the writer put together from many pictures of everyday life in one provincial town. During the described events the violence hid for a while but didn’t disappear forever. Nothing happened in that town on the one side, but the author made a hint on an open and uncompromising struggle between Life and Death. Every person in the town lived on such a shaky side.

The whole story of Garcia Marquez was full of interesting and unique images. The image of death and violence were the main among the others. The death covered Colonel’s house and frightened him with poverty and hunger. According to the writer’s words, the image of the old Colonel appeared when he saw a lonely man sitting in the river port. The figure of that person expressed hopeless expectation and became the realistic character of the narration. On the one hand, the main hero of the story was an old and sick man, but the author depicted him as a still morally strong and wiry person. His wife was also an old and sick woman. Besides nine months ago their son, Augustine was killed for the distribution of the illegal literature during the next flash of violence in the room for the cockfights. The Colonel had been hopelessly waiting for promised pension for long years and had been living without any money.

Garcia Marquez avoided psychologism and extremeness of their living conditions. He characterized laconic and exact details of their everyday life instead. For example, the Colonel’s wife poured out the last spoon of coffee into the cup, she put a saucepan with stones on the stove because she didn’t want the neighbors to know about their poverty. When the Colonel’s boots wore out he took the new patent leather shoes out of the chest because he had nothing to wear. The last time he put on those shoes was at the wedding with his wife (McNerney, 2000). Their son was fond of cockfights and he left the fighting cock to the parents. Colonel’s wife persuaded him to sell the cock but the old man didn’t listen to her. For him the game-cock was not only the remembrance of the son but also the last hope for a possible solid prize at forthcoming cockfights.

The topic of death which was soaring above life concentrated just around the Colonel’s killed son. It seemed that his body was still situated in the next room and all the time laid at the bottom of consciousness like a heavy stone. So again the theme of death, the dead man appeared in the narration as a deep ideological and emotional center. Garcia Marquez had found an amazing detail to transfer an atmosphere of violence. He joined the Colonel in the funeral procession. The unique fact was that the dead man was the only person for a long time in the town who died his own death.

Of course, Gabriel Garcia Marquez showed the positive moments in his story “No one Writes to the Colonel”. He underlined that life still existed in the town. He made the conclusion that while there was a man, there would be life (Marquez, 1968). The Colonel silently grieved about his killed son. But Augustine’s death only kindled the obstinate striving for life.

Some critiques told that we could notice in that thin sinewy old man a lot of features from Don Quixote. In spite of everything, the Colonel began the attack again and again. He wanted to change the condition of the world which was ruined by violence. The main hero didn’t wear a hat, because he didn’t want to put it off before anyone. He would better strive than ask for food or money. The Colonel stubbornly waited for legal pension and regularly went to the pier because he was sure that a ship would bring him the necessary letter. The old man burrowed in the old papers, tried to get the needed information, and decided to change the lawyer. The author knew that his main hero would never retreat or give up before the difficulties.

One more important feature in describing the main character of the story was the author’s historical digressions. It helped Marquez more vividly depict the Colonel’s biography. The source of the anonymous town where all the actions took place became the unknown town, Sucre, at the bank of some river. It was situated in the banana zone where Marquez’s parents lived and where he got acquainted with his future wife Mercedes. According to Marquez that anonymous town was connected with Macondo and became the symbol of the modern world’s condition.

The major fact in the Colonel’s biography is also linked with the city of Macondo. In 1960 a rude civil war between the conservatives and the liberals killed a huge number of Columbians. The Colonel was the member of that war among the other two hundred young officers in his youth. When the government signed the act of capitulation it promised to provide the pension for all those officers. The Colonel brought two bags with state treasure to the liberal leader Aureliano Buendia and received the paper which could be a document for providing the pension. Of course, it was very difficult to do such an operation. All the time he recollected the moments from his youth when he died from starvation and tiredness only for taking the national treasures in full integrity and safety. But that paper was not legal as well as the promised pension. The Colonel didn’t know the rest for fifty years because of that paper, which promised him money.

With the help of that episode, the writer wanted to show us that the same clear, young and honest officer was still alive in the old colonel. Neither poverty nor death could break or kill him. He was full of moral heroism and courage. His character and behavior gave the poetic and symbolic embodiment in the metaphor of the fighting cock (Bell, 1993).

The Colonel’s wife persuaded him to sell the cock because it was the only thing for which they could get some money. Godfather Don Sebastian wanted to betray him with the price but was ready to buy the cock. The main hero had doubts about selling the bird because it would be the sale of the memories connected with his son. It would mean to give up and to lose the fight against death. So finally he refused.

The fighting cock became a symbol that had several meanings. But the readers couldn’t notice them at the first sight. The writer didn’t mark the metaphorical meaning of the cock, but we could realize the connection between the cock and Colonel’s son, between the cock and Colonel himself. Later on the comparison “the Colonel – the fighting cock” became more evident. That’s why we made a parallel between the Colonel’s courage and uncompromising heroism of the cock. They both were waiting for the duel with death without any fear.

The author linked those two characters with the help of similar stylistic means for describing their alike appearance. Firstly, Marquez presented us with the Colonel as a sinewy man with wrinkled skin. When he tried to comb his hair with a horn comb, he found a similarity with a parrot. He had no money and food, his clothes were old and completely worn out, his umbrella was broken, his shirt was without a collar. But the old man understood everything and wasn’t ready to give up. He had enough moral strength to fight. Then the writer depicted us the similar outward appearance of the cock. He showed realistic comparison with the Colonel.

The cock had teared comb, inflamed skin, bare bluish legs. It was striving like the Colonel did, but in spite of all was also ready for the fight. Besides from time to time it seemed that the cock tried to talk to the old man in his own way. The Colonel firmly decided not to sell the cock and told to his wife: “Our cock cannot be killed”. He had strong confidence that nothing could conquer neither him nor the fighting bird. When he brought the bird to the cock fight the author showed that those two characters were full of life and strength. The metaphor of the cock had deep roots in the folklore, where cock fights were associated with man’s strength, victory and dignity.

The novella “No one Writes to the Colonel” highlight the battle between the person and the government, the war and solitude (McNerney, 2000). Gabriel Garcia Marquez portraied several true to life, strong, unconquerable and vivid images of the Colonel and his wife, their son Agustin, the fighting cock, the death and violence. The author depicted real old Colonel and cock and highlighted the main motive of the work “the victory is in defeat”.

References

Bacon, Susan. Rewiew of Conversations with Latin American Writers: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Hispania, 1984.

Bell, Michael. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Solitude and Solidarity. Hampshire: Macmillan, 1993.

Bell-Villada, Gene H. Garcia Marquez: The Man and His Work. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. No one Writes to the Colonel. Harper and Row, 1968.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Living to tell the tale. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

Gonzales, Nelly. Bibliographic Guide to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Oxford: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994.

McMurray, George R. Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1987.

McNerney, K. Understanding Gabriel Garcia Marquez. University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

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