Another Yellow Brick Road:
A study of symbolism of the color yellow in One Hundred Years of Solitude
Written: My Junior Year of Highschool for IB English
(Grade recieved: A- *which is a total "whoohoo!" taking into account the teacher*)
The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude uses many symbols in the book to convey deep messages and provide common strings through similar events throughout the novel. Sometimes it is a recurring image, like the color yellow, that gives the reader the impression that there is something important connected with the image. Yellow appears many times in the book, usually connected in some way with death. The color yellow is used as a symbol of death in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The color yellow often precedes the death of a character, as is the case with one of the men who courts Remedios the Beauty. The man arrives in Macondo on a Sunday and attends mass, where he meets Remedios the Beauty. Many Sundays later, he presents her with a yellow rose: "On the sixth Sunday the gentleman appeared with a yellow rose in his hand"(201). The line is immediately given special notice by the reader because its length is much shorter than preceding sentences, and the voice seems much more removed than in the sentence prior. The voice is different and more removed in that this one sentence tells the reader something that happened without much description or showing what happened, with exception of the mentioning of the color of the rose; the sentence prior, which is five lines long, shows the actions of the man, what the town thought, and what was starting. In this line of nearly pure telling, the use of the adjective "yellow" should be noted. Remedios shows her face to the man, but, in effect, refuses him. The man eventually becomes filthy and ragged and ends up "cut to pieces by a train"(200) many years later. The yellow rose is mentioned again on the next page: "She accepted the yellow rose..."(202). In this sentence the author could have simply said "rose" and did not have to reiterate that it was yellow. The fact that the author specifically refers to the color twice implies the importance that it was yellow, rather than red or white or any other color. The recurring appearance of this image before the death of this man is important, suggesting the color yellow was a sign that his death was to come.
Less noticeable signs that a death is impending occur later in the novel, when the color yellow is mentioned very subtly just before Jose Arcadios death. Jose Arcadio, the son of Aureliano Segundo, comes back to Macondo from Rome and allows his house to be occupied by hordes of playful children. At some point they discover the hidden treasure Ursula had been keeping for the men who left the statue during the rains: "One night in the room where Ursula had slept they saw a yellow glow coming through the crumbling cement, as if an underground sun had changed the floor of the room into a pane of glass"(377). This is a sudden appearance of color in a chapter with a very gray feeling and is abundant with images that are very devoid of color, which should be noticed by the reader who could perceive that this stark contrast is a foreshadowing or sign that something bad is about to happen. Later, he squanders the money on frivolous things; he redecorated the house, bought many wines and liquors, and "filled the pool with champagne"(378). The champagne, another yellow image, is another sign that something bad will happen, because it, like the gold a page before, stands out so much in the passage and chapter where it is, where there is no color anywhere around it. These two mentions of yellow on nearly the same page are stark contrasts to the bulk of the narrative text, where very little is said about the colors of anything. Three pages later Jose Arcadio is murdered in the same pool that was filled with the yellow champagne earlier. It is wise to note out the connection here: The pool was filled with yellow champagne, and then three pages later the character dies in that pool. The yellow was a sign that his death was to come, and had a direct tie to where the death occurred.
Another character whose death is almost predicted because of the presence of the color yellow is Mauricio Babilonia. He works as an auto mechanic during the banana company frenzy in Macondo. The reader quickly notices that his presence is always preceded and followed by the appearance of many yellow butterflies. Fernanda, who is able to predict his death just by looking at him, also notices this supernatural appearance, which is noted by Meme in the quote: " Hes a very strange man... You can see in his face that hes going to die. Meme thought that her mother had been impressed by the butterflies." (292) Fernanda knew that Mauricio Babilonia was going to die, just as the reader should know hes going to die because of the presence of these yellow butterflies. The supernatural appearance of the butterflies is enough to illicit some interest in the reader, however the fact that they are yellow intensifies this, and makes it clear to the reader that, like the other yellow images that precede a death, Mauricios death is impending as well. In fact, he does die after being shot when trying to enter Memes room one night. He is at first only paralyzed, but he soon dies; Fernandas prediction, made when seeing the yellow butterflies, came true.
The color yellow sometimes appears as a tribute after the death of a character, like when Jose Arcadio Buendia died. Ursula, Visitacion, and Cataure go into his bedroom and found that he had died. Shortly thereafter, a rain of yellow flowers began:
"A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurement for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals that slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by"(144).
These yellow flowers mark the passing of Jose Arcadio Buendia and are a sign that his death has happened. The supernatural rain of yellow flowers is a tribute and a mourning for his death; yellow flowers are traditionally used for putting on the graves of the deceased, especially in Latin American countries. Therefore it is fitting that yellow flowers are spread all over Macondo, not just his specific burial site, because Jose Arcadio Buendia was the founder of the town, and is responsible for everything in it; the whole town is his resting place. The yellow flowers were used to mourn the death of Jose Arcadio Buendia who founded the town of Macondo.
A yellow object of great importance in the latter half of the book brings many things to Macondo, among them the banana company which leads to the massacre of thousands of innocent people: the train. Aureliano Triste brings the yellow train to Macondo in a display that almost mirrors the expedition of his relation Jose Arcadio Segundo who brought the first and only boat down the river to Macondo. When the train arrives it is personified and given a human quality of innocence, which is odd, because one doesnt think of a train as being either innocent or not innocent; its just a train that cannot possess such qualities: "The innocent yellow train that was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo"(228). The train is described as innocent, when naturally, had the author not mentioned that the train was innocent, the reader would assume the train to be innocent because it is a machine. However, the author says that the train is innocent, which should be a tip off to the reader that something about the train isnt so innocent, which is almost certainly what it brings which is in the second half of the sentence. The train brings, in effect (by bringing the company responsible), the massacre of the thousands of townspeople, which is a huge amount of deaths. By this same token, the train brings the destruction of Macondo, because the banana company crippled the town significantly, taking the towns prosperity and leaving Macondo in worse shape than ever, quite probably leading to its ultimate demise. The significance that the train was yellow is clearly great not only because the author took the time to mention this fact (when the color of the boat, for example was not noted), but because of the amount of death and destruction that the train itself brings.
Yellow is seen many times in the book, usually very close to a death of a character and as a warning or sign that death is impending, or afterwards as a mark of the death. It has been established that the yellow images are often hard to ignore because they are repeated or they appear in passages or chapters where they contrast greatly with the relatively colorless narrative. In the cases of the man who courts Remedios, Jose Arcadio and Mauricio Babilonia, the color yellow serves as a bright warning that death is imminent, for example when we see the glow of gold from under the bed, and then the swimming pool full of champagne just before Jose Arcadios death in that pool. The color yellow is also used as a tribute or memorial for a characters death when Jose Arcadio Buendia dies and it rains tiny yellow flowers.
Lastly, we see the color yellow as a very early signal that a large death is coming, as with the train that brings not only the massacre of thousands of people, but the means of the death of Macondo as well. Such an interpretation is not a stretch when considering the fact that traditionally in Latin American culture--the culture the author was in which the author was brought up-- the color yellow is connected with death, which is usually exemplified in the yellow flowers that are placed on graves. The reader may conclude that the color yellow in One Hundred Years of Solitude symbolizes death because of the colors continual proximity to death, the repetition of the color, and prominence of the images in which the color appears.