Sunday, February 10, 2008

Teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude

So, I'm teaching Gabriel García Máruez's masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, to my SPA 260 class in a couple of weeks, and as I've been re-reading it, I am again overcome with the author's brilliance. He is truly a master.

I am also realizing that teaching this novel to undergraduates presents something of a challenge. It is so richly complex that I wonder how much of it they will understand, especially since many of them have precious little exposure to Latin-American history. One of the major flaws of getting a PhD in Latin-American Literature is that you never get the chance to teach a literature class (one that's purely about literature) before you graduate. In return for free tuition and a pittance of a stipend (at least when I started), they make you teach section after section of Spanish grammar. I really wish that I had had the chance, because now that I get to, I am on my own--essentially.

As I've been trying to come up with teaching strategies, I found a book published by my former professor, Mario J. Valdés, called Approaches to Teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude. While I was initially hopeful that the book would give me several ideas, I found that each approach started something like this: "I teach OHYOS to my SPAN 499 Senior Honors class," or something like that. These approaches are all written by professors dealing with the best students in their major. I'm trying to teach this class at the 200 level for our general credit program; therefore, the approaches in that book haven't been too helpful.

So, I'm left to pick a strategy. I plan to give them a brief history of Colombia, of the "banana republics," and Garcia Marquez's biography. We will discuss the religious symbolism (always a favorite of mine), and the historical aspects of the narrative; for example, how the different arrivals of peoples to Macondo reflect different periods of world history/movements. But, more than anything, I really hope that the book touches them in that way that doesn't need a previous knowledge of all the things I've explained. I felt the same way reading OHYOS as I did when I read The Satanic Verses, The Grapes of Wrath, Ficciones, Sarum, The Book of Dave, and A Confederacy of Dunces; I didn't need it explained to me, I just connected with the book. That's my goal and that's what I'm hoping for.

Nevertheless, once you've connected with the book, the text becomes even more amazing when you begin to recognize the different levels of symbolism it contains. I plan to use small group discussion, targeted homework questions, and making the students write their own exam questions as a means to instruct them about the text. It is so rich that we'll never be able to discuss it all; my desire is to amaze them with the wonder that is Latin-American Literature and maybe draw one or two of them into the major or minor.

Here's hoping. As parting advice, you need to read OHYOS in your life. William Kennedy remarked: "It is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race."


Brady said...

One of the teachers I coach football with teaches spanish and has commented to me how great OHYOS is to read. Is there an English Translation?

Mac said...


The translation by Gregory Rabassa is universally considered the best. It is available everywhere; in fact, I bet the bookstores in St. George would have a copy in stock. The book astounds.

Anonymous said...

I am an English Dpt Chair. and one of the teachers states that the students are complaining about this book and how it has noting to offer. I have not read it, but I have heard great things about it. Could you possibly provide some information about how you taught the book? My email address Any help would be greatly appreciated.