The General and His Labyrinth
Memorialized as one of South America's greatest liberators, General Simon Bolivar led the wars to independence for Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. With the strength of passion and heartbreak of true love, Bolivar succeeded as a liberator, but fell short in his ultimate dream to unify his beloved continent. In his fictional novel, "The General and His Labyrinth", Gabriel Garcia Marquez narrates the General's two year journey down the Magdalena River from Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia to the sea. Throughout his voyage, the General recalls historical memories, powerful emotions, and passionate nights. Though Marquez's account of Bolivar's final two years of life is fictional, he captures many of his "larger than life" qualities through impressive stories of invincibility and unbelievable assassination escapes. Consistent with historical records, Marquez portrays Bolivar as a bold man with unsurpassed leadership skills who fought for his country and won. Symbolic of failure and a changing state of mind, Marquez inflicts a fictional, nameless disease upon the General. His overall attitude of frustration and exhaustion in the novel are owed, in large part, to his old age and growing sickness. The fluctuating severity of the General's disease parallels the varying degrees of confidence and hope that he has in himself, his future, and his dream of unity. Bolivar's real life memories are confused with hallucinations and sweetened with the creative touches of Garcia Marquez. Similar to other South American heroes, Simon Bolivar is dually loved and hated by all. His almost mythical victories, tragic flaws, and seemingly unattainable goal of total unity culminate to form the mysterious dynamic of his character as a conqueror, failure, fighter, and lover.
At the beginning of the novel, Jose Palacios, the General's oldest servant, finds Bolivar floating in a bathtub naked with his eyes open in a trance- like state. This unique form of meditation occurs many times throughout the novel as a way for the General to sort out his thoughts. Marquez also introduces the General's initial awareness of his increasing old age and signs of sickness. With weight and height loss along with paleness in his face and hands, the General begins to realize the limiting consequences of recently having turned forty- six years old. Starting out in Santa Fe de Bogota, the General is preparing for his journey down the Magdalena River. Revealing specific personality quirks, Marquez describes the General's impressive personal hygiene habits that include meticulous shaving, manicured nails, perfect white teeth, and excessive cologne. Following his ritualistic grooming habits, the General receives a visitor named Manuela Saenz who is described as "the bold Quitena who loved him but was not going to follow him to his death." The General acquires many lovers along his journey to the sea, but he consistently remembers and admires Manuela. Her character plays a minor role in the novel, but does resurface several times when the General temporarily and sporadically concerns himself with her well being. On September 25, 1828, Manuela saves Bolivar from an assassination attempt in Bogota. Despite the General's wishes, an investigation took place and fourteen men were shot in the main square. A tribunal, presided over by General Rafael Urdaneta, claimed that General Santander was "the secret intelligence behind the conspiracy and condemned him to death." The General blames Santander's inability "to assimilate the idea that this continent should be a single nation and that the unity of America was too much for him." Marking the beginning of his voyage, the General and his entourage leave Bogota for Ecuador. His presence in Ecuador is necessary because of conflicts with Peru, which has occupied Guayaquil. Finally, Colombia regains Guayaquil and the people welcome The Liberator in triumph. On September 13, the...
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