La Hojarasca: summary, analysis, characters, and more

If you want to know more about the beginnings of the town of Macondo, we invite you to read our article about La Hojarasca, a short novel by Gabriel García Márquez.
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La Hojarasca is a novel by Gabriel García Márquez. First published in 1955, it took the author seven years to find a publisher for the book.

Widely celebrated as the first appearance of Macondo, the fictional town later made famous in 100 Years of Solitude, La Hojarasca is a testing ground for many of the themes and characters immortalised in that book. It is also the title of a collection of short stories by Gabriel García Márquez.

The other stories in the collection are “The Most Delicious Drowned Man in the World”, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, “Blacaman the Good, Seller of Miracles”, “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship”, “The Monologue of Isabel Watching the Rain in Macondo” and “Turnip”.

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Several of these short stories appeared elsewhere before being included in this collection. In the United States, “The World’s Most Delicious Drowned Man” first appeared in Playboy magazine in 1971. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” first appeared in the New American Review, and “Blacaman the Good, Miracle-Seller” was first published in Esquire magazine.

The narrative of La Hojasrasca shifts between the perspectives of three generations of a family as the three characters (father, daughter and grandson respectively) find themselves in spiritual limbo following the death of a man passionately hated by the entire village but inextricably linked to the family patriarch.

Summary of La Hojarasca

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Father, an old and half-blind man who holds the title of Colonel in the village, has promised to bury the recently deceased doctor, despite the consensus in Macondo that he should be left to rot in the corner house where he has lived in complete social isolation for the past decade.

The daughter, Isabel, is forced to accompany her father out of respect for traditional values, knowing that she and her son will be condemned to face the wrath of their neighbours in Macondo. The grandson’s narrative is more concerned with the mystery and wonder of death.

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As in many of his stories, such as Love in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel García Márquez presents a dramatic scene to begin his narrative and then moves backwards, confirming the past that will lead to the final conclusion.

The narrative reveals that the centre of the entire conflict (the deceased) is a doctor who arrived in Macondo with a mysterious past and no clear name.

The man’s only saving grace is a letter of recommendation from Colonel Aureliano Buendía, one of the main characters in the later One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is this letter that leads the stranger to the family, who together act as narrators of the unfolding drama.

Summary of La Hojarasca in chapters

La Hojarasca is told through three alternating interior monologues: those of the colonel, his daughter Isabel and his son. Through this structure, García Márquez recounts the creation of the imaginary coastal town of Macondo at the end of the 19th century, its prosperity in the 1910s and its decline after 1918.

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This is the story of the arrival and departure of the “leaf storm” or Hojarasca, the hordes of outsiders and foreigners who descended on the Colombian coast when the region became rich from the banana industry during a brief period of prosperity that ended as quickly as it had begun.

As the novel opens, the doctor has hanged himself and the colonel is preparing to oversee the burial of the body. It is known that ten years earlier the rest of the townspeople had vowed to oppose the burial, and that the Colonel was fulfilling a personal promise he had made to the dead man to defy the will of the others.

The reason for the town’s hostility only becomes clear later, as each of the three narratives goes back in time to tell the story of the doctor’s twenty-five-year stay in Macondo. At the end of the novel, the family prepares for a funeral procession with the coffin: the reaction of their neighbours is unknown.

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The title story itself contains so much of the perverse, insistent and strangely enduring solution Faulkner describes that one becomes aware of the existence of a link between ‘American’ writers, North and South, whose common experience is of a refractory landscape that is always too much for the more complicated people who try to take refuge in it.

One day in 1903, a French doctor mysteriously appears in the village of Macondo with a letter of “recommendation” from Colonel Aureliano Buendía (Colonel Buendía will be an important figure in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and another colonel who receives the French doctor could be the first sketch of the fantastic José Arcadio Buendía, who also married his first cousin).

In La Hojarasca, however, this colonel is a kindly old man who originally settled in the village as a refugee from the civil wars, and who lives there with his second wife, his daughter Isabel and his grandson.

The doctor is strange. He wears his belt outside the loops of his trousers, and in his boot he has two cheap shirts, a set of false teeth that are obviously not his own, a portrait, a form and some old French newspapers.

When the colonel’s wife hospitably asks him what he would like to eat, he says “grass” and explains “in his thrifty ruminant voice: ‘ordinary grass, madam’. The kind that donkeys eat.

The doctor wins the colonel’s lasting gratitude by curing him of an illness. But later, when violence breaks out in the town and some wounded men are left at the doctor’s door for him to attend to, he even refuses to go to them because he has forgotten the medicine. “And he kept the door closed. Anger became a collective illness that would haunt Macondo for the rest of his life.

The refusal somehow became the most important event in the town’s history. Even though a banana company set up shop in Macondo and for several years excited and disturbed the inhabitants with visions of industrialisation and prosperity, before leaving like a “storm of leaves”.

The marvellous thing about the story is not the external event, but the bond of the story, the hatred and silence that exists between the doctor and the city. Mentally, they feed on each other obsessively.

The gentle colonel, his daughter and grandson, who tell the intertwined story, reflect in their descriptions and stolid reflections the sense of menace that the doctor brought to Macondo and with which he colours all people.

In 1928, the doctor hangs himself from a beam in his house. The colonel is the only person in town who will cut him down and bury him; the town officials try to avoid the stranger, even in death, refuse to issue a death certificate and challenge the colonel to find a coffin, put the doctor in it and follow him to the cemetery.

 

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Gabriel García Márquez’s touch is striking, like the coffin that has to be opened again to place a single shoe on the bed. The town clerk, who refuses to authorise the funeral, makes the gesture of hanging himself to show that the doctor could not really have hanged himself.

The colonel says: “I would have done it. I would have told my men to open the coffin and put the hanged man back where he was a minute ago. Although the act of moving a corpse that lies peacefully and deservedly in its coffin is against my principles, I would hang him again just to see how far this man would go.

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Finally, the colonel takes the coffin from the house and goes to the cemetery. The city remains unforgiving, “lunching on the smell” of the stranger in death. The slow execution of the stranger’s unfathomable life eventually becomes a kind of strangeness and loneliness that Macondo unwittingly represents.

By then the banana company had gone out of business, leaving Macondo with the rubbish they had brought with them. With them went the storm of leaves, the last vestiges of the prosperous Macondo of 1915. A town in ruins was occupied by unemployed and angry people, haunted by a prosperous past and the bitterness of an overwhelming and static present.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSYkJgocaM8

Analysis of La Hojarasca

La Tormenta de la hoja or La hojarasca is told through three alternating interior monologues: those of the colonel, his daughter Isabel and his son. Through this structure, García Márquez recounts the creation of the imaginary coastal town of Macondo at the end of the 19th century, its prosperity in the 1910s and its decline after 1918.

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This is the story of the arrival and departure of the “leaf storm” La Hojarasca, the hordes of outsiders and foreigners who descended on the Colombian coast as the region grew rich from the banana industry during a brief period of prosperity that ended as quickly as it had begun.

As the novel opens, the doctor has hanged himself and the colonel is preparing to oversee the burial of the body. It is known that ten years earlier the rest of the townspeople had vowed to oppose the burial, and that the Colonel was fulfilling a personal promise he had made to the dead man to defy the will of the others.

The reason for the town’s hostility only becomes clear later, as each of the three narratives goes back in time to tell the story of the doctor’s twenty-five-year stay in Macondo. At the end of the novel, the family prepares for a funeral procession with the coffin: the reaction of their neighbours is unknown.

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The three running monologues are not linear. Many incidents mentioned by one character are later taken up by another, and so the reader is involved in a constant process of learning what has happened in the village.

In this 97-page story, key characters and events appear and disappear without warning or explanation, like disasters or the phenomenon from which the author takes the title: The Leaf Storm.

The Leaf Storm is primarily a metaphor for the arrival and departure of a banana company and its entourage of migrants: their sudden arrival transforms the village of Macondo into a thriving centre, and their abrupt departure a few years later returns the town to hot, dusty oblivion.

The notion of the natural force of the storm, combined with the absence of any apparent motivation, morality, rationality or justification, is expressed in the life of the doctor and the atmospheric details that form the backdrop to the drama, of which he is the centre, with his enigmatic comings and goings.

Characters in La Hojarasca

The characterisation of the individual voices in La Hojarasca is the author’s main concern. These characters represent larger forces in Colombian and Latin American society; their individual development is less important.

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However, as each interior monologue progresses, certain details emerge. Often these details are revealed through the reflections of others, rather than through the way a character describes himself.

The Colonel is a proud representative of an older order in Macondo, that of the founding families who built the town. He is a man for whom honour is paramount, which is why he proceeds with the doctor’s funeral, even though it brings him into conflict with his own neighbours.

This unquestioning acceptance of a strict code of moral and ethical behaviour is expressed in words recalled by Isabel (his daughter) when her father tells her that she must accompany him to the doctor’s house: “And then, before she had time to ask anything, he struck the floor with his cane: we must continue as before, daughter. The doctor hanged himself this morning”.

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Isabel is also a member of Macondo’s upper class, but as a woman she has a lower social status and suffers many personal limitations. This is most evident in the story of her engagement and marriage, at the age of seventeen, to a man named Martín, who later disappears from Macondo.

The marriage is entirely decided and arranged by the colonel; on her wedding day, Isabel never spends any time alone with her new husband; she barely speaks to him in the company of others.

A product of a certain rigidly defined class system, she is fatalistic about her own fate: “My punishment was written before I was born,” she thinks, accepting her fate without question.

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The child, through his naive observations, gives García Márquez the opportunity to show the world of Macondo from a different, more wonderful perspective. The child’s monologue begins the novel as follows: “I have seen a corpse for the first time. It’s Wednesday, but I feel like it was Sunday because I didn’t go to school”.

He is impressed by the subject of death, which he finds fascinating and wonderful in his little eyes.

Plot of La Hojarasca

It is about a very old man who has difficulty walking because of a limp, he must have been a military man because he is called the Colonel, he is the father of Isabel, who, due to the customs of the colonial era and the beginning of the 20th century, where daughters had to stay with their fathers until they died, is now a widow.

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The father has promised to bury the village doctor, who lives in isolation and is hated by the people because he refused to heal the wounded during a war. The father, his daughter Isabel and her son Isabel know that if the old man dies, they will face the wrath of the people of Macondo. The grandson is fascinated by the subject of death.

As in other books, such as The Chronicle of a Foretold Death, Gabriel García Márquez places an image of drama at the beginning of his narrative and then goes back in time to continue the story until the end.

The narrative unravels the central plot of the book, which is the life of a doctor who came to Macondo. He has a characterisation of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, the main protagonist of the book One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is through this document that the doctor reaches the colonel’s family and where the events take place.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMZSp4qp1NU

Editorial of La Hojarasca

This short novel by Gabriel García Márquez, also the author of Twelve Pilgrims’ Tales, was first published in 1954 by Integra. It did not sell very well, and was actually made better known and more popular by the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude by the same author.

This was due to the fact that La Hojarasca is the first to mention the town of Macondo and Aureliano Buendia, who form the central axis of the novel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S21UnTBHr3M

The historical context of La Hojarasca

The novel is set in Macondo, the fictional town that would be the setting for other stories by Márquez, such as The General in his Labyrinth. At this time, the banana company has landed in the small town of Macondo, bringing with it many new people to work.

The newcomers are known as “la hojarasca”, hence the title of the book. But the story is about a colonel, his daughter Isabel, his grandson and the funeral of a doctor despised by the town. The story follows the doctor’s death.

The story tells of a civil war that affected many villages, where there were many wounded and this doctor refused to treat them, which is why he is hated by the whole town.

Themes of La Hojarasca

Death: As the novel begins in the wake of the doctor, death is an obvious theme that surrounds the narrative. More specifically, however, the type of death presented in this book is self-inflicted, as the doctor committed suicide after locking himself in his house for ten years.

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Loneliness: Loneliness is another important theme, not only in the life of the doctor, but also in that of the colonel, Isabel and the child. As a result of the Doctor’s isolation, he commits suicide, but as a result of that suicide, the family risks being isolated with his burial.
Because the doctor was an outcast of Macondo and despised by the people of the town, there is more at stake than the proper treatment of a corpse. This is reflected in Isabel’s thoughts as she considers how the townspeople will receive her after burying the doctor.
War: This is not as obvious as loneliness or death, but it plays a part in the story. The novel suggests that at this point in Macondo’s history, a civil war has ended.
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This can be deduced from the fact that the citizens hate the doctor. He has refused to treat wounded soldiers who have come to his house for help. The colonel himself is a reminder of the culture of war, as he holds a high rank in Macondo and is highly respected by the people, even though he goes against their will by burying the doctor.
The relationship between the colonel and the doctor also reflects the culture of war. He is loyal to the doctor even after his death because of the doctor’s connection to another colonel he knows.The deceased: After giving up his medical practice and living at the family’s expense for an inordinate amount of time, the lonely doctor moves into two houses with Meme, the Indian waitress who was living with the narrator’s family at the time.

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While his reclusive demeanour and lustful attention to the female form do not make him popular with the locals, the former doctor’s final banishment comes when nearly a dozen men, wounded in one of the country’s many civil wars, are brought to his door seeking medical attention.

The doctor, who has given up the practice of medicine, refuses to help them, just as he once refused to help a sick Meme when they lived with the narrator’s family.Another book by this author is The Autumn of the Patriarch.

Narrative techniques in La Hojarasca

Gabriel García Márquez begins his short novel in medias res, that is, “in the middle of things”. This is shown by the opening paragraph, which begins with a description of the boat company that lands in Macondo and then immediately switches to the point of view of the boy who wakes up from the doctor.

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Also noteworthy is the use of multiple narrators: The story switches narrators at many points, with an omniscient narrator always present. He switches from the boy to his mother to his grandfather, the colonel. Each point of view is different and allows the reader to see inside the mind of whoever is speaking.
It has a stream of consciousness, the story is told in a stream of consciousness because the child, Isabel and the colonel tell the reader a trail of thoughts as they appear in his mind.
These internal monologues provide the information that puts the pieces of the story together, as the story begins with the doctor’s death, not his life. Because stream of consciousness is used, it allows the characters to jump back and forth in time without ever leaving their present moment, which is in the Doctor’s wake.

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This narrative technique also creates the illusion that these characters are talking aloud to each other, when in fact there is very little interaction between them.In addition to the themes of circulation and inversion that form the basis of the narrative flow of One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel also has the literary technique of magical realism, such as the manipulation of time and the use of multiple perspectives. García Márquez is also the author of El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba.Watch this video to learn about Magic Realism, a technique used by Gabriel García Márquez:
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