This paper will analyze the adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone in La hojarasca, the first novel (1955) of Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. In his recent memoirs and in interviews throughout his career, García Márquez has often admitted a deep interest in Sophocles’ Theban plays, specifying Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus as his favorite work of literature. This fascination with Greek tragedy is concurrent with his career as a writer, beginning when a childhood friend put into his hands a volume of Greek tragedies and insisted, “You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t read the Greek classics.” Yet García Márquez’s lifelong fascination with Sophocles remains largely unexplored, and while La hojarasca has been generally accepted by scholars as a rethinking of Antigone, no Anglophone scholar (either in Classical Studies or in Latin American Studies) has pursued this association at any length.
Published with an epigraph from José Alemany Bolufer’s 1921 translation of Antigone (lines 26- 36), La hojarasca documents the attempt by an aged colonel to bury a despised French doctor, whose body the community of Macondo has condemned to rot. Assuming, as the epigraph suggests, that García Márquez had read Bolufer’s translations and wished for readers to have Antigone in mind, I will present a close reading of La hojarasca that focuses on characterization and narrative technique, two features in which García Márquez’ indebtedness to Sophocles is particularly visible. Like Antigone, La hojarasca embodies in its characters the burdensome loneliness that accompanies personal accountability, in contrast to the imagined will of a community. The colonel, in whom García Márquez has fused the characters of Oedipus and Antigone, is accompanied by his reluctant daughter Isabel and her young son, who (she fears) may bear Macondo’s outrage for his grandfather’s actions. The narrative, which takes place in the doctor’s room during a single half-hour (2:30-3:00pm, on the day of his suicide), tracks the thoughts of these three characters, whose understanding of their errand forces them privately to confront the troubled history of Macondo. This temporal framework, which embellishes thirty minutes of plot with historical details and elaborate prophecies, is of course highly reminiscent of Antigone, whose Chorus consistently provides a broad temporal perspective complimentary to the drama’s brief episode.
Analyzing the Sophoclean poetics of La hojarasca allows us to observe a formative encounter with Greek tragedy by one of the preeminent Latin American writers of the past century. As I will argue, the comparison with Bolufer’s Sophocles can teach us a great deal about the development of García Márquez’s unique narrative style and contribute significantly to the study of Classical receptions in Latin America.