No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Suppression of Pride In a state of martial law one individual does not have much to say. This statement holds true in the novel, “No One Writes to the Colonel,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The author discusses the political climate of one man, the Colonel, who after fighting to create the government in power is being controlled by the bureaucracy. A corrupt government can ruin a man, sap his will, and drive him mindless with hunger; although times are hard the Colonel keeps his dignity and pride. The government, through the use of martial law, controls the people quite readily. The government maintains itself through “Big-Brother” tactics that include the use of censors, secret police, and ordinances like “TALKING POLITICS FORBIDDEN.” The sweeping control that is present under this martial law is evident in the every day life of the Colonel and the people of his town.
The first example of the nature of their lives is shown through the funeral. A poor musician has died of natural causes; the first in a long period of time. The government in attempt to avoid a demonstration and possibly a riot, reroutes his funeral procession to avoid the police barracks. Since the musician is a first to have died of natural causes, we can assume that martial law has resulted in the untimely death of many people. Another example is the death of the Colonel’s son, Agustin, Whom after his death has become the embodiment of the underground.
It is rightly so, being that he was the writer of the “clandestine” papers. “‘Agustin wrote.’ The Colonel observed the deserted street. ‘What does he say?’ ‘The same as always.’ They gave him the clandestine sheet of paper” (p.32) Martial law has restricted the free flow of ideas; therefore, they have had to become accustomed to using secrecy. The doctor is part of the information transfer by passing uncensored news articles to the Colonel. The government is undoubtedly aware of these happenings, nevertheless it allows the people some sanctity in them. This fact is evident in the instance where a soldier that stops the Colonel, does not search him.
Although the oppression is difficult, the Colonel’s dignity and pride helps him to not give up on the pension claim he made to Congress 15 years ago. He shows impressive perseverance through his patient wait for the letter recognizing his request. The Colonel’s dignity is important to him; he would much rather write a letter requesting the change of lawyer by hand than ask someone to type the letter as a favor to him. This dignity and pride has caused much hardship in his family’s life. They have had to literally scrape by to survive.
The novel begins with the Colonel preparing his wife a last cup of coffee by scraping a coffee can with a knife, mixing “bits of rust” with “the last scrapings of ground coffee.” (p.1) Themes of oppression are counter-balanced by tenacity shown in the Colonel’s long wait. Every Friday the Colonel waits for the postmaster at the launch and follows him to the post office. When he receives nothing the Colonel feels ashamed. The Colonel knows that the state of affairs is not in order and most likely there will never be anything for him, and yet year after year, hoping that the day will come, he waits for the letter. “Fifteen years of waiting had sharpened his intuition.
The rooster had sharpened his anxiety.” (p.20) He lies to the doctor in his claim that he “wasn’t expecting anything” (p.21); and with an innocent childlike look he says “no one writes to me.” (p.21) This attempt at covering up his actual reason for being at the post office is an example of his self pride. The Colonel does not want to broadcast the depth of his predicament even though almost everyone is aware. His wife tells him to go sell their clock with firm reproach that they might eat. The Colonel ends up getting an overnight loan in the belief that the letter would come the next day. Hunger is a powerful force, and it drives the Colonel and his wife to contemplate selling the rooster or making stew with it.
Somehow they always find just a little bit of money to buy more coffee and sometimes cheese. These people can never succumb to charity and have always tried to sell something when times became increasingly difficult. His wife even boils stones so the neighbors will not notice that they go hungry. Through all of the hardship the Colonel and his wife persevere, he still clings to a belief that his country will pull him through. His country is barely recognizable from when he fought for it so long ago, and yet he still loves his country. In this instance, the Colonel feels pride not only for himself, but for his country.
The rooster is never sold. At the end of the novel, his wife asks him, “meanwhile what do we eat?” (p.64) In this moment the Colonel feels “pure, explicit, invincible” (p.64) in replying “shit.” (p.64) This novel takes place somewhere in South America and it is evident that because of the type of government, conditions are difficult during this period for the group of people fighting tyranny. The Colonel has little material wealth after a life of work and service to his country. These monetary circumstances dictate how he and his wife must live day by day; and this hardship is in addition to the medical problems they both endure requiring the service of a doctor. And yet through it all, the Colonel with steadfast resolve awaits his letter from Congress regarding his pension. This corrupt and unjust government has ruined this man, but has not broken him. His pride enables him to retain his dignity through it all.