Under the rule of martial law, civilians are forced to silence. Their cries for change seem to be in vain, and their hope for a better future can turn into a blind optimism or into a spark that revives a revolutionizing spirit. These statements resonate to the tragic short story of “No One Writes to the Colonel,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The author presents the political climate of one man, the colonel, who after fighting for his country in the civil war, is repaid with a promise unkept. The hope for receiving his pension turns into an unreasonable expectation. Yet, he persists to visit the post office every Friday, without facing reality that the money might never come.
Throughout the story, the colonel is constantly battling an internal conflict. He is pressured by his wife, to sell their rooster in order to put an end to their suffering. However, unknowingly he is reluctant to sell the rooster that reminds them of the resistant spirit that their son Augustin had. If the rooster fights well, it can be worth up to 900 pesos, a sufficient sum of money to feed the couple for years to come.
The colonel is forced to make a decision between ending this hunger through physical substance or acknowledging a force much greater that can satiate their prolonged misery. Though the colonel and his wife live on the brink of starvation, with no means of income, the colonel’s dignity and pride remain intact. He refuses sell their few possessions, for the fear that anyone would find out they’re starving.
At his wife’s demands, the colonel sets out to sell the rooster to his friend, Sabas, a veteran who became rich through an opportunistic political pact with the mayor. He is convinced and advised not to sell the rooster to Sabas, by his friend, the doctor. A man who has hope and believes in the value of the rooster. It is the day of the trials, and the colonel walks through the town, when he is caught in the atmosphere of the turbulent pit.
He is unable to determine the source of enthusiasm and shouts of the crowd, until he sees his defenseless rooster in the center them. At that moment, the colonel notices the reawakening of the town’s spirit, as they praised the rooster. In an instance, the colonel affirms that the rooster is not for sale. The colonel now understands the significance of the rooster in relation to the townspeople and the current political tension.
The the short story, Gabriel Marquez teaches us how in the midst of pain and suffering, it is hope what sustains and nourishes the soul. Hope is a reason to live for, a reason fight for, and a reason to die for, because it is what constitutes and preserves the identity of an individual. By keeping the rooster, the colonel is able to hold onto a newfound hope, but at the same time maintain his dignity.
The colonel is a blinded optimistic man, who fails to look at reality for what it really is. He is persistent to fight for causes, that to his wife are just illusions with no rewards. Not only does hope allow the colonel to persevere, but through the oppression the colonel still finds ways to keep his dignity and pride intact.
Two strong attributes that have been the cause for his family’s hardships. In the beginning, the colonel “removed the pot from the fire, poured half the water onto the earthen floor, and scraped the inside of the can with a knife until the last scrapings of the ground coffee, mixed with bits of rust, fell into the pot” (120).
The colonel is living an extremely impoverished life, where his choices for survival are very limited. At one point his wife insists in selling their antique clock for a source of money. However when the colonel arrives to the the tailor shop he says that he taking the clock “to the German to have him fix it” (150). He is embarrassed and ashamed of the circumstances of his poverty, and tries by all means to cover his reality, in order to protect his dignity.
However, the colonel demonstrates that the source of his dignity comes from having hope and being impressively optimistic. The colonel “for nearly sixty years—since the end of the last civil war— … had done nothing else but wait.
October was one of the few things which arrived” (120). The tradition of going every Friday to the post office for 15 years, shows the colonel’s relentless desire of receiving a pension that may never come. Not only is it a sign of hope, but is also a way for him to protest against a corrupt government. Just how the colonel is overly optimistic with his pension, he is the same with selling the rooster, without being able to recognize why.
The colonel’s wife reason and practicality, challenges his irrational optimism. Even though the colonel is hopeful that the rooster will win in the cockfight, his wife in turn has to endure all the hardships and suffering that come along with agreeing. She is the “voice of reason” and “sees” reality for what it really is.
She knows that selling rooster is their only hope to survive years to come. With the love that she has towards her husband, she at first gives in and tells him to “buy a pound a corn…with the change, buy tomorrow’s coffee and four ounces of cheese” (135).
Despite her opposition, she agrees to feed the rooster, instead of themselves, with the intention of making the colonel come to terms with his unreasonable actions and preferences. She even tells the colonel that “You can’t eat hope” to what he replies “You can’t eat it, but it sustains you” (157). To the wife hope is just false illusion that many hold onto, because it doesn’t guarantee sustainability. However, the wife is now exhausted in trying to reason with somebody that just doesn’t understand.
So she attacks the one weakness of the colonel, his pride and dignity. She exclaims how she is “fed up with resignation and dignity” and continues by saying “you’re dying of hunger…you should realize that you can’t eat dignity” (160).
She is know challenging the nature of the colonel and how it is his fault that they haven’t been eating, because he has been selfish in trying to preserve his pride. The only choice that she has given the colonel is to sell the rooster to a man with a practical mindset, his friend, Sabas.
Sabas a man who has been known to give up his values, at the cost of material gain, has now become the colonel’s only hope. In the past, Sabas fought alongside the colonel against the government. He was a man that once believed in change.
However, as a result of the political tension, he realized that the only way to move on from his misfortune was to make a pact with a past enemy, the mayor. The colonel goes to Sabas, hoping that he could sell his rooster for a reasonable amount. However, Sabas claims that the rooster is only worth 400 pesos, because cockfighting has now become dangerous.
He makes this remark hinting towards the fact the colonel’s son had died because of selling clandestine papers, something in common with cockfights, they were both illegal.
The doctor insists that “Sabas is much more interested in money than in his own skin” and adds that “he’d resell the rooster for nine hundred pesos” (168). The doctor is the only one that knows the cold-hearted personality of Sabas, but the colonel is too naive too realize.
Despite the doctor’s efforts, the colonel still has hope that Sabas might change, because he believes in a better future. The rooster is still up for sell, but a very special event causes the colonel to think twice.
The day of the trials has finally arrived, and the colonel wasn’t quick to realize it. As he walks from the post office, he is sees a crowd with great enthusiasm not knowing the reason for such great commotion. As he gets closer, he notices his rooster “in the middle of of the pit, alone, defenseless…and his adversary was a sad ashen rooster” (173). The colonel was surprised to see his rooster in that state, but even more surprised that his opponent was weak.
Therefore he couldn’t understand why the people were cheering for something that on the outside showed no promise. Suddenly, the rooster begins to attack and his feet weren’t trembling anymore, he had regained his strength. The colonel grabbed his rooster and embraced it proudly for now “he had no regrets” (174).
Until this moment, “the town had lain in a sort of stupor, ravaged by ten years of history. That afternoon—another Friday without a letter—the people had awakened. The colonel remembered another era” (174). In this instance the colonel’s blind hope and optimism, had been renewed into something with meaning.
By selling the rooster to Sabas, it would represent his lost in identity, morals, and dignity. He was able to acknowledge the value of the rooster as a symbol of change, hope, and a spirit of resistance, not only for him but for the entire town.
By recognizing the rooster’s significance, the colonel finalizes his decision, affirming that the rooster will not be for sale. The wife is furious and annoyed with his reasoning.
The colonel has made up his mind, regardless if they will starve and regardless if he forces her wife to sacrifice against her will. Garcia Marquez, demonstrates the significance and influence that political events have on people.
In their despair they are forced to choose either to live by selfish interests, or give their life a meaning worth living and dying for. In the end, it is hope that prevails, changes, and sustains.