The short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which is entitled The Plane of the Sleeping Beauty written in June 1982 may be interpreted as a depiction of our colonial history and its legacy to the world. While reading his work I find myself searching for the true individualities of the main characters. This is also what I consider to be the problematic of the story. It hopes to unveil a reality of human existence that is often rooted in our historical structures- where countries have crossed cultural boundaries and homogenized economies making some of them quite unhappy. The author presents such scenario combined with his emotions toward it through symbolisms in the guise of the character and events. Indeed the setting, characters and context of the story harmoniously created the characters’ dilemma- the discomfort of their lost identities in a continuously globalizing world with flashbacks on the impacts of colonialism and wars.
I would like to focus on three aspects of the literary text in explaining the problematic; the setting, characters and context. The story is narrated by the author who is also one of the main characters. He is subtly confirmed Japanese though unnamed, in the latter part when he said: “Who is going to believe it,” I told myself, with my own passion exacerbated by the champagne: “Me, an elderly Japanese by now.” The other main character is a lady who is not also introduced by the author but instead referred to as the Sleeping Beauty. This is proved by the title itself and the plot which seemed to have concentrated on her or filled with her quintessence. At the beginning of the story is already a romantic description of this mysterious character:
She was beautiful elastic with tender bread-colored skin and green almond eyes. Black hair long and smooth fell to her back, and she exuded an aura of antiquity that in it of itself could be Indonesian and not from the Andes. She was dressed with taste-lynx jacket, natural silk blouse adorned with tenuous flowers, crude linen pants, and lined shoes the color of bugambillas.
She had on her neck a chain so fine that it was all but invisible above her golden skin, perfect ears with no earring holes, rose fingernails in good health, and a smooth ring on her left hand.
While both characters have no names, they suggest however nationalities that are nonetheless experiencing confusion. Nation is defined as “a group of people who share a common cultural inheritance” (Heywood 106 ). The cultural inheritance becomes the source of common identity for all the members of the group and may come in the form of language, history, poetry, music, race or ethnicity, etc. The confusion arises in the mixtures of influences that are manifested in the characters’ languages and experiences. For instance, the lady appears Indonesian to the Japanese, but may be perceived Latin American in the narration:
She then put on her lynx jacket, walked nearly on top of me with a conventional apology in a pure Castilian straight out of the Americas, and walked off without saying goodbye…
The lady has used other languages as well in the story like French and English.
The man on the other hand exposing his knowledge of Japanese and Western forms of literature has interestingly revealed fascination over Chinese mythological beliefs- all of which present a fusion of cultures;
I thought, reciting into the crest of foam from my champagne the skillful sonnet of Gerardo Diego…last spring I read a beautiful novel by Yasunari Kawabata concerning the ancient bourgeois of Kyoto that paid enormous sums to spend the night speculating the most stunning women of the city…
“Dammit,” I said to myself, with great scorn. “Why was I not born a Taurus?!”.
The setting has more to explain actually-previously the airport then the plane. The airport signifies to me the ability of countries to transcend borders. In particular, the Charles de Gaulle de Paris airport as a chosen background where all succeeding events are to be witnessed somehow represents a historical moment when freedom is aspired by most regions. Especially that France is known for its love for liberty and freedom. The entire commotion as imagined by the author is a semblance of World War II whose outcomes and length were initially perceived uncertain and infinite, respectively. For instance;
…Only then did she mention that the airport was about to close and all flights have been delayed…”As long as God desires” she said with a grin. “It was announced on the radio this morning it will be the biggest snowstorm of the year”. She was wrong. It was the biggest of the century [such is also the case during the Worl War].
Outside I found an unpleasant spectacle. All kinds of people were overrunning the waiting rooms, camped in the stifling corridors and even the stairs, and spread out on the floor with their animals, children and luggage. Since communication with the city was interrupted, the palace of transparent plastic felt like an immense capsule launched in the storm [something like missiles and ammunition]… By lunchtime the collective conscience resembled a shipwreck. The lines stretched endlessly in front of the seven restaurants [the seven continents of the world]… in less than three hours they had to close them down because there was nothing to eat or drink [such is the devastation on the part most especially of the colonized regions] …
But the scenario in the so-called first class waiting rooms is different- which to me reflects the experience of those countries now known to be in the First World category. If the Sleeping Beauty was a place, it must be those places in the world which are rich in natural resources and potentials for development, yet both admired and captured by imperialists. Truly, the author was anticipating for her to belong to them, first-class nations (yet the woman isn’t to be found there) in the space described in the story as follows:
In the first-class waiting room however, spring was tangible that there were live roses in the vases and canned music felt as sublime and sedative as its composers intended. Suddenly it occurred to me that this was an adequate refuge for the woman…But the majority of the crowd was down-to-earth men [probably symbolizing men who have succumbed to the colonizers losing their dignities] reading newspapers in English [the dominant language of the world] while their women were thinking of other men, [symbolizing patriots and true nationalists] contemplating the icy factories and the vast seed plots of Roissy devastated by lions [representing the effects of colonial past, that of economic dependence and abused laborers and farmers]…
The man, the Japanese symbolizing the same country which chose to extend territory instead of being colonized by the Westerners in its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere theme (the attempt for Japan to colonize its Asian neighbors) has indeed taken the path less traversed:
“Pick a number,” she told me, “Three, four or seven”.
“You are the first one to not choose seven”.
But this later has been contradicted when the man realized inside the plane when he encountered the Dutch woman’s eyeglasses, “But I retraced my steps, picked them up, and put them on her lap, suddenly thrilled that I had not chosen seat number four earlier.” What this suggests is that Japan although guided by its dreams of Asian development through Asians themselves (as shown in its fascination in the woman representing the developing countries be it South-East and East Asian, Latin American, South African, or Middle East) and its hatred in previous intruders manifested in his irritation against the fat Dutch woman (the Netherlands also once colonized Indonesia) has failed to avoid the course of the French, German, Dutch, British and other previous colonial powers .
Besides, it is quite amusing to realize that the main character could also speak and understand the now considered global language- a sign of acceptance and engagement in the globalized system. Is it the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez who is feeling the disappointment in the main character against what it represents? This may be true. What is certain however is the melancholy of the woman who as described in the narration below has resorted to a deep slumber in order to veil its passivity and discontent of the results of history:
She did everything in a methodical and parsimonious manner, as if there was nothing anticipated for her since birth. Lastly, she lowered the curtain in the window, declined her seat as far back as it would go, covered herself with a blanket…and slept without a moment’s breath…for the eternal eight hours and twelve minutes of the flight to New York.
Yes, the plane is going to New York. The man, the woman, and the rest of the passengers are bound to the United States. Could this represent the fate of most countries- following the American ideals? While most of them seem to have forgotten the past, most have tried to belong to the present global order although with less analysis and a lot of difficulties to the extent of losing true identities, like the Sleeping Beauty.
The author was successful in his presentation of a hopeless romantic tone with underlying themes that are both historical and political. The audience may be more interested to know that Gabriel Garcia Marquez was identified as a supporter of Latin American revolutionary movements and whose literature introduced the so-called, “magical realism”. The challenge here is really for the readers to be able to challenge the paradigm presented in the story, which beforehand must be decoded. A lot of the symbolism in the story has yet to be discovered. My interpretation here offers a new form of conflict that could only be resolved by historical, political and economic understanding and awakening.
…because the only thing I desired in the last hour of the flight was to see her awake, even if she was infuriated, so that I could reclaim my freedom, and possibly my youth…
Heywood, Andrew. Politics. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “The Plane of the Sleeping Beauty”. June 1982.