A Summary and Analysis of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ ‘One of These Days’

‘One of These Days’ (or ‘Un día de estos’ in the original Spanish) is a very short story by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014). Running to just three pages, the story can be regarded as a piece of flash fiction or micro-fiction. The story concerns a dentist who reluctantly agrees to extract the Mayor’s tooth; in the course of the treatment, it is clear there is some tension between the two men.

You can read ‘One of These Days’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of this story below.

‘One of These Days’: plot summary

Aurelio Escovar is an unlicensed dentist. In the town where he works, he opens up his office on Monday morning. His son calls through to him that the Mayor has turned up and wants Aurelio to pull out one of his teeth that’s causing him pain.

Initially, Escovar refuses, telling his son to lie to the Mayor and say that he isn’t there. But his son calls back that the Mayor can hear Escovar and knows he is there. When the Mayor threatens to shoot Escovar if he doesn’t treat him, Escovar tells his son to show the Mayor into his office.

Escovar initially opens a drawer in his desk so he can easily pull out a revolver and shoot the Mayor, but when the Mayor steps into the room and doesn’t pull his gun on the dentist, Escovar closes the drawer and thinks better of it. He sees the desperation in the Mayor’s eyes. One side of the Mayor’s face has a five-day-old beard because, presumably, his mouth on that side is in too much pain for him to shave the skin there, owing to the toothache.

When Escovar examines the Mayor’s mouth, he tells him that he will have to perform the tooth extraction without anaesthesia. When the Mayor asks why, Escovar tells him it’s because he has an abscess. The Mayor watches the dentist’s every move as Escovar prepares his instruments.

As he is about to extract the tooth, Escovar tells the Mayor that he will make him pay for twenty dead men, whose deaths he clearly holds the Mayor responsible for. The Mayor cries in pain as his tooth is pulled, and observes the decrepit state of the dentist’s office.

When he is leaving, he tells Escovar to send him the bill. The dentist asks whether it should be sent to the Mayor personally or to the town. Once he is clear of the man’s office, the Mayor replies that they’re the same thing: he is the town.

‘One of These Days’: analysis

This is a story about revenge, but a revenge which never takes place. The title of the story hints at this theme: ‘One of These Days’ suggests the idea of Escovar achieving his revenge someday, but today is not the day. He holds the Mayor of the town responsible for the deaths of twenty men, suggesting the Mayor is either corrupt or there is a recent history of civic trouble in the town.

With this in mind, we might analyse ‘One of These Days’ as a political story about a corrupt mayor who has attained power in the town through having his political opponents – and rivals for the mayor job – killed in order to eliminate the competition. Escovar, the dentist, is presumably politically aligned with one or all of these slain opponents, and this explains his desire for revenge against the corrupt Mayor. However, much of this must be inferred from what Márquez shows us without telling.

‘One of These Days’ might be productively analysed alongside a Vladimir Nabokov story, ‘Razor’. In that story – which, similarly, runs to just a few pages – a Russian émigré working in a barbershop in Berlin is surprised when a dark figure from his past, on whom he has long hoped to exact a terrible revenge, walks into the shop for shave. The Russian now has the ideal opportunity to take his revenge while his victim sits vulnerable and exposed in the chair – but, as in this Gabriel García Márquez story, he chooses not to exact his vengeance on this particular occasion.

The symbolism of this short story is worthy of close analysis. Consider the two buzzards, famous birds of prey, which Escovar spies through the window as he sits and prepares his office for the day. These buzzards, described as ‘pensive’ in at least one translation of the story, are anthropomorphised as if prefiguring or foreshadowing the arrival of the ‘predatory’ Mayor, who has had a number of political dissidents silenced.

But the fact that there are two of these predatory birds, perched together as if working together, also foreshadows the tense action that will take place between the dentist and the Mayor, as the predator becomes the (potential) prey once he is sitting in the dentist’s chair.

Similarly, the diseased tooth that is causing the Mayor such pain acts as a symbol for the political corruption which he embodies. In fact, it is as if it is literally eating him away from the inside, like a physical manifestation of his repressed conscience. He must know he is placing himself in danger by going to see the dentist, or else he is so full of swaggering self-confidence that he believes himself to be untouchable, knowing the dentist would be hounded by the Mayor’s loyal supporters if he killed the man in his office.

But the dentist does what he can legally and safely get away with: he tells the Mayor that he cannot use anaesthetic on him because he has an abscess. Medically, this is dubious, and thus we are invited to conclude that Escovar is going to do as the Mayor commands him (on pain of being shot if he refuses) but not without causing him great pain during the process.

Indeed, if we read the ‘abscess’ as spiritual or moral as much as physical, then the exchange which sees the dentist tell the Mayor that he cannot use anaesthetic (i.e., pain relief) on him because he has an abscess takes on a double meaning: in other words, ‘I’m not going to relieve your pain because you’re a corrupt so-and-so.’

Viewed this way, Escovar’s actions represent a quiet act of defiance: knowing he cannot bring down the Mayor the way he’d wish to, he can at least use his medical position to cause his political enemy undue pain.

One final note on this story: observe how Márquez continually draws attention to eyes and looking. The opening paragraph of the story tells us that the dentist has a look which seems to be at odds with the situation he is observing, and this puts the third-person narrator in mind of the way a deaf person observes the (silent) world around them. By contrast, the Mayor is super-attentive to everything the dentist does, not letting his eyes wander from the other man.


Image: via Wikimedia Commons.

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