What is the significance of the autopsy in Chronicle of a Death Foretold?
The autopsy that takes place in Chapter 4 in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is quite significant in establishing the brutality and carelessness that surrounds the murder of Santiago Nasar. Father Carmen Amador is ordered to perform the "unforgiving" autopsy. He describes the event to the narrator years later as a "massacre." Prior to the autopsy, Father Amador received the message from Clotilde Armenta that the Vicario brothers were planning to kill Nasar, and he tells the narrator that he didn't know what to do about the planned murder. Later, he forgets to tell anyone about the premeditated crime because the bishop was going to arrive (Chapter 3). It is ironic that Amador, a priest, is later tasked to perform the autopsy that he is neither skilled to perform nor wants to perform. In essence, the result of Nasar's death does become Amador's responsibility through the autopsy.
The religious motif is further emphasized during the autopsy. Nasar had "a deep stab in the right hand...It looked like a stigma of the crucified Christ" (76). Nasar appears to be sacrificed to restore Angela Vicario's honor. The autopsy is witnessed by many of the townspeople: It was also a public spectacle with curious onlookers "ranged about the schoolhouse windows" (76). The people who want to witness the spectacle can also be compared to those who witnessed Christ's crucifixion, emphasizing the role of the townspeople, their inaction and voyeurism.
Lastly, the brutality of the scene is emphasized by the wounds, the weapons used to kill Nasar, and the instruments used to perform the autopsy. The brothers used "pig knives" to stab Nasar and "seven of the several wounds were fatal" (75). These knives become a symbol of his premeditated death and the "ferocity of Santiago Nasar’s fate." The autopsy is performed with some limited medical instruments and "craftsmen's tools." Nasar's body becomes an "empty shell" as his identity has become completely destroyed by the murder and even more so by the autopsy.
After Nasar is killed, the mayor orders an autopsy, which the village priest must perform since the local doctor is out of town and he had once studied medicine. “It was a massacre,” the narrator reports, and begins to catalogue the wounds made by the Vicario brothers alongside the further damage done by the autopsy, a “second assault.” Nasar’s face becomes unrecognizable, his body, an empty shell which the priest stuffs with rags and quicklime. The stench is overpowering; it engulfs the town.
Essentially, the autopsy's significance stems from the re-brutalization of Nasar. The twins stab him with such vengeance that they are covered with blood themselves, and the main door of Plácida Linero's house, where Santiago was killed, must be repaired by the city. Yet, aside from the Colonel taking their original weapons, the city does nothing to stop the twins' plot. Nasar was initially brutalized (seven wounds were fatal) for a crime that the reader does not really know if he commited, and then he is re-victimized through the carelessness of the priest's autopsy. This maltreatment of Nasar leaves blood on everyone's hands, from the twins themselves to the city as a whole.
And the stench that overpowers the town, representing the "rotten" idea of honor restored. All that happened with the autopsy was an already brutalized body being re-brutalized, and to such a degree that the a proper burial cannot be performed. Nasar, prior to his murder, does not understand why the twins are "hunting" him; as a result, the stench is a reminder of the atrocity perpetrated upon an "innocent" man.