There is little attempt to represent the deep psychological dimensions of the characters, as has been prevalent in the novel in English since Henry James and Virginia Woolf. The characters are rather ingredients in Gabriel García Márquez’s so-called Magical Realism, a Latin American offshoot of Surrealism, in which the fantastic is ordinary. These characters are like flowers in a small garden so exotic that the observer is astonished almost beyond understanding; they are more the inhabitants of folktale, myth, and legend, than of the twentieth century.
Even the narrator remains oddly unknowable, though he is clearly García Márquez’s fictive alter ego (he tells how he proposed to his wife Mercedes, for example, and mentions her sister and aunt by name). He is a sort of wide-eyed, baffled observer, a student visiting home during the period of the novel, who simply likes his fellow villagers so much that he cannot find any wickedness in them—the forgivable sins of lust and drunkenness, perhaps, but not the malice that could produce the unthinkable murder of one of their own citizens in broad daylight, with practically the whole village as witnesses.
What the characters lack in psychological shading, they make up for in abundance of color. The groom Bayardo San Román arrived in town with silver decorating his saddlebags, belt, and boots, looking for someone to marry. He had “the waist of a novice bullfighter, golden eyes, and a skin slowly roasted by saltpeter.” Magdelena Oliver could not take her eyes off him and told the narrator that she “could have buttered him and eaten him alive.” He could swim faster, drink longer, and fight better than any man in town, and was far richer than any of them; every woman in town would have married him, except for the girl he wanted at first sight: Angela Vicario. He bought all the raffle tickets to win a music box for her, then bought the best house in town for her, though it was not for sale. (The sight of all the money he put on the table ultimately killed the owner.)
Bayardo’s character may justly be said to be flat because he is little more than a vehicle for machismo, but such a stylistic choice enables García Márquez to portray his characters as victims trapped by the prevailing codes of their lives, as outmoded as they may be judged, which leads directly to the absurd murder of Nasar because he violated Angela, although no one is ever sure that he was guilty. Indeed, the reader will not find the characters divisible into categories of major and minor, but only find those who appear more often and those who appear less, and all contribute to the unlikelihood of the central action. Magdelena Oliver, who first reacts to Bayardo’s male beauty, appears but once, and her comment stands not as her own opinion but as the ultimate consensus of the village. It is as though the village itself were the main character of the novel, speaking with many voices; in this reading, the murder itself becomes a ritualistic, communal suicide in which the forty-two characters who are named in the novel (and many more of their brothers and sisters and cousins) are helpless participants.
Thus, of the murdered man and the woman he allegedly wronged, the reader learns little more than of the characters on the perimeter of the central drama: The lesser characters serve as a kind of moral reflection of the central ones. There is Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, for example, the elegant, serviceable woman who never sleeps and who, as the narrator attests, “did away with my generation’s virginity,” including that of Nasar, who dies for a crime that for the woman is a vocation.
Nasar is a fairly affluent young man, inclined to womanizing and drinking with friends. He dies not so much because his guilt is established, but because he is typical and therefore able to be presumed guilty. His public execution at the end of the novel is described as in slow motion and in precise detail, in more detail...
(The entire section is 3,771 words.)