Chronicle of a Death Foretold Essays and Criticism
by Gabriel García Márquez

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Constructing a Chronicle of the Past

(Novels for Students)

Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a seemingly simple story about the murder of a young man in a small Colombian town. Written in a factual, journalistic style, the novel is told by an unnamed narrator who returns to his hometown twenty-seven years after the crime to "put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards." Assuming the role of detective, or investigative reporter, the narrator compiles and reports the information that he collects from the memories of the townspeople he interviews. What he finds, however, is a town full of people with varying and often conflicting memories of the events he is investigating. Consequently, what begins as an attempt to fill the gaps, to find out once and for all what really happened that dark and drizzly morning—or was it bright and sunny?—becomes instead a parody of any attempt to recapture and reconstruct the past.

At first glance, the narrator does what appears to be a very thorough job of finding and compiling information relating to the crime. He speaks to a great many people who knew Santiago Nasar, who were present on the evening of the wedding celebrations, and who were out to greet the bishop on the morning of the murder. Still, new information contradicts and undermines more often than it clarifies. Throughout the narrator's chronicle, for example, we hear varying accounts of the weather on the morning of the crime. According to some, it was a beautiful sunny morning; to others, the weather was drizzly and funereal. To the individuals reporting this information, the memory of that morning's weather is a fact—it is the reality they remember. Or it may simply be the reality they choose to report at that time since facts, or the reporting of facts, change over time. Victoria Guzmán, for example, initially reports that neither she nor her daughter knew that the Vicario brothers were waiting to kill Santiago, yet "in the course of her years" admits that both of them did, in fact, know about the twins' plans.

Memories are problematized further by the fact that the entire town was, on the night before the murder, celebrating Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Román's wedding. To begin, the narrator, before deciding to "rescue" the events of the festival "piece by piece from the memory of others," has "a very confused memory" of those events. Yet there is no indication that the memories of the individuals on whom the narrator relies to construct his narrative are any more reliable than his own. On the contrary, most of the townspeople seem equally confused. The narrator's brother, for example, who returns home in the early hours of the morning and falls asleep sitting on the toilet, also has "confused" memories of an encounter he has with the Vicario brothers on his way home. Similarly, the narrator's "sister the nun" has an "eighty-proof hangover" on the morning of the crime and doesn't even bother to go out to greet the bishop. These fuzzy, alcohol-drenched memories of events that happened twenty-seven years earlier not only help explain the varying reports about the weather, but they cast doubt on the entire narrative that uses these memories as its foundation.

According to Mary G. Berg, the narrator's failed attempt to find consensus among the varied accounts of the past reveals both the subjectivity of memory and the "inherent fallibility of journalistic reports or written history." In short, it demonstrates the "insufficiency of words to depict (or reflect) human experience." It also, as John S. Christie writes, undermines the notion of a single narrative authority, since the ambiguity that results from the multiple perceptions and points of view reveals that no one version of the truth exists. Within the world represented in the novel, however, ambiguities and uncertainties are not so closely scrutinized. Santiago Nasar is murdered not because it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the man responsible for stealing...

(The entire section is 13,005 words.)