Chronicle of a Death Foretold

by Gabriel García Márquez

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What literary devices reveal the narrator as biased and unreliable in Chronicle of a Death Foretold?

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In the novella Chronicle of A Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez uses literary devices and examples to reveal that the narrator is unreliable and biased.

The literary device of point of view provides the first clue. The unnamed narrator is a journalist who returns to the scene of the crime nearly three decades after the murder of his friend Santiago. The narrator recounts the story from a first-person point of view, yet presents events through an omniscient point of view. Usually a narrator’s first-person point of view is limited; after all, how does the narrator know what other characters are thinking?

In this story, however, the narrator purports to know thoughts and actions of other people, which is impossible. For example, he opens the tale by describing Santiago’s dream the night before being killed:

He'd dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit.

Yet the narrator never had a chance to speak with Santiago to learn this dream firsthand.

Instead, he relies on other characters’ memories, rendering his own narration unreliable. The only way the narrator knows about Santiago’s dream is from Santiago’s mother.

"He was always dreaming about trees," Placida Linero, his mother, told me twenty-seven years later, recalling the details of that distressing Monday.

Yet how accurate is her (or any other characters’) recollections after twenty-seven years? In addition to the long time lapse, all of the people have grown old. Memory is subjective and further diminished with age.

Placida is now a senile, elderly woman who mistakes the narrator for her son Santiago. Marquez uses metaphors to emphasize her mental decrepitude:

I found her prostrated by the last lights of old age when I returned to this forgotten village, trying to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards.

Lying in a hammock, she is literally flattened by “the last lights of old age” and flickering consciousness. Her memory is a “broken mirror” of “scattered shards” and thus fragmented, defective, and incomplete.

Other unreliable sources on which the narrator depends include townspeople who cannot agree on past events, like the weather before the murder.

Many people coincided in recalling that it was a radiant morning with a sea breeze coming in through the banana groves, as was to be expected in a fine February of that period. But most agreed that the weather was funereal, with a cloudy, low sky and the thick smell of still waters, and that at the moment of the misfortune a thin drizzle was falling like the one Santiago Nasar had seen in his dream grove.

As neither an eyewitness of the weather nor a participant of Santiago’s dream, how can the narrator claim that it was drizzling lightly like the drizzle in the dream?

As the narrator discovers, townspeople also cannot corroborate when and how Bayardo San Roman first saw Angela Vicario.

Three people who had been in the boarding-house confirmed that [their meeting] had taken place, but four others weren't sure. On the other hand, all the versions agreed that Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman had seen each other for the first time on the national holiday in October during a charity bazaar.

Finally the narrator reveals himself as both unreliable and biased. He admits that he was hungover after carousing all night before the murder.

I was recovering from the wedding revels in the apostolic lap of Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, and I only awakened with the clamor of the alarm bells, thinking they had turned them loose in honor of the bishop.

Already engaged to another woman, the narrator exposes his own womanizing nature (which may make him more sympathetic to Santiago). Unaware that a grisly murder took place, in a drunken stupor he attributes the ringing bell not to an actual emergency, but to the celebration of the clergyman's arrival.

Also, the narrator acknowledges,

I had a very confused memory of the festival before I decided to rescue it piece by piece from the memory of others.

But other characters’ memories are unreliable, so the foundation of the narrator’s pieced-together account is shaky.

The narrator displays bias for Santiago and against women in general. As a close friend of Santiago, the narrator is predisposed to portray the murder victim in a positive light. He describes Santiago as a sympathetic, responsible, and likeable fellow despite a hard life.

He was the only child of a marriage of convenience without a single moment of happiness, but he seemed happy … he also learned the good arts of valour and prudence … The death of his father had forced him to abandon his studies at the end of secondary school in order to take charge of the family ranch. By his nature, Santiago Nasar was merry and peaceful, and openhearted.

Santiago ran the family ranch with “very good judgment but without much luck.” He was conscientious in that he stored his firearms safely unloaded. The narrator claims,

I knew that, and I also knew that he kept the guns in one place and hid the ammunition in another far removed so that nobody, not even casually, would yield to the temptation of loading them inside the house.

Yet the narrator presents female characters’ less positive descriptions of Santiago as frivolous and vengeful. For example, he states,

In the course of the investigations for this chronicle I recovered numerous marginal experiences, among them the free recollections of Bayardo San Roman's sisters, whose velvet dresses with great butterfly wings pinned to their backs with gold brooches drew more attention than the plumed hat and row of war medals worn by their father.

By characterizing the sisters’ memories as “free,” is the narrator implying that they are inaccurate and fanciful? His descriptions of their comically elaborate, excessively ornate gowns and jewelry suggest that the women gaudily upstage more serious (and male) military accomplishments.

Victoria Guzman exposes Santiago as a lecherous predator. She threatens him when he grabs the wrist of Divina Flor, her daughter.

"The time has come for you to be tamed," he told her.
Victoria Guzman showed him the bloody knife.
"Let go of her, white man," she ordered him seriously. "You won't have a drink of that water as long as I'm alive."

The narrator then points out that Victoria Guzman herself is not trustworthy because she

had been categorical with her answer that neither she nor her daughter knew that the men were waiting for Santiago Nasar to kill him. But in the course of her years she admitted that both knew it when he came into the kitchen to have his coffee.

The narrator emphasizes Victoria's vengeful intent by stating:

Divina Flor confessed to me on a later visit, after her mother had died, that the latter hadn't said anything to Santiago Nasar because in the depths of her heart she wanted them to kill him.

Finally, the narrator presents Angelo Vicario’s confession that Santiago deflowered her as a calculated move. When her brothers demand who took her virginity, she quickly blurts Santiago’s name:

She found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written.

Though metaphor, the narrator portrays the woman as a skilled hunter and her words as sharp weaponry. Santiago becomes the victim, a helpless and pinned butterfly that recalls the decorative accessories of frivolous females playing dress-up.

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