Chronicle of a Death Foretold

by Gabriel García Márquez

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Why is Santiago Nasar's talent for disguises, mentioned in chapter 3 of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, significant?

Quick answer:

Santiago’s Nasar’s “talent for disguises” reveals his manipulative control over women. Moreover, it stresses the importance of disguise and appearance in society. The narrator and Marquez place this detail in chapter 3 because that chapter contains a flashback to the wedding night of Angela and Bayardo San Roman. This detail relates to topics in including the roles of women and patriarchal honor in society.

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In chapter 3, through the narrator Marquez notes

Santiago Nasar had an almost magical talent for disguises, and his favourite sport was to confuse the identities of the mulatto girls.

Nasar’s talent for disguises emphasizes his manipulative power over women and highlights specific details of this chapter’s narrative thread. His thread is directly connected with topics in the overall story. His “magical talent for disguises” recalls the magical realism for which Marquez is known—a literary genre in which a realistic and naturalistic narrative is imbued with surreal, fantastic details.

Nasar exerts a seemingly supernatural power over women. He is able to charm and control the “mulatto girls” or prostitutes of Maria Alejandrina Cervantes’s brothel to the extent that their identities become altered and “confused.” His community stresses the importance of superficial appearance over inner reality. Therefore, the “disguises” are the public faces of people that belie true identities. For example, reputable women are expected to remain virgins until marriage. However, that may not be true. Angela demonstrates this when she “dared put on the veil and the orange blossoms without being a virgin.”

Similarly, this “talent for disguises” demonstrates how public reputation and social class serve as shields. Earlier in chapter 3, despite the twins’s declaration that they plan to kill Nasar, no one believes them: “Their reputation as good people was so well-founded that no one paid any attention to them.” Their appearance overrides their words. Later, Clotilde Armenta’s husband scoffs at her warning that the twins plan to murder Nasar with, "Those two aren't about to kill anybody, much less someone rich."

The fact that Nasar’s talent for disguises appears in chapter 3 is significant because this chapter occurs during a flashback to the revelers on Angela and Bayardo San Roman’s wedding night. The narrator notes,

But that night Maria Alejandrina Cervantes wouldn't let Santiago Nasar indulge himself for the last time in his tricks as a transformer, and she prevented it with such flimsy pretexts that the bad taste left by that memory changed his life.

His failure to disguise and fool the girls parallels Angela’s own failure to retain her disguise as a virgin; both events occur on the night of wedding. The madam’s prevention of the game of disguise leaves an indelibly negative memory that “changed” his life. Indeed, Bayardo San Roman’s discovery of Angela’s disguise condemns Nasar to death and Angela to disgrace.

This episode also relates to other topics in chapter 3 and the overall story like the treatment of women as playthings in a male-dominated society. Nasar delights in fooling the “mulatto girls,” to the point where one cries from uncannily seeing a disguised version of herself. It also highlights the importance of honor in society. During the trial that opens chapter 3, the twins defend their stabbing of Nasar by stating that the crime was necessary and warranted.

"We killed him openly," Pedro Vicario said, "but we're innocent."
"Perhaps before God," said Father Amador.
"Before God and before men," Pablo Vicario said. "It was a matter of honour."

Nonetheless, later in this chapter Marquez shows how defending family honor is just a burdensome formality and a superficial, demonstrative act. In fact, after the mayor takes the twin’s first set of knives, Pedro Vicario who

according to his own declaration, was the one who made the decision to kill Santiago Nasar, and at first his brother only followed along…was also the one who considered his duty fulfilled when the mayor disarmed them.

Initially enraged and determined to kill Nasar, Pedro ultimately reveals himself to be reluctant to murder him. He believes that one murder attempt is enough. In fact, both brothers lose momentum and only reluctantly carry out the murder. Even Clotilde Armenta describes their pursuit of Nasar as a “horrible duty that's fallen on them.”

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