Chronicle of a Death Foretold

by Gabriel García Márquez

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553

Where García Márquez’s highly regarded novel Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970) has the large, episodic scope of a Greek epic, Chronicle of a Death Foretold has the concise brevity of Greek tragedy, and it shares with tragedy the theme of guilt and its purging through recognition of the truth:For years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a common anxiety. The cocks of dawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren’t doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate.

At the political level, the book is an allegory for tyranny made possible through uncritical obedience to established codes: No one is able to step out of the accustomed modes of behavior to stop the murderers. Indeed, the attempts to purge guilt through recognition meander through the inexactitudes of memory toward self-justification offered in terms of the original misjudgments that allowed the murder to take place. It takes place over and over, in the varying accounts of witnesses, in the narrator’s conclusion, in the villagers’ memories, and since no one has learned what is necessary to prevent its recurrence, it will continue to be obsessively replayed as ritual and as a mystery to which no solution can be found.

Most of the characters reason that affairs of honor exclude all but those involved, a circular logic that admits no intervention. The fictional narrative, however, points to a very active involvement by supposed bystanders. For example, Nasar’s maid, Victoria Guzmán, wakens him as ordered at 5:30 in the morning but fails to warn him because she pays no heed to what she considers drunken boasts. In fact, Nasar had asked her to send her daughter Divina Flor, a nubile girl whom Nasar has repeatedly manhandled, to wake him, but Guzmán herself had suffered the advances of Nasar’s father, and so goes in her daughter’s place. While Nasar eats breakfast, she disembowels rabbits before him and throws the entrails to the dogs; at the end of the novel, Nasar’s mother orders the dogs to be killed as they howl for his intestines. Though the narrator does not draw a conclusion, evidence is strewn through the book that Guzmán would sooner see Nasar dead than have him repeat his father’s conquest and that she maliciously withholds the warning that would easily save his life. Her righteous disregard of drunken boasts plays into her maternal instinct and her secret loathing of her helplessness. While she cannot act on feelings she scarcely acknowledges, her inaction in not warning Nasar is fatally effective.

García Márquez challenges the reader to look more deeply than does the narrator at the pattern of chance that produces fate. The reader is prompted to reconsider the excuses, denials, and self-justifications that blind the narrator, who seeks through his chronicle of superfluous information to understand how a death so foretold could be allowed to take place.

Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 394

Based in part on historical fact, Chronicle of a Death Foretold has been accurately described as a modern fable as well as a metaphysical murder mystery. Accentuating Garcia Marquez's journalistic instinct for recognizing a "good" story, the novel (or novella) virtually reconstructs the events associated with the death of its central character, Santiago Nasar. The actual incident which generated its fictional counterpart occurred on January 22, 1951 in the Colombian town of Sucre where a man was brutally murdered supposedly in revenge for a woman's loss of honor. Apparently acquainted with the victim, Garcia Marquez was at once disturbed and angered by the episode, most severely agitated by the degree of complacency and acceptance of the crime as an extension of cultural identification.
Of primary interest in relation to the novel is that the reader is literally "foretold" of the conclusion in the narrative's first sentence by the announcement of the victim's impending death: "On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on." The narrator of the novel is Garcia Marquez himself, returning to the scene of the crime twenty-seven years after the fact to investigate the murder as well as its aftermath on the townspeople and the collective character of the town. Consequently, with the foreknowledge of the outcome and of those responsible for the incident, the question which surfaces for the reader is presumably the motivation for the narrator's study: How could something like this happen without someone trying to prevent it?

In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Garcia Marquez is literally resurrecting the "unthinkable" episode in order to explore the thematic boundaries of revenge. Blinded by rage, ignorance, and resentment, the perpetrators of the crime, the twin brothers of the seduced woman, in conjunction with the town's populace represent both collective complicity and guilt. Garcia Marquez is attacking the false sense of honor possessed by the townspeople, which is theoretically salvaged by the murder, as well as the misguided machismo of his fictional characters. He utilizes the novel to analyze the effect a single event can have on the lives of others over a period of time. The reality of the past transcends into the present, spreading the decay of complicity which is shared by the townspeople, the narrator, and ultimately the reader.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 837

Honor
The motive for the murder of Santiago Nasar lies undetected until halfway through Chronicle of a Death Foretold. While everyone knows that Nasar will be murdered, no one knows the reason. Then, after a night of carousing, the Vicario twins, Pedro and Pablo, return home at their mother's summons. The family presses a devastated Angela, the twins' sister, to tell the reason for her humiliated return from her marriage bed. When Angela says, "Santiago Nasar," the twins know immediately that they must defend their sister's honor. The twins' attorney views the act as "homicide in legitimate defense of honor," which is upheld by the court. The priest calls the twins' surrender "an act of great dignity." When the twins claim their innocence, the priest says that they may be so before God, while Pablo Vicario says, "Before God and before men. It was a matter of honor."

Revenge
While the twins say the murder was necessary for their sister's good name, and the courts agree with them, many disagree, viewing the murder as a cruel act of revenge The manner in which they kill Santiago appears to be much more vicious than what a simple murder for honor would entail. The twins first obtain their two best butchering knives, one for quartering and one for trimming. When Colonel Aponte takes these knives from them, the twins return to their butchering shop to get another quartering knife—with a broad, curved blade—and a twelve-inch knife with a rusty edge. Intent on making sure Santiago is dead, the twins use the knives to stab him over and over again. Seven of the wounds are fatal; the liver, stomach, pancreas, and colon are nearly destroyed. 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. Further supporting the view that the twins acted in revenge is the fact that they show no remorse for the murder.

After the murder, the twins fear revenge from the Arab community. Even though they believe they have rightfully murdered Santiago for their sister's honor, the twins think that the tightly knit community of Arabs will seek revenge for the loss of one of their own. When Pablo becomes ill at the jail, Pedro is convinced that the Arabs have poisoned him.

Sex Roles
Purisima del Carmen, Angela Vicario's mother, has raised her daughters to be good wives. The girls do not marry until late in life, seldom socializing beyond the confines of their own home. They spend their time doing embroidery, sewing, weaving, washing and ironing, arranging flowers, making candy, and writing engagement announcements. They also keep the old traditions alive, such as sitting up with the ill, comforting the dying, and enshrouding the dead. While their mother believes they are perfect, men view them as too tied to their women's traditions.

Purisima del Carmen's sons, on the other hand, are raised to be men. They serve in the war, take over their father's business when he goes blind, drink and party until all hours of the night, and spend time in the local brothel. When the family insists on Angela's marrying Bayardo, a man she has seldom even seen, the twins stay out of it because, "It looked to us like woman problems." "Woman problems" become "men's problems" when the family calls the twins home upon Angela's return. She feels relieved to let them take the matter into their hands, as the family expects them to do.

Deception
Angela Vicario is not a virgin when she marries Bayardo, but no one would suspect otherwise. Her mother has sheltered her for her entire life. Angela has never been engaged before, nor has she been allowed to go out alone with Bayardo in the time they have known one another. Angela, however, is concerned that her bridegroom will learn her secret on their wedding night, and considers telling her mother before the wedding. Instead, she tells two of her friends, who advise her not to tell her mother. In addition, they tell Angela that men do not really know the difference and that she can trick Bayardo into believing that she is a virgin. Angela believes them. Not only does Angela wear the veil and orange blossoms that signify purity, she carries out her friends' plan of deception on her wedding night.

Supernatural
Throughout Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Márquez weaves elements of the supernatural. From the dreams that Santiago has the night before his death to the signs that people note foretelling his death, a sense of an unseen force prevails. For example, Santiago has inherited his "sixth sense" from his mother, Plácida. Margot feels "the angel pass by" as she listens to Santiago plan his wedding. Supernatural intervention pervades all aspects of the characters' lives. For example, Purisima del Carmen tells her daughters that if they comb their hair at night, they will slow down seafarers.

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