Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

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Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 1,784 words.)