This novella is about an elderly colonel in Colombia during a time of martial law and his asthmatic wife. Their son, Augustin, is presumed dead, killed for passing out subversive literature at a cockpit. The colonel and his wife possess a rooster who is doted on by the other villagers. The townspeople are saving their money to bet on the rooster.
As the story opens, the colonel is about to attend a funeral that is the first for a person who died of natural causes in many years. Every Friday, the colonel collects his mail, hoping for the arrival of his pension check, but it never arrives. Collecting his mail, he meets the local physician, who lends him the government-sanctioned newspapers. The physician comes to the colonel's house to treat the colonel's wife but refuses to take money for his services. He hands the colonel clandestine news in an envelope and asks the colonel to pass it along to Augustin's compatriots in the anti-government movement. Each week, the colonel goes to collect his pension, but he waits in vain, as he has been doing for fifteen years. Sixty years before, the colonel had been a revolutionary officer who had laid down his arms against the government.
The colonel is forced to try to sell his belongings, including his clock and picture, to support himself, his wife, and his rooster. Sabas, a local corrupt politician who is Augustin's godfather, tells the colonel that he can arrange to sell the rooster for nine hundred pesos. However, when the colonel returns to Sabas, the politician says he can only get the colonel four hundred pesos. The colonel then sees a man named Alvaro, who passes him a clandestine note from Augustin, who is alive but in hiding. The colonel passes by a cockfight in which he realizes his rooster is fighting, and when the rooster emerges from the fight, people applaud. The colonel decides not to sell the rooster, as he believes it belongs to the entire town. He decides to wait forty-four days until the cockfight to collect the twenty percent owed to him as owner of the rooster. When his wife asks what they will eat until that point, the colonel answers, "shit."
The plot of this short novel is quite simple. The elderly and impoverished colonel has been waiting for fifteen years to receive a pension check for his service in the army. The cultural context of the story is during what is known as la violencia , a civil war between liberals and conservatives in Colombia that lasted from the late 1940’s into the 1960’s. Nine months previous to the opening of the story, the colonel’s son, Agustín, had been killed at a cockfight for distributing secret political literature. The colonel is torn between his desire to keep his son’s prizefighting cock in order to enter it into the cockfights in January and his need to sell it to provide food for himself and his wife. The story focuses primarily on the colonel’s pride in trying to conceal his indigent state and his often ironic and bitterly humorous response to...
(The entire section is 1,194 words.)