The publication of Chronicle of a Death Foretold broke Gabriel Garcıa Marquez’s (1927-2014) self-imposed “publication strike.” (He had pledged to not publish anything for as long as Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet remained in power.) Garcıa Marquez’s period of silence started in 1976 and ended in a spectacular way in 1981 with the publication of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which was written, according to some critics, at the urging of other Chilean authors. While it is common for countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia to have their own publication run of 5,000 to 30,000 copies, 30,000 being the exception, Chronicle of a Death Foretold was, without doubt, an exception beyond that. Garcıa Marquez’s publishing house, located in Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, published 1 million copies of the book. Immediately after, as might be expected, Garcıa Marquez gave private interviews and newspaper reviews appeared the world over. One year after the publication of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in 1982, newspapers around the world announced that Garcıa Marquez was that year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. The glory days that had followed the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967 had returned.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold reconstructs an actual murder that took place in Sucre, Colombia, in 1951. In an interview for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion (The Nation), Garcıa Marquez declared that Cayetano Gentile Chimento—Santiago Nasar in the novel—had been one of his childhood friends. On January 22, 1951, two brothers of the Chica family (Vicario in the novel) killed Cayetano because their sister was taken back to her family by her husband, Miguel Reyes Palencia, on their wedding night when he discovered that she was not a virgin. Similarly to the way the murder takes place in the novel, in broad daylight, the two brothers knifed Cayetano to death in the town’s plaza. In spite of the parallels, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, uses an anonymous town and fictional names for the characters. In this sense, the narrative is not a chronicle. Garcıa Marquez did not talk to any of the witnesses, nor did he use the real names and places as a chronicle would when recounting past events. Nevertheless, Garcıa Marquez insists that the circumstances and the events of Chronicle of a Death Foretold are absolutely truthful.
The incident was highly publicized in Colombia and elsewhere. Garcıa Marquez’s reconstruction of the story is now a classic in Latin American literature. Six years after its publication in Spanish, in 1987, Italian movie director Francesco Rossi released it as a film. To date, the public can also enjoy Chronicle of a Death Foretold on the stage, where it continues to be performed for Spanish-speaking audiences.
The first chapter opens with a sentence announcing that on that day, the main character, Santiago Nasar, is going to be killed. While this event is the focus of the narrative, there is at least one subplot: the wedding of Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roma ́n. There is also a secondary event that distracts the characters in the novel while the killers go about their business: the visit of a bishop. At the last minute, the bishop decides not to get off the boat in which he is traveling. The omniscient narrator, functioning like a murder detective, reconstructs the crime bit by bit. In the process, he describes a classic coastal town where religion and law as institutions are inefficient in protecting the townsfolk. Santiago Nasar and his friends are all members of the ruling class. The narrator’s family, for instance, is best friends with the Nasar family and so has reasonable expectations that the bishop will pay them a personal visit during his stay in town (199). The town’s economic makeup presents a background of contrasting wealth and poverty. Santiago Nasar, an only child, lives in one of the best houses in town, has two mulattas as maids, and is the owner of a farm, named the Divine Face. His death gives the novel its title. With few exceptions, nearly everybody in the town, the mayor and the priest included, know that the identical twins, Pedro and Pablo Vicario, are looking for Santiago Nasar in order to kill him. What makes the plot intriguing are the pieces of information that are left for the reader to put together. Santiago Nasar, for example, is not aware that he is the target of the Vicario brothers until right before the time he is at- tacked. However, the threads that weave together the murder are all present in the first chapter. As is the case with Leaf Storm and Love in the Time of Cholera, the plot of Chronicle of a Death Foretold unfolds in an inverted fashion. Instead of moving forward, the plot moves backward. This provides the reader with the pleasure of decoding, as a detective would, all possible reasons, circumstances, and motivations for the crime that takes place. By the end of the first chapter, readers have been told who killed Santiago Nasar, how he was killed, and why. These facts, however, are the guideposts that allow Garcıa Marquez an opportunity to take readers through an intricate and detailed labyrinth of surprises. The second and subsequent chapters flesh out the plot, so to speak. Bayardo San Roma ́n is the man who marries Angela Vicario, only to return her to her parents five hours after the wedding ceremony. Angela is not a virgin, which has significant and potentially dangerous consequences, of which Angela is amply aware. She knows that there is no love between her and Bayardo, and she wants to stop the marriage. The Vicarios, however, are impressed by his wealth and oppose her decision. The comedy of errors, which turns into a tragedy, builds up bit by bit and minute by minute. Angela does not love Bayardo and neither does he love her. Rather, he is enamored with the concept of being married to a beautiful woman. The wedding celebration is an excuse for Bayardo San Roma ́n to show off his wealth and power. The narrator comments that Bayardo could marry any woman he chose. He is the son of a decorated hero who had defeated Colonel Aureliano Buend ́ıa in one of the civil wars of the nineteenth century. (This is the same Buendia who features prominently in One Hundred Years of Solitude.)
If lack of love is not a good enough reason to stop Bayardo San Roma ́n and Angela Vicario from getting married, Angela’s loss of her virginity to someone other than Bayardo is enough to cause her return. Bayardo does not beat Angela for her indiscretion, but her mother does, for hours. Questioned and pressured to name the perpetrator, Angela names Santiago Nasar. Pedro and Pablo, her twin brothers, know what to do next. In fact, the whole community knows that to restore the Vicarios’ honor, which resides in Angela’s virginity, Santiago must be killed: one only washes one’s honor clean with blood. Pig butchers by trade, the twins set out to kill Santiago and carve him up like a pig (186). However, readers do not witness this event until the last chapter. Before that, the plot reconstructs the psychological reaction of the twins, who believe they are innocent, “before God and before men” (220). After three years in jail awaiting trial, the twins are acquitted by the court because their action is considered a legitimate defense of their family’s honor. Before the murder, the twins tell everybody of their intent but people do not believe them. When the town’s mayor is told, he treats them like children, confiscates the butcher knives, and sends them home to sleep. They come back with a second set of knives but look for Santiago in places where they know he will not be. They are hoping not to find him; they plan to kill him yet hope someone will stop them. However, no one takes responsibility to see that the killing does not occur. In fact, there are those, like Santiago’s maid, Victoria Guzman, who want Santiago dead. She does not tell Santiago, although she is aware of it, that the Vicario brothers are looking for him to kill him.
The reader comes to the end of the third chapter and reads, “they’ve killed Santiago Nasar!” (237). However, the plot has not yet entirely un- folded. The reader is still not a firsthand witness; he or she continues to be led, and the narrator still holds the reader in suspense. Almost tormentingly, the narrative voice continues leisurely to piece the story together. Indeed, no stone is left unturned. The narrator recounts the story of the life of both Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roma ́n. Foreshadowing Love in the Time of Cholera, Angela Vicario starts an epistolary (a continuous series of letters) that continues for seventeen years. After she has written Bayardo San Roma ́n nearly 2,000 letters, he shows up with two suitcases. In one of them he has all the letters Angela has written, all unopened. In the other is clothing in order to stay. Bayardo San Roman is no longer trim, handsome, and elegant. He needs glasses to read, he is fat, and he is losing his hair. “She knew he was seeing her just as diminished as she saw him” (255). Have they reconciled their under- standing about love? It seems like another error in a comedy that is meant to be a tragedy. Angela does not love Bayardo; he takes her back for not being a virgin; her brothers kill Santiago Nasar to regain her honor and that of her family; she realizes, seventeen years later, that she really loves him. The plot, unfortunately, affords no time or interest for this second chance.
Finally, in the last chapter, the reader witnesses the brutal and horrid crime. Now there is no escape: neither Santiago Nasar nor the reader can escape their fate. The murder is gruesome, but the story is wonderfully told. Before the curtain falls, the narrator brings to the reader’s attention the fact that in this tropical tragedy there is also a comedy of errors. Cristo Bedoya, Santiago’s friend, can stop the crime but does not. He has a gun that he does not know how to use—he cannot even tell if it is loaded. Those who want to come forward to prevent the killing of Santiago are uncertain and are put off by his apparent carefree attitude. Once Santiago is told of the Vicarios’ plan to kill him, he decides to go home. However, rather than using the back door to his home, which always is left unlocked, he decides to use the front door, which faces the plaza. His mother, thinking that he is inside the house, locks the front door seconds before Santiago gets to it. The attack begins, and nobody does anything to stop it. Indeed, Santiago’s screams go unheard as they are confused with the sounds of the bishop’s festival.
GENRE AND NARRATIVE STRUCTURE
Chronicle of a Death Foretold reads like a fictional work. The reader of Garcıa Marquez, however, should be interested in knowing that the account the novel relates is based on a factual event. However, as Latin American literary critic Gonzalo Dıaz-Migoyo put it, “it is an account no less imaginary for being faithful to the facts and, conversely, no less historical for being a work of the imagination” (Dıaz-Migoyo 75). The faithful facts to which Dıaz-Migoyo refers took place in Sucre, Colombia in 1951, thirty years before Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published. On January 22, 1951, Miguel Reyes Palencia returned his wife, Margarita Chica Salas, to her family on the morning after the nuptial night because she had not been a virgin. A short while later, Margarita’s brother, Victor Chica Salas, killed Cayetano Gentile Chimento for stealing his sister’s honor without an intention to marry her.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a combination of journalism, realism, and detective story, and therefore a hybrid genre. Its journalistic orientation, announced in the title of the novel with the use of the word chronicle, is seen in the novel’s precise detailing of the time of each event and the matter-of-fact usage of language that marks the plot and presents the events of an atrocious and horrid crime. Journalism, however, at- tempts to report on the basis of fidelity to the facts. As such, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a deceiving chronicle, for the facts are altered by the fictitious additions made by Garcıa Marquez. In real life, the returned bride continued to live alone after her return, while the embarrassed husband left the country, got married in Costa Rica, and went on to have twelve children with his new wife. In the novel, Angela stays with her mother and Bayardo goes off and is not heard of until seventeen years after the date of the wedding, when he and Angela reunite.
The story is told in a journalistic style of reporting. Garcıa Marquez freely admits that he is the narrator who is reconstructing the story. Luisa Santiaga, the narrator’s mother in the novel, is the name of Garcıa Marquez’s own mother, and Luis Enrique, the narrator’s younger brother, is also the name of Garcıa Marquez’s own younger brother. Luisa Santiaga has a daughter who in the novel is a nun; Garcıa Marquez, in real life, has a sister who used to be a nun. As if that were not enough, the narrator recounts that on the night of Angela and Bayardo’s wedding, he proposed marriage to Mercedes Barcha, only to marry her fourteen years later because at the time she was just finishing primary school. Garcıa Marquez married a woman of the same name, Mercedes Barcha, to whom he proposed on the exact day of the wedding in 1951 and whom he wed fourteen years later because she, too, was just finishing primary school. Most of the story has a factual/journalistic base with a few exceptions, such as the fact that Garcıa Marquez was not in town at the time of the crime, nor were the lovers ever reunited. Both instances are fictitious. The realism of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is seen in its intent to faithfully portray life in a coastal town. The novel accurately describes the routine of everyday life: the ways in which the town’s people prepare for the visit of the bishop, and celebrate at Angela’s wed- ding; the habit of the single young men to spend time at the bordello; and even the fact that, as a result, one of the Vicario twins is suffering from a venereal disease.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, as is typical in realistic fiction, is interested in ordinary people, whom it faithfully depicts at both the social and the psychological levels. The reader of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is exposed to the inner workings of the minds of the twin brothers and the nature of the personality of other characters. As a detective story, Chronicle of a Death Foretold seems to fit the pattern almost perfectly. The murder is being pieced together by the nameless narrator, a friend of the victim, in the same manner that a detective might approach the case. However, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is intentionally deceiving—moreover, it can be read as if inverted or backward. From the start the reader knows the culprits, so there is no unsolved crime. Instead, the reader looks to find out whether the victim or the culprits is actually in the wrong. The absurdity of the crime, however, calls for a reader who might question who really killed Santiago Nasar. The physical evidence indicates that the killers are the Vicario brothers, but is there any responsibility on the part of the townsfolk or the legal or religious authorities? This is a question for the reader to decide. In that sense, then, the novel can indeed be read as a detective story.
The narrative structure of Chronicle of a Death Foretold will seem familiar to the Garcıa Marquez reader. It starts in medias res (in the middle of things). At the start of the novel, an omniscient narrator (a character within the novel who knows everything there is to know) is describing the last hours in the life of Santiago Nasar. The time line of the events is very precise and linear, faithfully following the clock. However, the reading is not so linear. Even the events of the main plot do not unfold in a straightforward manner, but rather move back and forth in time. Besides dealing with the genesis of the main plot, Chronicle of a Death Foretold also has a subplot describing the short-lived idyll of Bayardo San Roman and Angela Vicario. This subplot, contained in Chapters 2 and 4, plus the intrusions by the omniscient narrator discussing the origin of the characters, makes the narrative structure a bit complex, al- though not impossible to follow. In the end, the focus remains on the killing of Santiago Nasar.
The narrative structure, like the genre, is rather deceiving. The story of Santiago Nasar’s murder is described with rigid adherence to the exact hour and minute of each event because of the insistence by the narrator to be exact. However, the time line presented to the reader is arbitrarily jumbled and replayed haphazardly, moving forward and backward in time with equal ease. While Chapter 1 stars at 5:30 and has Santiago killed by 7:05, an hour and thirty-five minutes later, the narrator eventually takes the reader all the way back to the end of the nineteenth century and its civil wars.
As is the case with most of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fictional work, the number of characters in this novel is large. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, this is due to the fact that the entire coastal town where the murder takes place is an active participant. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, as in Leaf Storm and No One Writes to the Colonel, the community is charged with a moral responsibility for its indirect participation. As a result, the community can be viewed as a character. There is an abundance of names that come in and out of the plot, comprising nearly eighty characters. The main characters, however—those most involved with the plot of the murder—are relatively few: Santiago Nasar, Bayardo San Roma ́n, Angela Vicario, and the Vicario twins, Pedro and Pablo. The secondary characters are much more numerous, however. As is typical of Garcıa Marquez’s writing, female characters densely populate this novel. There are women who do everything they can to stop the murder, particularly Clotilde Armenta and Luisa Santiaga; and there are also women who, each in some fashion, contribute to Santiago’s death, including Flora Miguel, Placida Linero, Victoria Guzman, and Divina Flor. The secondary male characters are also numerous. Cristo Bedoya is instrumental in the plot, as are Father Carmen Amador, the mayor, Lazaro Aponte, and General Petronio San Roman.
The description of the main character, Santiago Nasar, is both detailed and exquisite. Santiago is handsome, young, and well-mannered and has an enviable fortune at the tender age of twenty-one. He is a lover of horses, a fan of falconry, and, from his father, he is supposed to have learned both courage and prudence. Santiago is portrayed as a happy young man. He is described as pale, curly-haired, and, like his father, with Arabian eyes and long, dark eyelashes. He is the only child of a marriage of convenience. From his father he has inherited a cattle ranch, the “Divine Face.” He is known as a peaceful man, although he is also a lover of guns. However, he is never armed unless he is dressed to tend his ranch. Being a first-generation Colombian of Arabic descent, the reader might expect that Santiago practices the Islamic religion, but in- stead he is deeply Catholic. On the day he is killed, he was hoping to kiss the bishop’s ring. His social life, although he is a rich and rather aristocratic young man, is as simple as that of the rest of the townsfolk. A lover of parties, Santiago Nasar has an intimate group of friends. His friends include the narrator, the narrator’s brother, Luis Enrique, and Cristo Bedoya. The four friends grew up together, went to school together, and vacationed together. Their friendship lasted right up to the day Santiago was killed.
When Santiago was fifteen, he fell completely in love with Marıa Alejandrina Cervantes, a local prostitute. The love affair lasted fourteen months. It was so strong that his own father stepped in to end it, entering the brothel and dragging Santiago out after delivering a beating with his belt. To complete the punishment, the father isolated his son at the ranch. At the time of Santiago’s death, he was formally engaged to Flora Miguel, a loveless arrangement favored by both families. The marriage was to be held within the year.
Fate plays an important role in the character development of Santiago. He is accused by Angela Vicario of being responsible for the loss of her virginity. This is the reason why he is killed at the hands of Angela’s brothers. Everyone in town, including his best friends and his maids, knows that he has been sentenced to die—except Santiago himself. According to the police report, he died from seven stab wounds. What seems ironic is that there is never any proof that Santiago is, in fact, responsible, as Angela claimed. Among the many facts supporting Santiago’s innocence are the facts that he and Angela were never seen together in public, he considered her a “fool,” (251) and they belong to separate social classes in a town where social class determined identity. Supporting a case for Santiago’s guilt is Santiago’s fame as a “spar- row hawk,” (251) who liked young girls, especially those beneath his social class (like his father before him). The narrative voice, however, suggests that Angela Vicario was probably protecting someone she really loved and picked Santiago’s name because she thought that her brothers would never dare to kill such an important man as Santiago. However, one way or another, Santiago dies. As the narrative voice explains, never was a death more foretold. Despite all the efforts, no one is able to stop it, not even Father Carmen Amador or the mayor, Colonel Lazaro Aponte.
The husband of the bride, Bayardo San Roman, is a thirty-year-old man whose personality evokes opposing remarks. “He looked like a fairy,” but “I could have buttered him and eaten him alive,” (202) says one of the female characters. He is known for his honesty; good heart; religious inclinations; knowledge of Morse code, trains, and medicine; ability as a swimmer; and love of a good party. On top of all this, he is immensely rich: the townspeople gossip that “he’s swimming in gold” (203). However, he is not a man whom someone gets to know when they first meet him, and his golden eyes, says the narrator’s mother, “re- minded me of the devil” (204). He is heartless when he literally brow- beats Xius into selling him his house in order to please Angela’s caprice and to demonstrate his own power. Although Bayardo San Roma ́n is a member of a distinguished family, he shows up in town alone. Nobody knows where he came from or what he stands for. Before he even meets Angela Vicario, and after seeing her only once, he decides that he is going to marry her, and six months later, he does. He never tries to court her, but instead seduces her family, showering them with presents and his charming personality. Angela and Bayardo’s wedding is both extravagant and costly, perhaps to hide the fact that their marriage is a loveless one. In fact, their fated marriage only lasts five hours. Bayardo San Ro- ma ́n takes his wife back to her parents when he discovers that Angela is not a virgin. After the tremendously emotional embarrassment of being held up to ridicule, Bayardo locks himself in his new home and is found intoxicated a week later. Finally his family comes to his rescue and takes him away.
Bayardo continues to surprise the reader with his strange personality up to the end of the novel. Seventeen years after that fateful Monday when he returned his wife to her mother, he seeks out Angela. He is now fat, balding, old, wearing glasses and, as if he has lost all his pride, returns to the woman who had caused him such embarrassment.
Angela Vicario’s role is twofold. She is the cause of the death of one main character, Santiago Nasar, and the reason for the destruction of another, Bayardo San Roman. She is a member of a poor and simple family. Her father, Poncio Vicario, has gone blind from the eyestrain of his work as a goldsmith. He is a man without a will of his own, who is dominated by his wife. His wife and Angela’s mother, Purısima del Carmen Vicario, was a schoolteacher until she married Poncio. She rules the house with an iron fist. Angela has two older sisters, both married, and twin brothers, Pedro and Pablo, who are pig butchers by trade. Angela is a beautiful twenty-year-old who, like her father, lacks character and determination and does not enjoy the moral support of her mother. She lives in fear of her mother’s demanding character, a fear that is emphasized on the night when her parents, her sisters, her husband’s sisters, and her twin brothers decide that she must marry a man she has hardly seen and does not love. Although she makes explicit her lack of love for her husband-to-be, her mother flatly responds, “Love can be learned too” (209). Angela tries to commit suicide but does not have the strength to do so, so she realizes that she has no other alternative but to marry Bayardo San Roma ́n. She arrives at this decision with the hope that she will manage to fool Bayardo into believing that she is a virgin on the night of their wedding. On the day of the wedding, she continues the charade by wearing the traditional dress of a virgin. This is later interpreted as a profanity against the sacred symbols of purity. In truth, however, she is horrified in the knowledge that she has to face her husband that night. Her husband does not have to think twice about what to do once he becomes aware that his wife is not a virgin. He decides to denounce his marriage and return Angela to her parents. Although humiliated and full of shame, her feeling of horror changes into one of liberation when Bayardo takes her back to her parents. Angela not only knows that he does not love her, she also considers herself inferior to him and says that he is too much of a man for her.
After the death of Santiago, Angela and her family are asked by the town’s mayor to leave the town forever. Angela then undergoes a positive change. She spends her time embroidering and regains her zest for life. Inexplicitly, she cries after Bayardo and nearly goes insane over him, so much so that she starts to write frequent, desperate love letters. This absurd obsession continues for seventeen years, during which she writes nearly 2,000 letters but gets not a single response. She takes consolation in the fact that her letters are not returned to her. This is a clear fore- telling of Love in the Time of Cholera, except that the roles are reversed. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, it is the woman who writes in order to achieve a goal, whereas in Love in the Time of Cholera, it is the male who writes with the same intent. In both instances, the writers attain their goal, and in both, ironically, the two letter writers are first rejected yet, over time and with persistence, gain the loved one.
Pedro and Pablo, the twin brothers of Angela, are twenty-four years old and known in town by their good looks. They have the innocent demeanor of a child, and their reputation is that of good young men. Their fate, however, is to kill Santiago to restore Angela’s honor and reputation. Pedro is six minutes older than his brother. He seems to be more imaginative, decisive, sentimental, and authoritarian. When they both show up to enlist in the military at the age of twenty-one, Pablo is exempted so that he can help take care of his family. During his time in the military, Pedro’s character develops as one willing to give orders and to decide for his own brother. It is Pedro who decides that they must kill Santiago Nasar.
Throughout the novel the reader becomes aware that the twins do not really want to kill Santiago yet must do so to save the family’s honor. The narrator states that the twins did more than could be imagined to get someone to stop them, yet no one did so. From the very start of the ordeal, they publicly announce that they are going to kill Santiago Nasar. They tell the priest, the police, and every passerby. When the news reaches the mayor, he half-heartedly tries to stop the crime by taking away their knives, but they get others. As if to confirm their child-like innocence, they bless themselves when they see the town’s priest and bless themselves again right before killing Santiago. On the day when they are taken into custody and put in jail, they suffer mental and emotional torment. Pedro affirms that he can smell Santiago on him regard- less of how much he washes himself. He adds that he cannot sleep, an insomnia that continues for eleven consecutive months. Pablo suffers from diarrhea, which leads Pedro to think that his brother had been poisoned. Although the brothers suffer the psychological fallout of having killed a man, they do not view themselves as sinners and refuse to confess themselves to a priest when they have the opportunity to do so. When they leave jail, they decide to do so in broad daylight so that everyone can see their faces and judge their innocence and lack of shame. The mission of the Vicario brothers in the novel is odious. The twins especially fear that the Arab community in town will react against them; but the Arabs in town, surprisingly, hold no grudge against the killers.
Clotilde Armenta is a strong woman, valiant and decisive, who tries wholeheartedly to stop the killing of Santiago. She and her husband, Rogelio de la Flor, own a shop where they sell milk in the morning and goods during the day; they also operate a bar in the evenings. Therefore, their shop is almost always open. Their business is located in the plaza, which Santiago’s house faces. It is in their shop that the Vicario twins wait for Santiago in order to kill him. Clotilde sells the twins a bottle of liquor for no other reason than, hopefully, to get them too drunk to act. At first she thinks that the brothers do not have the heart to kill any man. However, as they continue to drink, she starts to realize that they are indeed serious. She also senses that the twins are looking for some- one to stop them. She insists that the town’s mayor, Lazaro Aponte, do something, and she is disillusioned when she realizes that he will not arrest the twins but simply takes the first set of knives away from them. Worried about the consequences that this might provoke, Clotilde sends people out to warn Santiago. She also sends a young girl to tell Father Amador. In addition, she sends a warning note to Santiago’s maid, Victoria Guzman. However, all her efforts are futile.
Luisa Santiaga is the mother of several characters in the novel. Her children include the narrator and Luis Enrique, both intimate friends of Santiago. Her youngest son is Jaime. She has a daughter who is a nun and another daughter, Margot, who is also a good friend of Santiago. Luisa Santiaga is strong in character. She is the godmother of Santiago and the person for whom he was named. Luisa Santiaga is the one who takes to the streets in an attempt to warn Placida Linero, Santiago’s mother, that the Vicario brothers are looking for her son to kill him. She rushed to the Nasars’ house to prevent the crime, but her efforts are also in vain—she does not arrive in time.
Among the female characters close to Santiago Nasar who actually may have contributed to his death in various ways, the four most salient are Flora Miguel, Placida Linero, Victoria Guzman, and Divina Flor.
Flora Miguel is a woman who lacks grace and judgment. She is the conventional fiancée of Santiago Nasar. Her character is frivolous and selfish. Although she has been Santiago’s betrothed since her teenage years, she demonstrates her immaturity at several opportune moments. Early on the day when Santiago dies, somebody tells Flora that the Vicario brothers are looking for her fiancé ́ to kill him. She feels humiliated and hurt because of the rumor concerning why the Vicario brothers want to kill him and decides to end the relationship with Santiago instead of asking him for an explanation. When Santiago arrives at her home, Flora Miguel is so upset that she throws Santiago’s “loveless” letters at him and bitterly screams, “I hope they kill you!” (270). Santiago stands there speechless, not knowing what to do. She runs to her room and locks the door.
Placida Linero is Santiago’s mother. She is one of the last people in town to hear about the Vicario brothers’ intent. She is described as a beautiful woman who has lived in solitude since her husband, Ibrahim Nasar, died. As a solitary woman, she spends time interpreting dreams, yet she fails to interpret her son’s dream as an omen of his death. Ironically, it is she who, in trying to stop the crime, closes the front door of her home to her son as he approaches to escape the Vicario brothers.
Victoria Guzman deliberately abets the crime although she could have helped to stop it. Her decision to remain silent and thus allow the killing to proceed dates back to her youth, when Ibrahim Nasar, Santiago’s father, seduced her and made love to her in secret for several years in the stables of his cattle ranch. As Victoria grew older and Ibrahim fell out of love with her, he brought her into his house as a maid. Victoria fears that Santiago is contemplating doing the same thing with her daughter, Divina Flor. Therefore, she despises Santiago. Knowing what it is to be a sexual object of a man who seems to have it all, Victoria Guzman withholds the warning message that Clotilde Armenta sent with a beggar earlier on, which would have been early enough to prevent the crime. Victoria does this knowingly, as if to take revenge. She may have fallen as a young woman, but she is determined to prevent the same from happening to her daughter. The name Victoria is reminiscent of victory, as if to emphasize Victoria’s triumph over an age-old tradition in which the landlord abuses the rights of women, whether maid, slave or otherwise.
Among the male secondary characters, there are two worthy of special mention: Cristo Bedoya and General Petronio San Roma ́n. Cristo Bedoya is one of Santiago’s intimate friends. He is a young medical student who accompanies Santiago during the last minutes of his life. Of the circle of friends who grew up together in school, it is he who suffers the frustration and anguish of knowing Santiago’s fate without being able to change it. He partakes, with Santiago and their other friends, in the celebration of Angela and Bayardo’s wedding. He is so close to Santiago that he loves him like a brother. He and Santiago walk along the dock together while waiting for the bishop to arrive. The townsfolk look at them in bewilderment, knowing what is about to happen but not realizing that Santiago and Cristo are unaware. After Cristo and Santiago separate, an Arab friend of Santiago’s father tells Cristo that the Vicario brothers are going to kill his son. Cristo races around, trying to find Santiago and warn him. However, his efforts, too, are fruitless, and he witnesses Santiago’s fatal stabbing just a few steps away.
General Petronio San Roma ́n is Bayardo’s father. He is a hero of the civil wars of the nineteenth century and a member of the Conservative Party. His role in the novel, although small, is sufficient to demonstrate the glory and power that he gratuitously parades in public. The first time he arrives in town, he does so in a Ford Model T convertible with official license plates, in the company of his wife, Alberta Simonds, a tall, large mulatta from Curacao, and his two daughters. For Bayardo’s wedding, he arrives with his family and his illustrious friends on the official vessel of the National Congress, loaded with wedding presents. At first glance, everybody in town knows that his son can marry any woman he wants. Petronio San Roma ́n, as a character, represents a recurring theme in Garcıa Marquez’s writings, that of the two opposing Colombian par- ties, the Conservatives and the Liberals.
The reader, depending on the choice of focus, can recognize several different themes in this novel. For example, a reader may focus on the theme of machismo, a theme that, in turn, can be related to the theme of moral responsibility.
The theme of machismo in Chronicle of a Death Foretold can be observed as a form of emphasis on male pride and on the characters’ sexual behavior. Upon his arrival to town, Bayardo San Roma ́n attracts the attention of the female characters by his looks and the way he dresses. His looks, however, make some female characters say that he looks like a marica (“a fairy”). This reaction by the female characters denotes an expected code of male behavior. This societal code is perhaps the justification for the bordello in town. It is male behavior to frequent this place, where women can be used as objects of desire. The males are proud to go there and feel no shame to show the results, not even when sexually transmitted diseases appear, as is the case with Pedro Vicario. Bayardo San Roma ́n shows his male pride when he returns Angela Vicario. The Vicario brothers flaunt their machismo in the abusive way they drink and also by defending an age-old tradition of placing the family’s honor in the women’s virginity.
The sexual behavior of the male characters shows an attitude passed on through the generations. Santiago Nasar, like his father before him, is a “sparrow hawk” (251). Both father and son have made a sport of having their young female servants for their own sexual satisfaction. The pun on sparrow hawk by the narrator is intended, both literally and sexually. Santiago’s father, Ibrahim Nasar, teaches him the art of domesticating high-flying birds of prey. In addition, fidelity, to Santiago and his father, is not a part of the sexual or moral code. Males in this community can express their sexuality in any way they want because theirs is a patriarchal society (ruled by men according to men’s needs). It may seem contradictory for the reader to realize that Bayardo San Roma ́n returns his wife because she is not a virgin when the same society glorifies men who go after women only to take away their virginity. The female characters succumb to this patriarchal society where women are educated to be stoic wives, passive beings capable of giving and expected to ask for nothing in return.
The incident motivating the killing of Santiago Nasar in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the loss of honor by Angela Vicario. The blood of virginity, when lost outside the sanctity of marriage, can only be washed off with the blood of the perpetrator, cries an age-old Spanish folk tradition. In the town where the novel takes place, this tradition is morally acceptable. Therefore, the Vicario twins must kill Santiago Nasar to re- store the family’s honor. The townsfolk go along with this and see the twins’ deed as morally acceptable; hence, they do nothing to stop the killing. There is only a small minority within the novel that objects to the killing. The majority views the Vicario brothers’ deed as a socially and morally acceptable response. Within the moral parameters of Colombian rural society of the 1950s and 1960s, the loss of a woman’s virginity without the balm of marriage destroyed not only the honor of the woman, but also that of the family. Such an act could only be absolved with the death of the perpetrator. This is why, without a legal trial or a simple conversation to clarify the innocence or the guilt of Santiago Nasar, the Vicario twins are convinced of their moral duty. Since Angela’s father is blind, and thus unable to carry out this duty, the burden falls to the brothers. Ironically, the twins, who are now in charge of guarding the moral values of the family, were seen the night before drinking and carousing at a house of ill repute, in the company of Santiago Nasar, their ultimate victim. Moreover, one of the twins, Pedro Vicario, is suffering from a venereal disease that the town’s doctor cannot cure. Pedro’s blennorrhagia (gonorrhea) demonstrates a moral life that is, indeed, hardly praiseworthy.
On the surface, the Vicario family professes a strong moral value sys- tem. However, regarding Angela, they are a family that pays no attention to such essential values as love, respect for others, and free will. They know, because Angela tells them, that she does not love Bayardo San Roma ́n and does not want to marry him. However, they ignore her and decide to marry her even without her consent. Their morality takes a back seat when it comes to this marriage of convenience because Bayardo San Roma ́n is rich beyond imagination.
The moral value system of Bayardo San Roma ́n, the offended husband who returns his wife, is also ambiguous, if not ironic. He is the one who decides to marry Angela at first sight, before even being introduced to her. He is the one who, instead of courting her, pays more attention to seducing her family with his money and his charm. It is he who marries Angela, as if to purchase his happiness with his immeasurable fortune. It is Bayardo who, showing no scruples, forces Xius, a widower who married and lived in love in his house for many years, to sell that house to him because he wants it. Bayardo, as a character, shows no moral value system greater than his monetary system.
The moral and legal institutions of Church and state pay little attention to the Vicarios’ thirst for revenge. Father Carmen Amador, who presumably is in charge of the town’s religious values, refuses to get involved although he is clearly capable of putting a stop to the planned murder. He justifies his action by saying that he was concentrating his attention on the imminent arrival of his bishop. Ironically, the bishop arrives but does not disembark to greet the people who so anxiously await his visit. The civil authorities could stop the killing, but also choose to ignore it. The mayor of the town, Lazaro Aponte, could incarcerate the twins for carrying the knives and threatening to kill Santiago, but he chooses not to. It is his nonchalant way of enforcing the law that permits the twins to commit their crime.
Relating to the theme of moral responsibility, the town at large also bears its share of responsibility for the crime. The narrator insists that everybody in town knows the intention of the twins, but few make an honest attempt to stop it. There seems to be a kind of secret complicity among the townsfolk. Their silence can be viewed as a form of acceptance, a belief that the crime against Angela had to be avenged. Santiago, according to the town’s code of moral responsibility, has done something wrong. The town’s moral value of virginity is superior to a man’s death. Only the blood of the perpetrator can wash off the blood of stolen virginity. The Vicario brothers believe that, but the townsfolk seem to enforce it. Early in the morning of the day of the killing, a crowd of women, men, children, and young people congregates on the dock to receive the visiting bishop. This type of behavior is consistent with what would be expected of a Christian town. Therefore, one would also expect to find a solid moral value system. However, when it comes time to stop the killing, the townspeople assume a passive role and act as mere observers of the spectacle. Their inaction seems to imply that redeeming a family’s lost honor by the killing of the perpetrator is consistent with their collective sense of moral values.
All the town’s individuals, from the civil and religious authorities to the simple folks, demonstrate an ambiguous sense of morality that challenges the presumed values of the town and the fundamental beliefs of society.
SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Chronicle of a Death Foretold is one of Garcıa Marquez’s works that is least concerned with the political context, which permeates many of his other writings. Whether in Leaf Storm, No One Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Love in the Time of Cholera, the reader is faced with descriptions of the Colombian civil wars of the end of the nineteenth century. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, however, this historical fact is dealt with in a single reference. The reference, how- ever, should not pass unnoticed. General Petronio San Roma ́n, father of the groom, Bayardo San Roma ́n, is a member of the Conservative Party regime. Although the narrator describes him with admiration (he routed Colonel Aureliano Buendıa of the Liberal Party), the narrator’s mother, when she recognizes the general, will not even shake his hand. Luisa Santiaga remembers him as a traitor who ordered his troops to shoot Gerineldo Marquez in the back (208).
Although the historical context of the novel can be inferred from what has already been noted, the novel is not at all clear about the exact time of the events. What is clear is the time when Garcıa Marquez, working as a journalist, first heard of the incident, 1951; and the time when he published the book, 1981. In the early 1950s, Colombia was experiencing terrible shootouts between conservatives and liberals. This social and historical moment, recognized in Colombian history as La violencia (the Violence), is neither the background nor the focus of the novel. What are the background and focus, instead, are the disparity and even hatred between the rich and the poor. The marriage of Bayardo San Roman and Angela Vicario provides a striking example of opposing social and economic forces. No one in town is as rich as Bayardo San Roma ́n. It is his wealth, along with his charm, that wins people over to him. This includes everyone—the priest, the mayor, and the town’s aristocracy. Because of his wealth, Angela Vicario’s mother says, in response to Angela’s statement that she does not love Bayardo, “Love can be learned too” (209). The attacks on the wealthy found in No One Writes to the Colonel are well camouflaged in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, due, perhaps, to an effort to fully focus on the main plot. Another such attack, for example, occurs when Faustino Santos, an obscure character, asks the Vicario brothers why they must kill Santiago Nasar when there are plenty of other rich men who deserve to die first (223). The narrator, however, adds that Faustino Santos says this jokingly.
By 1981, when Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published, Colombia was facing many of the guerilla factions still fighting today. The guerilla groups of Colombia have been at war with the government’s army since the 1950s. The Colombian guerillas, as reported by the world news, continue to resist to the present day. In 1981, Garcıa Marquez and his wife, Mercedes, were linked by rumor to a guerilla group, M-19, which specialized in urban violence. Although just a rumor, the government forces wanted to arrest Garcıa Marquez and his wife. The couple sought asylum in the Mexican embassy and then left the country. Later that year, Colombian President Belisario Betancur invited the couple to return (Anderson 70).
Alonso, Carlos J. “Writing and Ritual in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” In Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 257–69.
Alvarez-Borland, Isabel. “From Mystery to Parody: (Re) Readings of Garcıa Marquez’s Cro ́nica de una muerte anunciada.” In Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 219–26.
The Christian Science Monitor, January 1983: 9.
D ́ıaz-Migoyo, Gonzalo. “Truth Disguised: Chronicle of a Death (Ambiguously) Foretold.” In Gabriel Garcıa Marquez and the Power of Fiction. Ed. Julio Ortega. The Texas Pan American Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988. 74–86.
Gonzalez, Anıbal. “The Ends of the Text: Journalism in the Fiction of Gabriel Garcıa Marquez.” In Gabriel Garcıa Marquez and the Power of Fiction. Ed. Julio Ortega. The Texas Pan American Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988. 61–73.
The New Republic, May 2, 1983: 188.
New York Review of Books, April 14, 1983: 30.
Penuel, Arnold M. “The Sleep of Vital Reasons in Garcıa Marquez’s Cronica de una muerte anunciada.” In Critical Essays on Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. Ed. George R. McMurray. Critical Essays on World Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. 188–209.
Shaw, Donald L. “Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Narrative Function and Interpretation.” In Critical Perspectives on Gabriel Garcıa Marquez. Ed. Bradley A.Shaw and Nora Goodwin. Lincoln, NE: Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1986. 91–104.
Times Literary Supplement, September 10, 1982: 963.
Source: Rubén Pelayo – Gabriel García Márquez A Critical Companion (2001, Greenwood)
Categories: Latin American Literature, Literature, Novel Analysis
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