Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Essay Q&A
1. Describe Santiago Nasar. What evidence is there that he was actually guilty of the crime for which he was killed?
Santiago Nasar is a good-looking, wealthy young man of twenty-one. He is the son of an Arab immigrant, Ibrahim Nasar, and Plácida Linero, who had a marriage of convenience. In some ways he seems to be the typical macho man, with a love for hunting, falconry, guns, and seducing young virgins such as his housemaid Divina Flor. However, he is also described as open hearted and honest. Once in love with the town brothel owner, María Alejandrina Cervantes, he is now in a very conventional relationship with his fiancée, Flora Miguel.
The narrator strongly suggests that Santiago Nasar is innocent of the crime for which he was killed; that is, the deflowering of Angela Vicario. None of the townspeople ever saw the two together, and they seemed to be from two different worlds. The haughty Santiago looked down on Angela, calling her a “ninny.” Nothing in his behavior on the night of the wedding suggested to his friends that he had any great secret about Angela Vicario. The description of how Angela named Santiago to her brothers seems to suggest that she simply gave the first name that came to mind.
The biggest indicator of Santiago’s innocence in the mind of the narrator and of the magistrate who reviewed the case was that Santiago seemed so confused on the morning of his murder. His reaction to the news that he was about to be killed was not one of panic but of utter bewilderment. He genuinely had no idea why they wanted to kill him. Had Santiago been responsible for taking Angela’s virginity, readers might still find his murder unjust; however, the knowledge that he in fact totally innocent of the deed makes the brutal manner of his death all the more shocking.
2. Although Santiago Nasar is killed by Pablo and Pedro Vicario, to what extent is the entire town responsible for Santiago Nasar’s death?
On the morning Santiago Nasar is killed, Pablo and Pedro Vicario tell everyone they see that they are going to “cut his guts out.” They speak loudly of their intentions in the butcher market; they boast about it to Clotilde Armenta, and they tell Cristo Bedoya, Santiago’s best friend, to let Santiago know they are waiting to kill him. By the time the bishop’s boat arrives, nearly everyone in the town knows about the plot—except Santiago himself.
People have a variety of reasons for not warning Santiago about the plot. Some say they do not believe the brothers are serious. Others see Santiago looking unconcerned and think the danger has passed. Still others know about the plot but fail to warn Santiago either because they agree with the honor killing or (as in the case of Victoria Guzmán) dislike Santiago personally. Father Amador, the local priest, hears about the plot but forgets to do anything about it in his anxiety to see the visiting bishop. Colonel Lázaro Aponte, the town mayor, doesn’t take the threat seriously. When he hears of the plan, he simply takes the brothers’ knives from them and tells them to go home and rest. Later, he fails to stop the murder because he is checking on a domino game. At the moment of his murder, the people are lined up as if to watch a parade. They are all spectators, but nobody is willing to act to defend Santiago.
Clotilde Armenta realizes the truth about the brothers; they do not really want to kill, but are pressured into it because real men are expected to defend the family honor. If someone—anyone—would step in to stop the plot, they would actually be grateful. However, nobody does step in, and their inaction combined with a series of fatal coincidences leads to the brutal death of an innocent man.
3. What critique of conventional moral values can be found in Chronicle of a Death Foretold?
The Vicario family represents conventional moral values in the narrator’s society. The narrator comments that in the Vicario family, “The brothers had been brought up to be men. The girls had been reared to get married. They knew how to do screen embroidery, sew by machine, weave bone lace, wash and iron, make artificial flowers and fancy candy, and write engagement announcements.” The narrator’s mother considered the girls to be “perfect,” observing that “Any man will be happy with them because they’ve been raised to suffer.”
A picture is given of the strict conventional values that govern the society. It is a world in which women have very little freedom. Unable to support themselves economically, they are pressured into marrying not for love, but for money and social position. Furthermore, unlike men, who are free to visit brothels, women are expected to remain pure for marriage. Angela is first pushed into a marriage to a man she does not love, then humiliated and beaten when it is discovered she is not a virgin.
In fact, both Angela and her brothers are led to suffer because of the conventional moral values that limit their natural freedom. Angela is not the perfect angel her name suggests, but she is an honest girl. On her wedding night, she balks at using old wives’ tricks to fool her husband into believing she is a virgin. When he finds out she is not “pure,” he sends her home in disgrace. She is beaten and considered unmarriageable. Angela’s brothers, Pedro and Pablo, are known to be good men, but they are turned into vicious butchers at the insistence of society.
The rigid conventional values that govern their family—and the community as a whole—lead directly to the killing of an innocent man, Santiago Nasar, as Angela is coerced into blaming someone for her lost virginity, and Pedro and Pablo are pressured to commit murder in defense of their family honor.
4. What view of religious and legal authority is presented in Chronicle of a Death Foretold?
In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the religious leaders are the bishop and Father Amador, and the legal authority in the town is the mayor, Colonel Lázaro Aponte. These leaders are shown as being unconcerned with the people’s well-being; ultimately, they fail to keep order in town and prevent an innocent man from being stabbed to death.
The first critique of religious leadership in this society comes in Chapter 1 when the bishop arrives for a visit to the town. Rather than disembark, greet people, and show appreciation for all the gifts, he simply gives a ceremonial wave from the boat. The townspeople, some of whom are ill and have gathered in hopes that a blessing from the pontiff might ease their pain, feel cheated. The incident serves to set the tone.
The second example is the action (or rather inaction) of Father Amador when he learns of the plot against Santiago. Rather than come and talk to the twins and try to save the from making a big mistake, the priest hurries off to the pier to see the bishop, forgetting all about Santiago.
Thirdly, there is mayor Colonel Lázaro Aponte. He hears of the threat but fails to take it seriously; after he disarms the two brothers, he considers the matter closed. Later, however, he is alerted to the fact that they have rearmed themselves. Rather than take care of the crisis situation, the Colonel first drops by the club to find out when the next domino game will be held.
The moral and spiritual leaders of this society fail to provide meaningful leadership during a moral crisis. They are more concerned with empty ceremony and the appearance of authority than they are with actually safeguarding the lives and souls of the people they serve.
5. Discuss Chronicle of a Death Foretold as work of magical realism, using specific examples from the novel to illustrate this unique style.
García Márquez developed the style of magical realism, a genre of writing that incorporates magical elements into an otherwise realistic story. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, while not as typical an example of magical realism as García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, does have some elements of the magical realist style.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold is based on the true story of a murder that occurred in Sucre, Colombia, in 1951. The real names of García Márquez’s mother, Luisa Santiaga, his siblings, and his future wife Mercedes Barcha are used in the novel. The narrator, like García Márquez himself, is a journalist who interviews his subjects to gather the facts. The tone of the work is purposeful, leading the reader to expect a straightforward, chronological story. However, amid the facts of this murder case are elements of the fantastic—prophetic dreams, bad omens, and eerie coincidences that cannot be explained.
One magical element in the book is the recurrence of dreams and omens. In Chapter 1, Santiago’s mother recalls a dream her son had the night before he was killed. He dreamt he was walking through a grove of trees when he found he was spattered with bird droppings. She interprets this as an auspicious dream about trees, but later realizes it is an ominous dream about birds. Another omen or eerie coincidence is seen later in the chapter, when Victoria Guzmán is disemboweling rabbits. Santiago is uncharacteristically disturbed by the sight of the guts being fed to the dog, and asks her to imagine it is a person. An hour later, Santiago himself lies in the kitchen, his guts spilled out on the floor.
In the final chapter of the book, Divina Flor sees a vision of Santiago, dressed in white and carrying a bouquet of flowers. The vision is so realistic that she believes he has actually entered the house; however, it is soon clear that the hallucination foreshadowed Santiago’s death.
It is this particular mix of fact with dreams, omens, visions, and eerie coincidences as part of reality that makes Chronicle of a Death Foretold a magical realist novel.