Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Novel Summary
In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, an unnamed journalist tells about a murder that happened in his hometown in Colombia twenty-seven years before. The victim, a young man named Santiago Nasar, left his house at 6:05 AM one rainy Monday in February. An hour later, he was “carved up like a pig.” Gradually, throughout the rest of the novel, the reader learns the details of how and why Santiago was killed, as revealed to the journalist by various townspeople who remember the incident.
Santiago Nasar is a wealthy, good-looking young man of twenty-one. He owns a ranch left to him by his late father, Ibrahim Nasar, an Arab immigrant, and lives with his widowed mother in a large house in town. On the morning he is killed, Santiago Nasar wakes up early to greet the bishop, who is coming by boat to bless their village. He has a hangover from the wedding he attended the night before. Santiago tells his mother, Plácida Linero, about a dream he had, in which he was walking through a grove of trees and was splattered with bird shit. Years later, while recounting the story to the narrator, Plácida still cannot forgive herself for not recognizing that the dream was a bad omen.
The cook, Victoria Guzmán, is cutting up rabbits for dinner when Santiago comes down to get his coffee. Santiago grasps Victoria’s young daughter, Divina Flor, by the wrist and says, “The time has come for you to be tamed.” Victoria Guzmán, who in her youth was seduced by Santiago’s father Ibrahim, shows him her bloody knife and says, “You won’t have a drink of that water as long as I’m alive.” She then pulls out a rabbit’s guts and throws them to the dogs, horrifying Santiago, who calls her a savage. “Make believe it was a human being,” he says. Years later, the cook still shivers when recalling this seemingly prophetic incident.
Although he typically uses the rear door of the house, which leads out onto the docks, Santiago chooses on this particular day to use the front door. Later, this door comes to be called “The Fatal Door,” as that is where his killers wait for him.
In fact, Victoria Guzmán and Divina Flor have already heard that someone is going to kill Santiago. However, they say nothing to him, either because they don’t believe it (according to Victoria), or because, according to Divina Flor, her mother secretly wants Santiago dead. As Santiago leaves the house, he gropes Divina Flor. However, instead of feeling her usual surprise, she has an awful urge to cry. Neither of them sees the note that someone has shoved under the door. It is a warning for Santiago that they are lying in wait to kill him.
The killers are twin brothers, Pedro and Pablo Vicario. Still in their wedding suits, they lie in wait for Santiago in a milk shop on the square. The shop owner, Clotilde Armenta, knows of their plot and urges them to wait until after the bishop’s visit.
The bishop comes to town in a large paddle-wheel boat. People gather with gifts of roosters in crates, because cockscomb soup is the pontiff’s favorite dish. As the boat nears the docks, a band begins to play. However, the bishop does not bother to get off the boat, but merely looks out and makes the sign of the cross toward the crowd before turning to go back up the way he came. Santiago feels cheated. He leaves the docks, recalling the wedding of the night before. It was the wildest party the town had ever seen, and the groom had obviously spent a fortune on it. Santiago plans to have an equally grand wedding when he marries Flora Miguel on Christmas of that year.
Many others at the docks, including the mayor, Don Lázaro Aponte, and the local priest, Father Carmen Amador, know that the two brothers are planning to kill Santiago, but nobody says anything. They either assume he has already been warned, or don’t believe that there is any real threat.
The only one who knows nothing about the plot is the narrator’s sister, Margot. At 6:25 AM, Margot invites Santiago to breakfast. She tries to persuade him to come immediately, but fatefully, Santiago wants to go home and change his clothes first. He goes off toward home, arm-in-arm with his best friend Cristo Bedoya.
Moments later, Margot hears the news that Angela Vicario, the beautiful girl who was married the night before, has been returned to her parents’ home because her husband discovered she was not a virgin. Now, Angela’s brothers, Pablo and Pedro, want to kill Santiago Nasar.
Margot goes home to tell her parents. Her mother, Luisa Santiaga, the godmother of Santiago, hurries off to warn Santiago’s mother of the plot, but as she is on her way, someone running past tells her that Santiago is already dead.
Analysis of Chapter 1
Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez is known for his dense, florid writing, filled with rich description and magical details. The opening line of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a good example of his signature baroque style: “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.” In this tantalizing sentence, the central fact that Santiago Nasar is going to be killed is nearly obscured with other details, so that the reader may have to read the line twice to capture its meaning.
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 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. However, amid the facts of this murder case are elements of the fantastic—prophetic dreams, bad omens, and eerie coincidences that cannot be explained.
As the title of the novel suggests, the killing is foretold many times before it happens. The narrator interviews various townspeople, including Santiago’s mother, his cook, his housemaid, a shopkeeper, the mayor, the priest, and Santiago’s best friend. The narrator’s own sister, mother, and father also offer their recollections of the fateful day. Everyone in town knows about the plot against Santiago’s life, but for one reason or another, nobody bothers to tell him. The death is also foreshadowed by a number of omens, including Santiago’s dream, his uncharacteristic horror at seeing a rabbit gutted, his hand that seems to Divina Flor “frozen and stony, like the hand of a dead man,” and his appearance that seems to Clotilde Armenta like that of a ghost. A series of cruel coincidences prevent Santiago from avoiding his fate: he decides to use the front door; he misses seeing the note on the floor; he goes home to change before breakfast.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold may be described as a detective story. In the first sentence, it is revealed that Santiago Nasar will be killed, but the reader must continue reading to find out who killed him and why. The tone of the story is journalistic, leading readers to believe that the important facts of the case will be revealed in a straightforward fashion. However, the so-called “chronicle” dwells on details such as whether or not it was raining on the day Santiago was killed, while neglecting to even name the killers or suggest a motive for the murder until near the end of the chapter.
Near the end of Chapter 1, the narrator reveals that Santiago was killed by Pablo and Pedro Vicario as revenge over the lost honor of their sister Angela Vicario. Was Santiago Angela’s lover? It seems possible, especially as Santiago is portrayed as a randy young man, threatening to deflower the virgin housemaid. However, as with a detective story, the reader must continue on to the following chapters in order to find out more.