Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Chapter 4
In the moments after he is stabbed, as Santiago lies in his death throes on the kitchen floor, the family dogs try to get into the kitchen to eat the man’s guts. In her frustration, Plácida Linero has the dogs shot.
In the absence of the town physician, the priest is placed in charge of performing an autopsy on Santiago’s body, damaging the already mutilated body even more. The autopsy must be done immediately, as there is no way to preserve the body in the intense tropical heat. The autopsy is described as a “massacre.” The priest, who studied medicine and surgery before entering seminary, is not qualified to perform the operation, and the tools are not adequate. However, the priest’s report is accepted as evidence. He reports that seven of Santiago’s many stab wounds were fatal. A deep stab in his right hand looked “like a stigma of the crucified Christ.” When the body is sewn up again, it looks completely unrecognizable.
The narrator goes to visit María Alejandrina Cervantes and finds her eating ravenously as a way to deal with her grief. The narrator goes to visit María Alejandrina Cervantes and finds her eating ravenously as a way to deal with her grief. He falls asleep and has a strange dream about a child chewing corn "like a nutty nuthatch, kind of sloppy, kind of slurpy," and wakes up to find Maria undoing the buttons of his shirt. However, she stops suddenly, saying that she can't make love to him because he smells like Santiago. In fact, everything in the town smells of Santiago. Pedro and Pablo, trapped in their jail cell, are driven mad by the smell, which they cannot remove from their bodies no matter how much they scrub with soap and rags. Pablo is tormented by diarrhea, and the brothers fear he has been poisoned by someone from the Arab immigrant community. The Arabs have been peaceful, but it is suspected they will try to avenge the death of one of their own. The mayor visits the Arab families and finds them perplexed and in mourning. One of them provides the remedy that cures Pablo’s diarrhea. When Pablo is cured, Pedro gets it, until both have purged out their guilt and are able to sleep for the first time without remorse.
The Vicario family leaves town, and the father, Poncio, dies of what Angela calls “moral pain.” Pablo marries Prudencia and Pedro reenlists in the army and is killed while patrolling guerrilla territory. Bayardo San Román is found in his bed, having drunk himself half to death, but survives and is taken away to recover by his mother and sisters. The narrator does not hear from him again for many years. The farmhouse left abandoned, its contents gradually disappear. The widower Xius is happy, believing they are being carried off by his dead wife.
As for his cousin Angela Vicario, the narrator discovers her twenty-three years after the drama, living in a house by the sea, absorbed in her embroidery machine. He finds her mature, witty, and very open about her misfortune, except for one detail: she refuses to tell who really was responsible for taking her virginity. Nobody believes it is really Santiago Nasar, as nobody ever saw them together and Santiago was too haughty to have noticed her. Santiago had no serious relationship other than the conventional one with his fiancée Flora Miguel and his tumultuous fourteen-month affair with the prostitute María Alejandrina Cervantes. Perhaps Angela lied to protect the man she really loved, believing that her brothers would not dare go up against Santiago Nasar.
Angela tells of the disaster of her wedding night. Her friends had advised her to get her husband drunk, douche with alum water, and use Mercurochrome to stain the sheet, thus tricking her husband into believing she was a virgin. However, Bayardo never got drunk, and she did not want to use any dirty tricks. After the wedding night, she cried and cried for Bayardo, and eventually began writing him letters once a week for seventeen years. Finally, Bayardo returned, carrying a suitcase filled with almost two thousand letters she had written him. They were all unopened.
Analysis of Chapter 4
The beginning of Chapter 4 is devoted to describing what happens to Santiago’s body. It is ironic that in the autopsy, much more care is taken with determining the actual physical cause of Santiago’s death than was ever taken to investigate why his killers thought that he deserved to be killed.
Santiago’s body is likened to that of a butchered animal. The dogs want to eat his guts, which is natural as they cannot tell the difference between the guts of a rabbit and those of their master. Ironically, although the body is saved from being eaten by dogs, it meets an even worse fate at the hands of people, as the autopsy is a “massacre,” and the guts the dogs wanted to eat end up tossed into a garbage pail. The presentation of Santiago as a butchered or sacrificial animal, as well as the comparison of Santiago’s hand wound to a stigma of Christ, underlines the symbolism of Santiago as having been sacrificed for the sins of the community.
The smell of Santiago is another symbol in Chapter 4. Here, smell signifies guilt and remorse. The twins are unable to rid themselves of their guilt over the murder until they have purged their bodies through diarrhea. The fact that the smell pervades the entire town the day of the murder suggests, again, that all are guilty in part for the killing, since nobody acted to stop it.
Many details of magical realism are found in Chapter 4, such as the smell of Santiago in the jail cell, the idea that the possessions of Xius’s house are perhaps being carried off by his wife’s ghost, and the fact that Bayardo San Román never opened any of the nearly two thousand letters from Angela. The narrator's strange dream about a child chewing corn—which has no apparent symbolic meaning—contributes to the atmosphere of magical realism, a world in which dreams and reality are blurred.
The fact that Bayardo never opens any of the letters sent to him by Angela is indicative of the symbolic or ritualistic nature of romantic love in their society. The actual contents of her letters is not important—just the fact that she sends them and he receives them is all that matters. They seem to relate to each other according to conventional rules of courtship; that is, first through gifts from Bayardo to Angela, and now through love letters from Angela to Bayardo.
Although the narrator’s conversation with Angela clears up some questions about the story (such as what exactly happened on her wedding night), the central mystery of this novel is never solved, as Angela never reveals the true identity of her lover.