Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Márquez is a reconstruction of the events that surrounds the murder of Santiago Nasar as told by an unidentified narrator. The perpetrators of the cruel murder, Pedro and Pablo Vicario, are twin brothers who are retaliating in response to the defilement of their sister, Angela Vicario, and taking her virginity. Whether Santiago violated Angela is not clear from the plot development. This moving non-linear narration gives much information concerning the social aspects of the small Colombian village in which the novel is set. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, like in any other literary work, uses a set of characters to develop its central ideas. The failure on the part of the villagers to respond appropriately led to the murder of Santiago Nasar. Moreover, the pervasiveness of male chauvinism in many societies endangers women.

A major recurring theme in the novel is collective responsibility, also known as the bystander effect.  According to this concept, people can be held responsible for a criminal act even if they do not actively participate. It holds that a group of individuals can be guilty of an offense if the members ignored or tolerated it. Accordingly, it places liability and moral responsibility on the shared action of the group (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Márquez places the burden of Santiago’s murder on almost all the characters. By emphasizing on the failures of the characters to prevent the killing, he suggests that the entire village should be held accountable. Márquez employs the use of premonition to highlight the various ways through which the characters contribute to the murder.

Premonition is a literary style that writers use to develop the plot of their stories. It involves a perception of a future event and providing early warning to characters in the story about foreboding or undesirable experiences. The society in which Chronicle of a Death Foretold is set believes in the power of foretelling and the use of some environmental symbols to predict future occurrences. Accordingly, several instances of premonition appear in the book. For instance, before the fateful day of Santiago’s murder, unusual events occur around his life that gives some indications of bad things to come. For example, he experiences poor night sleeps, “without getting undressed, and he wakes up “with a headache” (p.4). Additionally, “he was always dreaming about trees” (p.2). When people approach their death, some experiences in their last few days or hours of life may be suggestive. For Santiago, it was the case of a series of coincidences that involved himself and his mother. For example, many who saw him say he was in unusually “good mood” (p.3). The narrator associates the dreams and the “good mood” with evil.

Márquez uses such scenes to show negligence on the part of Santiago and his mother. According to the narrator, these happenings are premonitions to his death and merit his attention. However, Santiago fails to pay proper attention to them. Nevertheless, he narrates the dreams to Linero.  Despite her “well-earned reputation” for precise interpretation of dreams, she either ignores or never thinks that they could be premonitions to the coming death (p.2). Márquez suggests that Santiago’s negligence and her mother’s failure to heed the signs were partly responsible for the killing. They saw signs that suggested something unusual. However, due to ignorance or other factors, they did not act. Hence, both Santiago and Placida could be deemed accountable for the murder.

In addition to individual traits, events in the sky or the atmosphere have also been used to foretell sad events.  In the case of Santiago, most villagers acknowledge that the weather carried a message of the funeral. The clouds are low, and the sky had a thick smell. Besides, there is some light drizzling. Santiago’s attire for that day is also unusual. He wears white linen, “his attire for special occasions” (p.4). All these events occurred either a few days before or on the day of the murder. Márquez uses the villagers to emphasize the need to take such signs seriously. They never heeded the signs and should be held liable for the murder.

There are further indications of collective responsibility in the novel. The twin Vicario brothers (the murderers) walk to the market carrying knives and announce their intention execute the murder. On more than one occasion, they tell their plans to different villagers. “We’re going to kill Santiago Nasar,” they say (p.51). However, few believe their threats. Those who take their threats seriously do little to inform Santiago. For instance, Clotilde Armenta, the village prophetess senses some strange behavior in the eventual perpetrators. Although she stops the twins’ first attempt, shed does so “for the love of God,” and “out of respect for his grace the bishop,” not to save Santiago. In fact, she suggests that they spare “him for later” opportunities (p.15). There exists no indication that she takes further positive actions to prevent the murder. One villager who seems to take some measures is the narrator’s mother. However, her efforts are too late to prevent the killing. By the time she sets off to warn Santiago, “they’ve already killed him” (p.22). Moreover, she has conflicting interests. She likes Santiago and the news of his imminent death disturbs her. However, she is “a blood relative” to Angela, “the returned bride” (p.21). These are just some of the few instances in which the villagers failed to act appropriately. Most of them were aware of t the intended murder. Their failure to respond was an act of indifference that Márquez insinuates should make them accountable.

Márquez identifies some of the factors that may have contributed to the villager’s show of apathy. First, the Vicario brothers have a “well-founded” status of being “good people” and have no inclination to kill. Consequently, many take their words as empty threats. Others consider them to be acting under the influence of alcohol, dismissing their warning as “drunkards’ baloney” (p.51). One person who is disturbed by the conduct of the two brothers is Faustino Santo, a butcher and a friend to Santiago. Santo promptly informs a police officer, Leandro Pornoy. Santo’s conduct is exemplary. He is among the few characters in the novel who does what is expected of a responsible citizen. Reporting of any suspicious behavior should be the responsibility of every person and is beneficial for the well-being of a community. Nevertheless, Santo’s urgency is not enough to save the situation due to the laxity of other individuals like Colonel Aponte.

On receiving the report from Santo, Leandro shares it with Colonel Aponte. The colonel’s way of handling the situation leaves some doubt on the efficiency of the town’s legal system. The colonel goes to the milk shop where the two brothers are telling Armenta about their plot to murder Santiago, only after he leisurely eats his breakfast. He has handled several similar situations and he “is in no hurry for another one (p.54).” On arriving at the milk shop, he takes the knives and sends the brothers to go and sleep. According to the colonel, the two brothers were just “a pair of big bluffers” (p.55). It is likely that Márquez uses this scene to depict that police negligence contributed to the murder. Had the colonel treated the matter with the urgency it deserved, he could have prevented the killing. However, he did not and therefore, he is liable for Santiago’s death. This scene depicts one of the most irresponsible traits in the story.

The colonel is accountable for Santiago’s murder for at least two reasons. First, he did not act immediately. As a police officer, he has an obligation to protect the public and should always put the safety of others above his own personal interest. Second, any threat of murder should not be taken lightly. According to Márquez, the colonel should have had the two brothers apprehended for questioning. It was also his duty to look for Santiago to ensure his safety. There is no indication in the story that Aponte performed any of these necessary obligations. Therefore, owing to such laxity, he is answerable to the crime. Márquez uses characters such as Placida, Armenta, Pornoy and the colonel to show that individual safety should be a collective responsibility. The characters represent various facets of society, such as the family (Placida) and the law (Pornoy and the colonel). Each of them has a duty to ensure the safety of others. If any of them fails to perform their responsibilities efficiently, the society suffers.

Collective responsibility is a concept that has been the subject of many scientific studies. Some critics argue against holding a group responsible for the indirect participation in a crime. They argue that failure on the part of the characters in question may not be an indication of their indifference to the crime (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). For example, a reader can easily conclude that the villagers in the novel showed a lack of responsibility during the events that preceded the slaying of Santiago. However, contrary to this view, several group dynamics may determine the way a group responds to a particular situation. Furthermore, the lack of immediate response could be due to the bystander effect, not apathy (Lemann 5). Nevertheless, no amount of justification can relieve the villagers of the accountability that they hold regarding the murder of Santiago. Whether they realize it or not, their conduct during the events leading up to the murder makes them liable.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold also highlights some aspects gender-based justices that are prevalent in many societies. The plot of Márquez’s story develops around sexual morality. Using different characters, Márquez highlights the high value that the villagers place on chastity. Some of the characters that bring out this theme are Angela Vicario’s family and Bayardo San Roman. Angela’s family highlights a gender issue in the story. Angela’s nuclear family consists of her parents, three daughters and two sons. The narrator mentions that while the boys were raised to be men, the girls were “reared to get married.” The girls training revolves around chores such as “embroidery, sew by machine, weave bone lace, wash and iron, make artificial flowers and fancy candy, and write engagement announcements” (p.30). Angela’s mother, Pure Carmen, believes that her daughters have gone through proper training for their future roles as wives. According to Pure, such preparation is necessary because women are “raised to suffer” (p.31).  Through Carmen, Márquez highlights the predicaments that women must go through in the hands of men. Márquez suggests that treating boys with more respect than girls is an act of chauvinism that exposes the latter to various forms of social injustices.

The events surrounding Angela’s marriage also depict the gender gap existing between males and females in the village in the novel. According to the village’s customs, girls are expected to be virgins when they marry. Márquez describes a standard traditional test for ascertaining virginity. During the first intercourse after marriage, a woman is supposed to display her bedding in front of her husband and others, so the observers can look for blood spots, “what they see on the sheet” (p.37). In the absence of such blood spots, it is automatically deemed that she is dishonorable and not a virgin. In such situations, her husband may decide to keep her or dismiss her on the grounds of infidelity. However, there exists no such test for men. It does not matter whether a man is a virgin or not. Such principles present men with favorable opportunities to express superiority over women. That is exactly what happens in the case of Angela and her husband, Bayardo San Roman. When Bayardo becomes aware that his wife “wasn’t a virgin” by the time of their wedding, he drags her to her mother’s doorstep and abandons her (p.21). The gap gives males an unfair advantage. Men can choose to do with their wives whatever they wish, including unnecessary divorce. Márquez uses Bayardo to represent agents of male chauvinism. Angela’s plight depicts the danger that male supremacy presents to women.

In summary, in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Márquez, recounts the events that surrounded the death of Santiago Nasar. Márquez uses many characters to develop the book’s themes. Most of the villagers in the novel contribute to Santiago’s death in some ways. For instance, they fail to heed to the signs in the sky and other instances of premonition. Besides, many who are aware of the intended murder fail to act responsibly. The novel also highlights some gender gaps existing in many societies. Males in the novel have many social advantages over females. For instance, while girls are expected to go through virginity tests, such standards do not exist for boys.


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