Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

When much later Pedro Vicario and Pablo Vicario stand trial for murder, the judge acquits them on the grounds that their action was a "legitimate defense of honor." They had surrendered with great dignity to the church "a few minutes after the crime" was committed. They had told Father Carmen Amador that they were innocent before God and men because it was a matter of honor. In jail awaiting trial, the brothers were well behaved but showed no remorse.

On the night before the murder the brothers look for Santiago Nasar after getting two slaughtering knives and sharpening them at the meat market. They tell the butchers there that they intend to kill Santiago. One butcher then informs a policeman, Leandro Pornoy, of the brothers' evil intent. When Pornoy later meets the Vicario brothers at the milk shop, they seem to tell him of their plan, but the policeman doesn't take them seriously. Neither, at first, does the mayor, Don Lázaro Aponte. Eventually he realizes this might be a grave situation, so he goes to see the Vicario brothers at the milk shop. Upon meeting them he thinks the brothers are "nothing but a pair of big bluffers," but he takes away their knives just in case. Then he forgets about the whole thing until he later sees Santiago on the dock waiting for the bishop.

The Vicario brothers describe their plan to at least a dozen people, and soon the whole town knows about it. Still, no one warns Santiago. Clotilde Armenta sends a beggar woman to the Santiago house to warn Santiago's mother about what is afoot. Meanwhile the Vicario brothers return home to get two new knives. They sharpen these knives, too. As time passes, however, Pedro Vicario decides he does not want to kill Santiago. When the mayor took their knives earlier, Pedro considered "his duty [of honor] fulfilled." The two brothers argue because Pablo is still determined to murder Santiago. Pablo prevails and practically drags Pedro away to look for their victim. They stop at Pablo's fiancée's house for coffee and then resume their hunt.

Earlier, around four o'clock in the morning, Santiago, the narrator, and their friends go up to the newlywed's house to serenade them under their window. The house seems deserted, but Bayardo's car is parked by the front door. They have no idea Bayardo has already returned his new bride to her parents. After the serenading, the friends go to eat, but Santiago says he will instead go home to rest. As he gets into bed, his mother gets the beggar woman's message. It's not mentioned if she warned her son.

Before the above incidents occur, the narrator's brother, Luis Enrique, stops at the milk shop. The Vicario brothers tell him of their murderous plan. Luis does not believe them even when they ask if he knows where Santiago is. As Luis leaves, Father Carmen Amador walks by. The priest had received Clotilde Armenta's earlier warning message but admits—years later—that he "didn't know what to do ... it wasn't any business of mine." After the murder he feels despair at his failure to take action. The bishop arrives at the town on a boat. At the narrator's house, his sister, a nun, announces, "They've killed Santiago Nasar!"

Analysis

The normalization of honor killing, even its elevation to a necessary and respectable action, is made clear in the fate of the Vicario brothers. Their lawyer lauds their honorable behavior in "defense of honor," and rather than being sentenced for first-degree murder they are jailed for a mere three years. That the twins immediately turn themselves in to the church after their "barbarous work of death" shows that they don't think of the killing as criminal or sinful. They expect, rightfully as it turns out, that the Church will not condemn them for this violation of the Fifth Commandment because it was incited by honor. Rather than being horrified or alarmed by their confessed crime, the priest "recalled the surrender as an act of great dignity." He seems almost to admire them for it.

There are other religious overtones to events, particularly when the Vicario twins go immediately to their pigsty to get "sacrificial tools" and butchers' knives, which they sharpen in readiness for the murder. Their actions link animal sacrifice to human sacrifice with definite undertones of the crucifixion and sacrifice of Christ. Like Jesus, Santiago is an innocent falsely accused and executed.

Vengeance and complicity are intertwined with confusion and ineptitude as the Vicario brothers ready themselves for murder. The twins wait for Santiago at the milk shop but watch for him at the wrong door of his house. At the meat market they announce with great bravado that they're sharpening their knives to kill Santiago. No one there "paid any attention to them" because the twins had such a good reputation and were clearly very drunk. Thus, the disbelieving butchers may also be complicit in the killing. Even so, they show more compassion than the Vicario twins. One butcher the narrator interviews claims he could not sacrifice a cow "if he'd known it before," and another says "a slaughterer [is not] predisposed to killing a human being." The Vicario brothers, however, have just this predisposition.

The twins make inept choices in their hunt for Santiago. Instead of pursuing their prey, the ostensibly vengeful twins waste time relaxing and drinking coffee at the home of Pablo's fiancée. Back at the milk shop, they drink yet another bottle of liquor, getting drunker, and they seem less resolute than before to kill Santiago. They stare at Santiago's bedroom window, not considering that he might not turn on a light before he goes to sleep.

Nearly all the townspeople become complicit in the murder. Here, again, numerous points of view and voices are intertwined to help explain why the killing was allowed to occur. As each townsperson learns of the Vicario twins' murderous plan, each finds some excuse to ignore it or forget to warn anyone about it. Most people fail to take the information seriously or to act on it. As residents pass on to others what they deem an absurd threat, pretty soon the whole town knows of the impending murder. No ordinary citizen, policeman, mayor, or priest takes the twins seriously or takes action to stop them. All are therefore complicit in the crime. It's almost comical when the mayor takes away the Vicario brothers' knives: clearly they can return to their abattoir and get others, which is exactly what they do. The mayor refuses to hold them "on suspicion," and he "congratulate[s] himself for having made the right decision" in disarming the twins when he sees Santiago on the dock awaiting the bishop. Only Clotilde Armenta tries to warn Santiago's household via a message given to a beggar woman, but it's difficult to believe anyone in that impressive house would open the door to, let alone listen to, such a poor messenger.

Confused memory propels the inevitable. Clotilde Armenta had told Father Amador what was about to happen, and she insists he remember to tell Santiago's mother, but the priest forgets the warning in his rush to see the bishop. He even passes the Santiago residence without warning Santiago's mother. Clearly the priest bears some guilt for the murder. Luis Enrique, too, blames his drunkenness for failing to remember the Vicario brothers' boast to him about the murder they're about to commit. Had he not, perhaps by chance, fallen into a drunken stupor at home, he might have recalled what he'd heard and sounded a warning. As it is, Santiago is dead by the time Luis wakes up.

A fatal choice further condemns Santiago, although the opposite choice might have saved him. Pedro Vicario considers the family honor restored when the mayor takes away their first set of knives. Having his knife confiscated sufficed to fulfill Pedro's need for vengeance, but Pablo is not satisfied and insists they carry out the murder. If Pedro had chosen adamantly to refuse to go with Pablo, perhaps Santiago might have lived. That he succumbs to Pablo's plan—to Pablo's physical force—means Santiago will die.

It is Santiago's choice that he, the narrator, and Luis Enrique go to serenade the newlyweds at the former Xius residence. This choice not only keeps him away from the Vicario brothers, and may have prevented his learning about the danger he was in, but it also displays his good-natured innocence. His carefree spirit reveals his clear conscience, attesting to the fact that he had no idea he was the Vicario twins' target and further supporting the fact that it was not he who had violated their sister. Later, his choice to enter his house from the back door makes a mockery of the Vicario brothers' surveillance of his front door.

Flowers represent death and human indifference to it. One butcher tells the narrator that the Vicario brothers name their hogs after flowers so they can slaughter them with a clearer conscience.

The saying about the falcon most likely references the future life of Angela Vicario. "A falcon who chases a warlike crane can only hope for a life of pain" may refer to her future loneliness after she lies about Santiago. She plucks him from among the many men's names she knows, but the trauma of his fate turns out to be devastating for her.

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