Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

The murder of Santiago Nasar is barbaric, and the body lies exposed in the Nasar living room because no freezer in town is big enough to hold it. The body is rotting in the intense heat. The mayor Don Lázaro Aponte demands that Father Carmen Amador conduct an immediate autopsy even though the priest had entered the seminary before graduating from medical school. Amador obeys, using a couple of scalpels and some hardware tools to examine the body. He finds that Santiago has seven fatal wounds, with many other horrific stab wounds that sliced through his body. Santiago's body is so hacked to pieces that he must be buried quickly.

The narrator, María Alejandrina Cervantes, and others are plagued by the body's terrible smell, even when they're not near it. The stench seems to permeate the whole town. The odor keeps the jailed Vicario twins awake and ill at ease. The murderers worry about being victims of a revenge killing by Santiago's family or others in the Arab community. Pablo Vicario cannot sleep, and he becomes ill, perhaps from some food he's eaten. The twins are transferred to a jail in a larger city, Riohacha. Meanwhile, the Arab community, "comprised ... of peaceful immigrants," is not intent on revenge for Santiago's death. Even Santiago's mother does not seek vengeance. She and the other Arab families feel sadness rather than anger.

Pura Vicario packs up her possessions and leaves with her family for Manaure, a town she feels is safer from potential Arab revenge. When Pablo Vicario gets out of jail, he lives near his mother and marries his former sweetheart, Prudencia Cotes. Pedro Vicario, "without love or a job," joins the military, where he goes out on a mission into guerilla territory and is never heard from again.

Most of the people in town feel that the real victim in this tragedy is Bayardo San Román because he has lost everything. "Poor Bayardo," as they call him, retreats to the house he bought for his wife where he drinks himself into a perpetual stupor. The quantities of liquor he consumes almost kill him; he's carried out of the house in a hammock and brought back to town. It's as if he's dead in life. The narrator and his brother visit the now empty house and find Angela Vicario's valise, which contains "old wives' artifices [for deceiving] her husband." The narrator later learns that Angela never used these tricks on Bayardo, with whom she wanted to be honest. She later tells the narrator why she refused to deceive Bayardo: "The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was all something dirty that shouldn't be done to anybody"—especially not to her husband.

Years later the narrator tries to interview Bayardo, but the man is aggressively uncommunicative. The narrator has better luck when he finds and interviews Angela Vicario. She lives in a barren "death village" where she makes a poor living doing embroidery. She is "mature and witty" in her answers to the narrator's questions. She speaks freely but absolutely refuses to name the man with whom she'd had sex prior to her marriage to Bayardo. She describes how her mother's beating when she was returned home caused her to obsess over Bayardo. "I went crazy over him," she says. She begins to write weekly love letters to Bayardo and keeps up her letter writing for years. Bayardo never replies, yet Angela is content just knowing he receives them. Then one day 17 years after their wedding, Bayardo comes to see her at her home while she's embroidering with some other women. He says only, "Well, here I am." His valise contains nearly 2,000 of Angela's letters—unopened.

Analysis

Extreme violence is depicted throughout this section. Graphic descriptions of Santiago's dead body and his autopsy reveal in hideous detail how violently and horribly he died. The violence inflicted on him by the Vicario brothers is almost unimaginable as his body has been hacked nearly to pieces. The autopsy itself, conducted ineptly by an untrained priest, further mutilates and inflicts even greater violence on Santiago's body. The autopsy described is surreal in the incompetent bungling of the priest and the violent havoc inflicted on the corpse. After the autopsy, Santiago's body is transformed, "completely different," and his once kind face takes on a hostile appearance, as if perhaps in death he's enraged by the "ferocity of [his] fate." Violence is even visited on the dogs that are killed to silence their howls at the scent of Santiago's blood.

Santiago's murder is likened to Christ's death when the autopsy reveals a stab wound on the palm of the hand that "looked like a stigma of the crucified Christ." Santiago is therefore compared to Jesus, and this endows Santiago with an otherworldly innocence, even sainthood. Like Jesus, Santiago is an innocent who is accused and sacrificed by the indifference of both ordinary citizens and religious leaders.

The Vicario brothers and their family fear retributive vengeance from the Arab community in town, which is why the twins are transferred to a distant jail and the Vicario family relocates to a distant town. There is more than a little racial bigotry underlying this fear of vengeance. Pedro Vicario tells the narrator that he's plagued by the idea of "some trick of the Turks." (Turks are not Arabs.) The Arabs of the town, however, don't seek revenge; they feel "perplexed and sad" by what has happened to Santiago. The Arabs' attitude stems largely from their understanding of communal complicity, because they recognize that all the townspeople could be to blame for the murder.

The Vicario twins refuse to make confession to the priest because "they had nothing to repent" for a murder that avenged dishonor. That the brothers demand to be marched out of jail in broad daylight instead of secretly at night shows that not only do they lack remorse for their butchery but are actually proud of it. In this culture, honor killing enhanced "their status as men."

The people of the town view the Vicario brothers as having been true to their fate and carrying it out with dignity. Thus, the only person whose fate is deemed tragic is that of Bayardo, "who had lost everything." After Bayardo recovers from the alcoholism that nearly kills him, he disappears. It seems his conjugal trauma leaves him bitter, aggressive, and resolutely uncommunicative. Bayardo's fate seems to be to suffer lifelong psychic torture brought on by the incident on his wedding night.

When the narrator finally gets to speak with Angela Vicario, she likens Santiago to a bird, describing him as a "sparrow hawk," or American kestrel. The kestrel is the smallest American raptor and, unlike the large and magnificent falcons that snare airborne prey, it seeks its food while perched on a branch and then swoops down to gobble a lowly grasshopper or small mammal. It's likely Angela is belittling Santiago by using this comparison.

In his interview with her, the narrator learns of several choices Angela has made that changed the course of her life and the lives of others. Angela says she "had chosen Santiago Nasar's name because she thought her brothers would never dare go up against him." Her choice has deadly consequences. Unlike Bayardo, Angela chooses to speak freely about "the disaster of her wedding night," although she adamantly refuses to admit that it was not Santiago who had relations with her. Under no circumstances will she divulge who did. She chooses to maintain and defend her deceit in these crucial matters.

It is Angela's fate to fall fiercely in love with Bayardo after her mother's beating; she is now living in spinster-like solitude. She succumbs to her fate totally in her obsessive letter writing to Bayardo, a practice that seems to keep her hope alive for her. Although her unrequited love may seem like a cruel fate, Angela experiences it as a birth into a fully realized person. She openly and freely affirms this fate, which is to love and be with Bayardo. In embracing her obsessive love, Angela becomes "mistress of her fate for the first time" in her life. Her fated love transforms her from a powerless young woman into a "lucid, overbearing, mistress of her own free will ... she recognized no ... other service than that of her obsession." Her choice to embrace her fated love bears fruit when Bayardo returns to her. Angela's realization of her personhood and power explodes the rather pathetic misogyny that propels the novella's tragedy.

Superstition and the supernatural are revealed in the strange potion Susan Abdala prepares to cure Pedro Vicario's indigestion and in the vision of the "phosphorescent bird" seen flying over Xius's old house, which reminds people that Bayardo might still be living there. The sighting of the strange bird saves Bayardo's life. As objects keep disappearing from the house after Bayardo departs, Xius thinks it's the spirit of his dead wife who's taking them. The mayor organizes a séance in which a spiritualist makes contact with Xius's dead wife and confirms that it is she who is "recovering the knick-knacks of her happiness for her house of death."

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