Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

The narrator explains that Santiago Nasar's murder becomes the obsession of the townspeople for years. They try to make sense of what happened, but it is all confusing and absurd. The narrator describes the seemingly incomprehensible actions and decisions of many townspeople who either were with or saw Santiago. For inexplicable reasons, each chose to do or not do something that made it inevitable that Pedro Vicario and Pablo Vicario would find and murder Santiago. Had each acted on what they knew or saw, perhaps Santiago's life might have been saved.

Twelve days after the murder, an investigating magistrate shows up in town. Everyone tries to give testimony before him. Each person has a story or is "eager to show off his own important role in the drama." Over two decades later the narrator finds some documents about the investigation. The narrator learns that the magistrate was overwhelmed by the volume of coincidences that seemed to conspire in Santiago's death. The magistrate was also struck by the total lack of evidence implicating Santiago in Angela Vicario's shame. According to the documents, when the magistrate questions Angela, all she'll say is, "He was my perpetrator," a fact she'll later deny. The trial lasts three trying and perplexing days, revealing to the magistrate and seemingly everyone else the "overwhelming proof of [Santiago's] innocence."

The narrator then goes on to describe the fatal misunderstandings, coincidences, and accidents that led to Santiago's murder. So many people could have done something to save him, but for some inexplicable reason none did—even though everyone in town knew Santiago was going to be killed. Some people tried to warn him but lost their nerve. Others began to think the threat was baseless. Divina Flor lies to Santiago's mother, telling her the absent Santiago is upstairs in his bed. When Plácida Linero sees the Vicario brothers running toward her house, she locks the door against them—unaware that by now Santiago is also racing for the safety of his home. His mother has locked him out, leaving him to his cruel fate. The twins cut him to ribbons against the bolted door of his house.

By 6 o'clock that morning everyone is aware that the Vicario twins are going to kill Santiago. The narrator's friend, Cristo Bedoya, gets a gun (unloaded) and races to find and save Santiago. He can't find him. No one in town seems to know where he is, yet they gather in the town square to witness the murder they know is about to happen. Meanwhile, Santiago stops at his fiancée's house, but she's furious with him because she thinks he'll be forced to marry Angela, thus leaving her in the lurch. She yells, "I hope they kill you!" and so Santiago leaves the safety of her home. Her father, Nahir Miguel, finally warns Santiago about what awaits him. Despite this, Santiago leaves, heads for home, and is hacked to pieces before his barred door. He somehow manages to stagger into the opened rear door of the house, saying, "They've killed me" as he collapses face down on the kitchen floor.

Analysis

Chance plays a crucial role in explaining events and bringing about the fulfillment of Santiago's fate. It's only by chance that years later the narrator finds fragments of court papers that shed a bit of light on the proceedings decades earlier. The papers he finds, however, mainly reveal the perplexity and frustration of the magistrate who was hearing the case. The papers make clear that the magistrate "never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences ... so that there should be the untrammeled fulfillment of a death so clearly foretold." When Cristo Bedoya checks to see if Santiago is in his bedroom, he finds that the door is locked from the inside because, by chance, Santiago had chosen to leave the house via his mother's bedroom. It is pure chance that as Cristo looks for Santiago he comes upon a sick man on the street and stops for seven minutes to help him. Perhaps he might have found and warned Santiago during those few minutes. Just before Santiago is killed, Yamil Shaium shouts to him to come into his store. Santiago looks around to see who's calling him, but Yamil has gone inside to get his gun and, by chance, he can't find bullets for it, so Santiago walks away. Crucially, Santiago's mother chances to find and read the warning note on her floor after her son is already dead.

Chance combines with unfortunate choices to seal Santiago's fate. Divina Flor chooses to lie twice—to Santiago's mother and to Cristo Bedoya—by telling them that Santiago is safe at home when she knows he is not. Celeste Dangond invites Santiago in for coffee, but Santiago chooses instead to hurry home to change his clothes. Yamil Shaium chooses to consult with Cristo Bedoya before warning Santiago of the danger he's in, yet he never gets the chance to speak with Bedoya. When Cristo fails to locate Santiago, he chooses to look for him at his house. Santiago is not there, but Cristo decides to take Santiago's gun, only to find out after the killing that it's not loaded. When the mayor learns that the Vicario brothers have gotten new butcher knives, he intends "to take care of it at once." Instead he chooses to go into a social club "to check on a date for dominoes." By the time he comes out, Santiago has been killed.

All these people who are involved in all the chance events—or who made ineffectual choices—are in some way complicit in the murder of Santiago. Perhaps they are not as guilty as those who knew and did absolutely nothing, but the curse of the townspeople is that they must "go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to [them] by fate." The narrator describes the many people who saw Santiago that morning. However, when Cristo, desperate to find his friend, asks about sightings, everyone denies having seen Santiago. When Cristo tells Victoria Guzmán that the Vicario twins are looking to kill Santiago, she brushes it off: "Those poor boys won't kill anybody," she says—and does nothing. The priest rationalizes his indifference, insisting that his only responsibility is to save souls, not lives. The fate of many complicit citizens is shaped by guilt. Some go insane while others die from the shock of what they've done, and the consequences for others push them into a harsh and tragic future. All are haunted by what happened and their role in it, especially those who strolled toward the plaza to watch the murder as if it were the day's entertainment or spectacle. Maybe they wanted to see what they had wrought or to watch the revelation of fate.

Birds continue to be ill omens. The cocks that crow at dawn reveal the confusion of the townspeople who are trying to make sense of what happened. Plácida Linero, Santiago's mother, berates herself for forgetting that birds are an ill omen while trees are a "magnificent augury." When Santiago finally realizes the Vicario brothers are out to kill him, he looks "like a little wet bird," which may represent his immersion in his awful fate or his role as a falcon's prey.

Clearly fate is working to ensure the murder of Santiago. So inescapable is this fate that everyone involved feels it was foretold. Even when Santiago hears hints of what might happen to him, he seems unconcerned: "his reaction was not one of panic ... but rather the bewilderment of innocence." Santiago knows he is innocent and can't imagine why the Vicario brothers want to kill him. Santiago's purity and assured innocence make him unable to understand what's really happening. His bewilderment makes him incapable of taking any action that would alter the fate that awaits him, but perhaps he was in the grip of a fate he could not oppose. The magistrate had noted in the margin of a document that "fatality makes us invisible." That may be the reason those who saw Santiago did not see him; those who tried to find him couldn't. He was visible only to fate's terrible glare, an ephemeral ghost to everyone else.

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