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Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Context


Surrealist Fiction

Surrealism is a type of art intended to defy rationality. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, surrealism aims to "renounce logic and realism and overturn social and cultural conventions of the time." With verbal irony (in which what is meant is different from what is said), the novella is called a chronicle; it completely obfuscates the chronology during which key events occur. The accumulation of strange coincidences and the failure of memory also serve to make the central incident in the story seem uncanny or beyond what would normally be expected in the real world.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is surrealist fiction insofar as the overwhelming number of accidents, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, contradictions, and confused memories seem to completely undermine reason and human understanding regarding how events unfold in the real world. The mind cannot make sense of how or why all these interlocking mistakes and coincidences seem to conspire so that, together, they make the death of the central character seem inevitable, or foretold. As author Isabel Rodriguez-Vergara points out, "The fragmentation of the stories of the 'other' participants is immediately apparent," and the uncertainty and ambiguity of this fragmentation adds further to the surreal quality of the narrative. Vergara also notes that "we already know the events [of the story, so] we must conclude that what is in question is the whole structure of the novel, not the events" it describes. Critic Jeff Vandermeer suggests the weight of surrealist fiction comes from its power to propose uncanny everyday mysteries. He says, these narratives aren't "quite what we expected, and in that space we discover some of the most powerful evocations of what it means to be human or inhuman." The fragmentary, ambiguous, contradictory, and coincidentally fantastical structure of the novella places it firmly in the category of surrealist fiction.

Journalism and Fiction

Journalism is ostensibly the objective reporting of corroborated fact to reveal truth. Like the narrator in this novella, journalists investigate events by interviewing witnesses or those directly involved in the events. They may also investigate by finding documentary evidence and records from those who were there or who conducted previous investigations. This activity appears in the novella when the narrator searches for and finds the magistrate's documents concerning the crime. Still, as critic Bryson Hull explains, "The concept of perfect [journalistic] objectivity [is a] fiction." Part of the power of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is created by the tension of a journalist narrator trying to tease objective truth out of a multitude of witnesses, all of whose testimony about the crime creates only more exasperating confusion about what really happened. The journalist who seeks truth is, with situational irony (when what happens is the opposite of what is expected to happen), juxtaposed with the impossibility of ever finding it.

García Márquez worked as a journalist before the success of his novels allowed him to write fiction full time. He has said that Chronicle of a Death Foretold was "a perfect union between journalism and literature. [In it] journalism and literature [are] almost joined. I have never been able to completely separate them." Vergara writes, "We must conclude that in García Márquez, journalism and fiction are blurred: he fictionalizes 'reality' and at the same time ... denies the possibility of a single truth."

Avenging Dishonor, or Honor Killings

Today, and in many times and places in the past, honor killing generally entails the murder of a woman who has (or is thought to have) transgressed social sexual norms. The transgression does not require a physical sexual act. Depending on the culture, it may be something as simple as walking alone in the street, not covering a part of the body or face that the society demands be hidden, or just talking to or looking at a nonrelative male without the permission or oversight of a male relative. As writer Ryan Brown explains, honor killings occur in what are termed "honor cultures" in which "men are encouraged to seek reputations for being tough and intolerant of disrespect ... If someone insults your honor, you must respond—typically in an aggressive or even violent manner—or you risk incurring the stain of dishonor" for yourself and your family.

In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, dishonor is avenged not on the transgressive woman (Angela Vicario) but on the man whom she says brought dishonor on her (Santiago). This male-directed honor killing most likely arises from the medieval European chivalric custom of men dueling to defend their and their family's honor. In Latin America, honor killing is an outgrowth of the culture of machismo, the male code of honor. The violence associated with macho honor killing is most often only between men, as in this novella. It is interesting to note that although it is men who carry out vengeance for a female's lost honor, the girl or woman in question is not powerless. One author says, "Men are the only possible ... agents of honor ... But women do have [the] power [to] destroy the honor of the males [because it is they who can] bring dishonor on men. That is, men put their honor in the hands of 'their' women."

History of Machismo

As in most of Latin America, honor is of vital importance within Colombian culture, and it plays a major role in the novel's main event, the murder of Santiago. Most historians agree that the forerunner of machismo was the male-dominant culture of the Spanish during their colonization of Latin America during the 15th and 16th centuries. Male honor was of huge importance to the Spanish conquistadors and aristocrats who fought duels to preserve their honor. Professor Hartmut Heep defines machismo as "an elaborate system of masculine behaviors" developed after the triumph of the Spanish Catholic conquistadors, which left indigenous Latinos feeling inferior. After the conquest, "the identity of the indigenous male shifted effectively from biological maleness to socially defined [and heightened] masculinity."

Catholicism also defines the role of women in Colombia as portrayed in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, particularly in its traditional emphasis on a woman's submissive role and the virginity of a future bride. While the dominant males are culturally required to adopt machismo, women are limited to what Professor Heep terms Marianismo, which "exalts femininity and childbearing capacity ... as well as the qualities of obedience, submission, fidelity, meekness, and humility." Latino macho males are accepted as being highly and proudly sexual. Latinas are oppressed by the stifling requirements of Marianismo, which is hostile to any sexuality outside marriage (and often demands submission, rather than real sexuality, within it).

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