Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Study Guide

Gabriel García Márquez

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Themes


Fate, Chance, and Choice

The death of Santiago Nasar is "foretold," indicating that he was fated to be murdered. Truly, almost all the incidents in the book point toward this inescapable fate. For example, all the townspeople know of the impending murder, but until the very end no one does anything to prevent it.

Santiago's fate is sealed by chance occurrences that draw him inexorably toward his death. The warning note slipped under his mother's door is ignored, or noticed but then not read, or read but too late. Townspeople who might have warned Santiago to avoid the Vicario brothers are often distracted by something and then forget their intention to warn him. Chance, or accident, plays an important role in Santiago's awful fate.

Choice, too, is crucial in furthering Santiago's murder. Townspeople choose to ignore the rumors that he's to be murdered because they find the information unbelievable, so even if they have the chance to warn him, they choose not to. Others refuse to believe that Pedro Vicario and Pablo Vicario are capable of murder, and for that reason, they choose not to warn Santiago. Choices often involve actions that make Santiago's murder inevitable. Had the priest not chosen to rush off to see the bishop, he might not have forgotten to warn Santiago's mother. Had his fiancée not chosen to throw Santiago out of her house, he might have lived. Had his mother not chosen to bar the front door, Santiago might have found safety from his killers. Crucially, had Angela Vicario chosen not to name Santiago, he would not have been hunted down and killed.

All these mundane but ultimately lethal coincidences have consequences as if they conspire to see the murder of an innocent man accomplished. The author plays these various factors against each other—demonstrating their contradictions and consequences—throughout the novella.

Memory, Confusion, and Truth

Almost every witness the narrator interviews has confused memories about what happened on the day Santiago was murdered. The unreliability of memory is a key factor in the fatal climax of the novella. Fuzzy memories, perhaps muddled by everyday distractions or preoccupations, make it impossible for the narrator to put together a coherent story about what really happened on the day of the murder.

Not only are memories muddled, but they contradict themselves from one interview to the next. The same person may attest to one event in one interview but then report something altogether opposite at the next interview. Of course, each witness professes a different set of facts about what happened on that terrible day. The witnesses cannot even agree on what the weather was like on the day of the murder.

Clearly, it is impossible to arrive at any semblance of truth about an incident when memory is so unreliable. The confusion and contradictions related to the narrator by the many witnesses he interviews just make the fatal event more inexplicable. Through this haze of human confusion and capricious memory the truth can never be known.

Gender and Honor

The action in the story is propelled by the different cultural norms assigned to each gender. Men are free actors whose behavior is largely unregulated and unquestioned. Even when they openly commit murder, the crime is not deemed very serious if it is motivated by an acceptably male role. Men treat women badly, in some cases like objects with no agency. Divina Flor's mother accepted, or was resigned, to being forced into the role of mistress to her master (male employer). If he raped her, that was also an acceptable part of the macho culture. Even Santiago tells Divina Flor that she should be "tamed" by a man.

In this Latin culture women are seen as hothouse flowers to be protected from what is viewed as the inevitable predations of men. Angela's mother was rigid in bringing up her daughter, never letting her go out unescorted. Because women are defined as beings who have no agency, if they are compromised (lose their virginity), or even if there is an unsubstantiated rumor that they've been interfered with, it is a given that the male partner is to blame. The woman's close male relatives must punish the supposed deflowerer to reinstate the woman's and the family's honor.

In this novella the author both satirizes and denounces the macho Latin culture of honor killing. The satire arises from the confusion among the townspeople about what actually happened on that fateful day. Although many of the contradictory reports of events are somewhat amusing, there is a serious, underlying critique of the Latin American culture that can accept or take lightly the horrific murder of an innocent man. That at one point Angela Vicario admits to the narrator that she did not lose her virginity to Santiago only intensifies the narrator's exasperation and outrage. Angela knows that her brothers would kill the man she names, but she doesn't care.

Vengeance and Complicity

The Vicario brothers are intent on taking vengeance against the man named as a former lover of their sister, Angela. Their passionate hatred and the cultural norm that inflames their anger and impels them to murder drive the action in the novella. The author explores the cultural underpinnings of this macho impulse to avenge supposed dishonor with horrific bloodshed.

Perhaps more interesting is the author's exploration of the complicity of the townspeople. Everyone in town knows the murder is about to take place, yet through accident, choice, laziness, or rationalization no one tries to prevent the killing. As the narrator presents the various witness accounts, it becomes clear that each person's reason for doing nothing about a crime that they know is about to be committed makes them complicit in the murder. The author reveals the various ways that not only individuals and their actions (or inactions) but an entire community can be complicit in a murder. In a chilling scene in the novella, the entire population of the town gathers in the town square to watch the murder take place. They gather there because they know the murder is imminent, even though not one of them has done anything to stop it. That makes them, in a sense, co-conspirators to murder.

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