Chronicle of a Death Foretold

(Original Spanish Title: Crónica de una muerte anunciada)

by Marie-Christine Gingras

            Everybody knew that the Vicario twins wanted to kill Santiago Nasar. Pablo and Pedro Vicario had been walking around with their butcher knives, telling everybody about their intentions: the bartender, the priest, the mayor… Nevertheless, no one was able to prevent the two brothers from stabbing Santiago Nasar to death. The entire village just stood there and watched him being literally crucified on the door of his own house. In other words, “[t]here had never been a death more foretold” (García Márquez 201).

            This unlikely crime is at the heart of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The novella was written in 1981, a year before the Colombian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (Piepke, Biography sect.). Chronicle of a Death Foretold is an attempt by an unnamed narrator to reconstruct the series of events and coincidences that ultimately led to the death of one of his closest friends. By interviewing various witnesses and looking through the court reports 27 years after the events took place, the narrator is able to provide the reader with a detailed account of the murder that was labelled “homicide in legitimate defense of honor” (García Márquez 200).

            Since it starts by introducing Santiago Nasar, a rich young man of Arabic descent, “[o]n the day [the Vicario brothers] were going to kill him”, the story does not offer any breathtaking surprise to the reader (García Márquez 169). Regardless of the reader’s knowing the ending, however, the narrative remains captivating. Why? It is written in an objective, almost journalistic style which on the one hand provides the readers with a large amount of information, but on the other hand forces them to draw their own conclusions about some important questions. For example, the narrator does not succeed in proving whether or not Nasar really seduced Angela Vicario into giving up her virginity, thus committing the so-called crime against honour that would eventually lead to his assassination. But as Dhahir puts it, the answer to this question is not that important, in that it “will not diminish the sense of futility and waste attending Santiago’s death” (Content Synopsis sect.). It will never serve as a convincing justification for the murder.

            One of García Márquez’s main strengths as a writer is exemplified in Chronicle of a Death Foretold: his ability to portray community life. In the novella, the interaction betweenthe various characters is much more central to the plot than any individual character. Bensen goes even further:

It is as though the village itself were the main character of the novel, speaking with many voices; in this reading, the murder itself becomes a ritualistic, communal suicide in which the forty-two characters who are named in the novel (and many more of their brothers and sisters and cousins) are helpless participants. (The Characters sect.)

The characters’ personality and reactions are all very realistic, thus making the reader wonder how he or she would have reacted in a similar situation – and realize that his or her reaction would have probably been very similar to one of the characters’ reaction.

            The novella is also very rich on the stylistic level. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, García Márquez once again uses magic realism, a style that he helped initiate and that has been described as a “tendency to weave into the realistic events of [the] narrative some fantastic or magical occurrences….” (Dhahir, Scientific & Technological Context sect.) For example, Santiago Nasar stays alive for a very long time after being stabbed several times, and he performs a long series of actions. “He stood up, leaning on one side, and started to walk in a state of hallucination, holding his hanging intestines in his hands” before entering his house through the back door and finally dying (García Márquez 249). This event clearly belongs in the world of fantasy rather than in the world as we know it. Aside from supernatural events, magic realism can also be seen in the vagueness of the story’s context. The absence of any clear reference to time or geographical location allows the reader to set the story in a sort of fairytale world, which gives the narrative a more universal reach.

            To conclude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is definitely worth reading. The originality of the story, the detailed and realistic portrayal of community life that it offers, and the richness and universality of García Márquez’s style are some of the many reasons why the novella has now become a classic. Those who are familiar with One Hundred Years of Solitude and other works by the famous Colombian author should like the Chronicle even more because it is filled with biographical details and based on a true story that García Márquez witnessed:

This novella is based on the actual murder in Sucre, a small Colombian town, of one of Márquez’s best friends, the 22-year-old Cayetano Gentile Chimento. As in the “Chronicle,” Gentile was killed by the two brothers of a young woman, Margarita Chica Salas, who was returned to her family by her husband shortly after the wedding on account of her lack of virginity. (Dhahir, Biographical Context sect.)

If we substitute Márquez for the narrator, Cayetano for Santiago, and Margarita for Angela, we have the basis for the plot of the novella. Are the circumstances surrounding the death of Santiago Nasar so unlikely, then?

 

WORKS CITED

Bensen, Robert. "Chronicle of a Death Foretold." Masterplots II: American Fiction Series,

Revised Edition. 2000. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. U de Sherbrooke Library.

13 Nov. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com/ >.

Dhahir, Sanna. “Literary Contexts in Novels: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's ‘Chronicle of a Death

            Foretold’.” 2007. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. U de Sherbrooke Library. 13

            Nov. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com/>.

García Márquez, Gabriel. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. Collected

            Novellas. New York: Harper, 1990. 167-249.

Piepke, Susan L. “Gabriel García Márquez.” Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised

            Edition. 2001. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. U de Sherbrooke Library. 13

            Nov. 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com/>.

 

Complementary Material to be Used on the Website

Picture of Gabriel García Márquez:                      Front cover of Chronicle of a Death Foretold:

                 

Buy the book at Amazon (link)

Buy the book at Chapters (link)