Chronicle of a Death Retold Again and Again

Explain why Gabriel García Márquez may have chosen to depict events in a particular sequence or order in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

    Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the Nobel Prize-winning novel written by Gabriel García Márquez, is anything but an ordinary book.  Its length, characters, and plot are all unique, but what makes it stand out even more is its chronology.  The book describes the events surrounding the murder of a man named Santiago Nasar.  The crime, committed by brothers Pablo and Pedro Vicario, is the focal point of the entire book’s timeline (1), but the sequence that García Márquez presents is not chronological; instead, events happen in a roundabout order.  Each chapter begins and ends at different points, and the only thing that all of the plot points have in common is their relation to the murder.  García Márquez uses the unorthodox timeline to draw attention to his characters’ failures and the irony of his book’s title.

Summary:

García Márquez begins by describing Santiago Nasar’s last morning; he wakes up early in order to see a bishop arrive in town.  After the ceremony, he heads toward home with his friends Cristo Bedoya and the narrator.  None of them know what most others in town already do–that the Vicario twins are waiting to murder Santiago–which they do at the end of the chapter (2).

The second chapter begins with the arrival of a man named Bayardo San Román to a small Colombian town, where he hopes to find a wife.  He finds the widow Angela Vicario exceptionally attractive, and soon the engagement is set in motion despite Angela’s reserves.  The night of the wedding involves the biggest party the town has ever seen.  Bayardo and Angela leave for their home after a night of revelry–but only hours later, Bayardo discovers his wife is not a virgin.  Shocked and affronted, he returns Angela to her home, where she tells her brothers who was responsible for staining her honor–Santiago Nasar (3).

The next chapter describes the investigation performed following the murder, then goes into the details of the Vicarios’ plot: how they woke up, sharpened their knives, and lay in wait for Santiago, all the while bragging of their plot to anyone who would listen (4).

The fourth chapter follows the Vicarios’ experiences after the murder.  The brothers stay in prison for a few years before being released, and carry on with their lives.  Angela, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with the husband she lost, and writes thousands of letters to Bayardo.  At the end of the chapter he returns to live with her again (5).

The last chapter describes Santiago’s murder once more, but this time from the point of view of Cristo Bedoya and others.  It shows the event all over again, giving the reader new details as to Santiago’s final moments–how he was warned too late, tried to run to his house, and was stabbed on his doorstep (6).

A series of stills from the Chronicle of a Death Foretold movie, illustrating the townspeoples’ failure to warn Santiago and the ensuing murder (7).

Analysis:

This non-chronological sequence enhances the feeling and presence of magical realism in the text.  Magical realism–defined by the presence of strange or outlandish phenomenon, time shifts, and polar opposites–is García Márquez’s genre of choice for his novel.  The seemingly inexplicable way in which Santiago’s murder occurs unhindered is accentuated by the magical realism.  The more that the coincidences allowing his murder pile up, the more the reader begins to wonder if his death really was “foretold”–in other words, destined.

The effect of presenting events in this order is that the idea of Santiago’s murder being an unstoppable event is felt throughout the entire text.  Not only does the reader know it is going to occur (since the narrator begins by referencing it as having already occurred); during the entire plot his death seems strangely inevitable.  Hence, the idea of Santiago’s death being “foretold” is twofold:

  1. One side is quite literal–his fate, after all, is literally told to the reader when García Márquez says, “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty . . .” (8).
  2. The other side relates, more abstractly, to the way in which García Márquez writes the rest of the book–circling from morning to night and from character to character, all the while describing the exact set of circumstances that allow Santiago to be killed.  When referencing the fact that Santiago left through his front door–something he rarely did, and something that allowed the Vicarios to see him–García Márquez writes, “No one could understand such fatal coincidences” (9).  The sense of inevitability the reader receives throughout the novel is incredible.

The front door of Santiago’s house represents all of the circumstances that aligned on the day of his murder (10).

Although . . . how inevitable was Santiago’s death, really? García Márquez allows his readers to decide that for themselves.  His novel’s sequence contributes to its message–that honor killing was, and is, viewed as both necessary and unstoppable in certain cultures.  The way in which García Márquez draws attention to the “foretold” nature of the murder directs questions toward the townspeoples’ failures.  At one point, Colonel Aponte, the mayor of the town, tells Cristo Bedoya he plans to stop the murder–but only moments later puts off acting in favor of checking on a social date (11).  Contrary to what the title of the novel might indicate, Santiago’s death was not foretold at all–at least, not until the townspeople decided to stand back and allow “honor” to be “regained” through brutal murder.  At this point, Santiago’s murder might as well have been destined to happen, since no one was willing to put a stop to it.

Conclusion:

By concentrating on the order in which he presents events in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel García Márquez is able to lead his readers to question cultural issues.  Honor killing–and more importantly, the lack of concern over it–is a real problem.  This non-chronological book, through its description of wild circumstances and coincidences, shows that just one person can sometimes be enough to stop something terrible from happening–if they are willing.  Sadly, the book also illustrates a harsher truth–if they are not, no one might be able to stop the crime.

Word count: 982

  1. (García Márquez 24).
  2. (García Márquez 3-24).
  3. (García Márquez 25-47).
  4. (García Márquez 48-71).
  5. (García Márquez 72-95).
  6. (García Márquez 96-120).
  7. (14 Movie Stills).
  8. (García Márquez 3).
  9. (García Márquez 12).
  10. (Around the World).
  11. (García Márquez 109-110).

Text type: Blog

Features: comments, tags, sidebar, web address, headings

Works Cited:

Around the World in 80 Clicks. Travel Adventures. Web. 30 September 2015. <http://www.traveladventures.org/continents/europe/kotor-old-town08.html >.

García Márquez, Gabriel. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Vintage International, 2003. Print.

14 Movie Stills from Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1987). Ciné Songes. Web. 30 September 2015. <http://www.cine-songes.com/en/item/04000389/chronicle-of-a-death-foretold/ >.

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