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Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Gabriel García Márquez

Important Quotations Explained

Chapter 5

Key Facts

"The brothers were brought up to be men. The girls were brought up to be married. They knew how to do screen embroidery, sew by machine, weave bone lace, wash and iron, make artificial flowers and fancy candy, and write engagement announcements… my mother thought there were no better-reared daughters. 'They're perfect,' she was frequently heard to say. 'Any man will be happy with them because they've been raised to suffer.'"

This excerpt shows the severity of the lives women lead in the reserved Colombian culture of the town. The narrator describes the upbringing of Angela Vicario and her siblings. Women are not allowed to get jobs or follow their own dreams; their lives are bounded on all sides by tradition and the expectation to get married and have families. All of the chores they are taught to do-washing, making flowers-are household chores. A woman's worthiness as a wife was measured by her beauty in conjunction with her ability to gracefully run all aspects of a household. The idea that the woman in a marriage is expected to suffer is significant-no woman enters marriage expecting to be happiness unless she is fortunate enough to love whichever man decides to court her. In this Spanish culture, unlike Western culture, marriage is not based on love.

"Pedro Vicario, the more forceful of the brothers, picked her up by the waist and sat her on the dining room table. 'All right, girl,' he said to her, trembling with rage, 'tell us who it was.' She only took the time necessary to say the name. She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written. 'Santiago Nasar,' she said.

This quote, taken from the end of the second chapter, describes the scene when Angela tells her brothers who took her virginity. This event demonstrates the escapist ambiguity of Márquez's writing style that runs through the book as a whole.

The image of a butterfly pinned to a wall is symbolic of both Santiago Nasar's situation and of Angela Vicario's. Once she has proclaimed that Santiago is the one who took her virginity, his fate, like her own, becomes bounded by cultural mores. Angela Vicario herself was pinned by other darts—if she did not give her brothers a name, they would have become furious at her for protecting the man who had dishonored her. She "pins" Santiago with her words, but she herself is "pinned" by the sexism of the culture.

Márquez's description of Angela's thought process as she spoke Santiago's name is interesting because he suggests that many names, not only of people who are alive, but of people who have passed away, come to her. The image of the butterfly paired with the evocation of living and dead names floating around in Angela's mind is a somewhat whimsical and fantastical. This use of magic realism in Chronicle of a Death Foretold works against the journalistic style of the novel as a whole and obscures what is actually going on. The reader is presented with a surreal version of what Angela thought, but never finds out if what she said was true.

"We'd been together at Maria Alejandrina Cervantes' house until after three, when she herself sent the musicians away and turned out the lights in the dancing courtyard so that her pleasurable mulatto girls could get some rest…Maria Alejandrina Cervantes was the most elegant and the most tender woman I have ever known, and the most serviceable in bed, but she was also the strictest. She'd been born and reared here, and here she lived, in a house with open doors, with several rooms for rent and an enormous courtyard for dancing lit by lantern gourds bought in the Chinese bazaars of Paramaribo."

This quote, taken from the middle of the third chapter, highlights another way that magic realism works within the narrative. Maria Alejandrina Cervantes is a whore, but the description of her persona and her home does not seem to condemn her or her girls for their profession, which comes as a surprise in a culture that censors women's sexuality so strictly. In the novel, Maria is not depicted as a shameful woman with a dirty profession, but as a beautiful woman who taught all the men of the community about sex. It seems that women in this Colombian culture can either accept the strict social codes governing their sexuality, or they can completely discard them; no in-between is presented.

Márquez's incorporation of details such as the musicians, the dancing courtyard, and the lanterns all make Maria's house seem like some sort of paradise with colored lamps; it seems a far cry from the neon glow of a red light district in a city. This illumination of the mundane by means of almost fantastical imagery is notable in this instance because it praises something that is usually degraded. Márquez's use of magical realism allows him to avoid invoking traditional cultural perceptions when he so desires, and present reality in a refreshing way to the reader.

" 'The truth is I didn't know what to do,' he told me. 'My first thought was that it wasn't any business of mine but something for the civil authorities, but then I made up my mind to say something in passing to Placida Linero.' Yet when he crossed the square, he'd forgotten completely. 'You have to understand,' he told me, "that the bishop was coming that day.'"

This quote is taken from the end of the third chapter; the speaker is Father Amador. Father Amador is an example of the many authority figures who all had the power to stop the crime, but ended up being completely ineffective in preventing it. The bishop, the priest, a police officer, and the Colonel had all been warned that Santiago Nasar was going to be murdered, and yet none of them took this news seriously enough to take effective preventative action.

The book calls the so-called "authority" of these characters into question. They all fail not only to rise above cultural prejudices and personal weakness, but also to recognize the severity of the event that was about to occur. Their failure allows the town's view to prevail. Prudencia Cotes illustrates the gravity that the townspeople afforded matters of honor when she tells us that she would not have married Pablo Vicario if he had not killed Santiago Nasar. And after the murder, the official verdict seemed to indicate that the Vicarios' action was just-the twins were only sentenced to three years in prison.

"She wrote a weekly letter for over half a lifetime. 'Sometimes I couldn't think of what to say,' she told me, dying with laughter, 'but it was enough for me to know that he was getting them.' At first they were a fiancee's notes, then little messages from a secret lover, perfumed cards from a furtive sweetheart, business papers, love documents…nevertheless, he seemed insensible to her delirium; it was like writing to nobody."

This quote is taken from the end of the fourth chapter, in which Angela Vicario explains the letters she obsessively wrote to Bayardo San Roman. It is significant that Angela says that it was enough for her to know that Bayardo was receiving the letters, because it was apparently enough for Bayardo to receive the letters without knowing what it was that she wished to tell him-he never opened them. The fact that Angela Vicario didn't know what to write, and that Bayardo didn't want to know what she had written, highlights the importance of the ritual of writing and receiving letters as opposed to the importance of the content. This disinterest in the content seems contrary to the purpose of writing letters, just as the novel's overall disinterest in the truth surrounding the murder belies the journalistic mode employed throughout it. It also shows us that the concepts of love in Colombia are firmly rooted in the actions between two lovers, as opposed to the understanding between them. Love is defined by ritual

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