Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Manifestations of love in Chronicle of a Death Foretold are ritualistic, and the novel itself is a ritual which re-enacts Santiago Nasar's death. When Bayardo San Roman first comes to town, he decides to marry Angela Vicario, whom he has never met. His courtship of Angela demonstrates the rituals of Latin American marriage culture. He brings her a gift of a music box inlaid with mother-of-pearl for her birthday, and obtains everything his future bride asks for. The purpose of this courtship ritual is not to cause the lovers to fall deeper in love but rather to demonstrate the man's affluence and power. Personality does not determine worthiness; rather, their family and wealth do.
Angela Vicario's obsessive letter writing is another example of ritual. Angela does not care what she says in her letters; she is more concerned with the fact that Bayardo is receiving them. The ritual of writing brings her happiness. Similarly, Bayardo San Roman does not read her letters, but receiving two thousand letters over the course of seventeen years gives him the certainty that she is serious in her desire for him to return to her.
The novel's style is itself a ritual repetition of the events surrounding a crime. It does not follow a traditional narrative arc, but rather is told for the cathartic value of the act of telling. The only thing we gain from reading the story is the same limited knowledge of the occurrence that is available to the narrator. In this sense, the novel can be seen as a mere ritual of investigation as an end in itself with no other results or discoveries.
In the culture of the Colombian town in which the narrative takes place, honor is taken very seriously. Nobody in the novel ever questions any action that is taken to preserve someone's honor, since it is commonly believed to be a fundamental moral trait that is vital to keep intact. A person without honor is an outcast in the community.
All of the characters in the novel are influenced by this powerful construction of honor. The defense of this ideal is directly responsible for Santiago Nasar's murder. The Vicario brothers kill Santiago in order to restore the honor of their sister. She dishonors her family by marrying another man when she had already slept with someone else. In order for this wrong to be righted, her brothers must kill Santiago, the man who supposedly took her virginity, in order to clear her name. Though a few people in the community, like Clothilde Armenta and Yamil Shaium, try to prevent the death from occurring, most people turned the other cheek, because they believed that the severity of the crime deserved a cruel punishment. The fact that death was considered a reasonable retribution for the crime of taking a girl's virginity indicates how awful it was to sleep with an unmarried woman; doing so ruined her chances of marrying well, and marriage was women's one way to advance in the world.
Gabriel García Márquez repeatedly uses strange, surreal details to highlight otherwise ordinary events. One instance of this is his description of the local brothel, which sounds so nice that the reader at first has trouble discerning what exactly Maria Alejandrina Cervantes does—though she is a whore, the description of her house is so beautiful that if one were to gloss over the description, they might perceive her house as an elegant domicile.
Márquez uses magical realism in Chronicle of a Death Foretold to illustrate anecdotal digressions or details about characters that are not at all essential to the plot, though they are interesting. In the opening of the book, the narrator discusses the dream that Santiago Nasar has right before his death: "He'd dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit." This whimsical sort of detail works against the journalistic investigative style of the narrative, and sends the reader into several different conceptual areas between reality and fiction that he then has to disentangle.
We learn that both the narrator's and Santiago Nasar's mothers interpret symbols from dreams, but the overall importance or significance of symbols in the novel is never clearly linked to any other concept or idea that informs the work as a whole. This is especially true because the work is supposed to be journalistic and factual, so any such symbols work against the narrator's purported intent of clarifying the events surrounding Santiago Nasar's death, becoming purely anecdotal. Because they occur randomly, constantly, and without any easily discernible premeditated purpose, it is difficult to distinguish any recurring symbol that has a greater significance in the text as a whole.
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