Ironically, Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a non-linear narrative that contradicts its title. The work is not a conventional chronicle: certain key events are obscured, and its unnamed first-person narrator does not reveal what has happened chronologically. Instead, Márquez utilizes a journalistic, investigative style to relay the facts surrounding Santiago’s murder, incorporating his signature magical realism so that strange, surreal details highlight ordinary events. Memory, reality, and symbolism become jumbled, although the story is based on a real occurrence.
Using this narrative technique, Márquez creates a mystery around Santiago Nasar’s murder by the Vicario brothers. Is Santiago guilty as accused? Could anything have prevented his death? Neither mystery is truly solved. Instead, Márquez’s approach draws attention to the act of storytelling itself, hinting at how communities form narratives over time, each of which encodes its values and norms. The novel’s non-linear structure creates tensions in its readers, just as would be true of the people in Santiago’s community, creating suspense about why and how Santiago Nasar was murdered. However, the novel ultimately tells a story that questions community norms around honor and obligation, showing their negative effects, while also suggesting that those norms are likely to persist.
The novel’s opening chapter, tellingly, presents the work’s climax, describing Santiago’s murder. He has been killed on the suspicion that he has violated Angela Vicario’s honor by taking her virginity, though no evidence, save her word, indicates that he has. Through Santiago’s brutal death, Márquez hints at the arbitrary nature of societal norms and how their support can lead to unnecessary violence and disruptions to relationships.
The inciting incident, which appears in the second chapter, drives the plot toward that climax. Bayardo San Roman returns his bride Angela Vicario on their wedding night because she is not a virgin; she is victim to another social construct. Angela, because she has been “ruined,” becomes an essential outcast, although almost every male character visits the town’s brothel and indulges in premarital sex. A woman engaging in the same behavior, according to community norms, brings “dishonor” to her family. Bayardo, according to the community’s narrative, becomes the victim, although it is Angela who has been dishonored.
The novel's rising action reveals the sequence of events that lead to Santiago’s death, emphasizing the internal conflicts of the characters. Márquez draws attention to these conflicts as members of the community decide whether to adhere to social norms or to follow their individual moral compasses. The Vicario twins, for example, seem desperate to find someone who will prevent them from acting. They roam the town, hungover from a bout of drinking, and tell almost everyone they meet about their plan to kill Santiago. They tell the butcher Faustino (who even helps sharpen their knives), the milk-shop owner Clothilde, and even the sex worker Maria about their plan. No one, of course, prevents the murder.
The twins’ ritual repetition of their intentions does not justify or wholly explain the murder. This suggests that the object of the narrator’s investigation is not the discovery of what happened but instead an investigation into how such a murder could have taken place so brazenly. The townspeople, including the narrator, Márquez implies, become accomplices to Santiago’s murder, indirectly condoning it through inaction. They allow the murder to occur as a result of their hypocritical understanding of morality and honor, as a matter of community norms.
The falling action, in the novel’s nonlinear narrative arc, follows the rising action, as the townspeople respond to Santiago’s murder, without abandoning the values that have proven so destructive. The Vicario brothers are imprisoned for the crime, although they do not feel guilt or remorse. Maria and the Vicario twins cannot escape Santiago’s smell, perhaps a subconscious manifestation of guilt, although the community considers the murder justifiable. Santiago’s murder fails to restore Angela’s honor, and she, along with her family, moves to a new town. Victim of arbitrary social norms, Angela cannot secure a new husband and she grows old alone. Her ritualistic practice of writing love letters to Bayardo keeps their love alive even after seventeen years, and he comes back to her, though Bayardo never opens or reads the letters.
As the novel resolves, Angela Vicario never reveals details about Santiago taking her virginity, even twenty years after his murder. She never tells the magistrate investigating the murder details about how or where it happened. In the end, Santiago’s assumed guilt in “dishonoring” Angela is never proven. As the narrator points out, he dies without understanding why. However, the assumption of guilt is enough to suggest that the townspeople, including the narrator, had been complicit. The narrative itself, formed over the years, at once implies that long-standing community norms remain unchanged, although essentially destructive and wrong.