Crime-fiction In Chronicle Of A Death Foretold
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold offers a commentary on the Colombian society and its orthodox practices as perceived by the author in 1981. Set twenty-seven years after Santiago Nasar’s death, the narrator traces back the circumstances that proved favourable to “the untrammelled fulfilment of a death so clearly foretold”. The novella explores the death of Nasar from a pseudo-journalistic perspective and attempts to reconstruct this chronicle. The haphazard chronology of the tale lends itself to focus on the narratives of various characters and the events leading up to the death. In doing so, the narrator explores a murder that appears to have the whole town’s complicity. It further examines the larger role of the cultural framework in the murder. To begin with, the Chronicle efficaciously makes a remark on the traditionalism prevalent in Colombian society. Marquez imbues a theological dimension to the narratives to make a subtle comment on the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church in Colombia. The excitement over the bishop’s visit should imply a profound religiosity amongst the members of the community; however, the Catholic faith appears to have become an empty shell of an institution. This can be demonstrated by the nuns consuming alcohol, Pedro returning from the military having been diagnosed with gonorrhoea and the narrator himself visiting the brothel recurrently. The bishop’s ‘visits’ also create the appearance of a certain distance between the town and Catholic morality. It suggests the unattainability of faith for the town. For the most part, Marquez makes a critique of the lack of sincerity to Catholic principles by the community.
The patriarchal structure of the society is another theme that is prominent in both the Colombian society and the novel. Chauvinistic ideals weigh down the female characters of the novella. For example, there is a moral reprobation upon the deflowering of an unmarried female. In fact, Purisma del Carmen declares that her own daughters have “been raised to suffer” by their own mother. On the other hand, we see that Santiago is groomed to be a master of falconry, horse-riding and firearms. Marquez makes the conventional traditional gender roles embedded in the Colombian community quite discernible in the Chronicle. Marquez underscores this conservatism of the Colombian society through the presence of ritualistic practices. The action of the ritual and routine enables the author to establish a cyclical sense of time. The routinely visits of the bishops, the daily slaughtering of the pigs, the fixed sleeping schedule of Armante and his partner and their permanent set of customers facilitate this effect. In this sense, the Vicario brothers vow to kill Santiago and defend their Angela’s honour stems from the Catholic practices and ritualistic traditions. This helps to create a sense of fatality to death of Santiago Nasar. More importantly, it notes that the extent to which traditional practices are rooted within the minds of the people.
Marquez centers the plot on already foretold incident. In effect, he integrates the theme of fate through the entire novel. The events are portrayed in a way that suggests that Nasar’s death was inevitable and maybe even predestined. The murders themselves remark, “There’s no way out of this… It’s as if it had already happened.” (Chronicle 61) This effect is reinstated since Marquez both begins and ends the novel with Santiago’s death. It is fascinating to see how although an entire town of people seemed to be aware of the impending death they are unable to stop it. Even the reluctance of the Vicario brothers was not enough to overcome this inertia of events that had been set since the arrival of Bayardo San Roman in town.
The Chronicle also raises questions regarding the ethics and morals of the people in the town. The debate over honour as a justification of the murder can be rather contestable. Here, violence is deemed ethical as it is directed to a virtuous end, that is, honour. Honour and pride of the family are of utmost importance amongst the Latin American families. As a result, it is not surprising that the Vicario brothers are found innocent of homicide “in legitimate defence of honour”. This only reflects the moral framework of the Colombian society as a cultural unit. It is through two main structural techniques that Marquez is able to convey these themes. Firstly, the Chronicle can be seen as an extension of the literary Latin American tradition of magical realism. Magical realism is a narrative technique that is often used to look at the mundane through the portrayal of unrealistic content. For example, Placida Linero, Santiago’s mother, was well known for interpreting dreams for events that were to occur in the future. Secondly, this work also propounds the narrative form of the “chronicle” in Latin America. This narrative form is a synthesis of the styles used in fiction and journalism. Subsequently, the line between fact and fiction often blurs in the novella.
For instance, the contestability of the events leading up to the death can be evidenced by the lack of consensus and the range of responses about the weather on the day of aforementioned death. The use of experience and memory to reconstruct the tale only bolsters this narrative form. It is through the help of these techniques that Marquez encourages suspense about the already known death of Santiago Nasar. In addition to this, the narration arbitrarily gives us different experiences from different people of different parts of our story. Although each character’s account adds to the main thread of the story, there are too many of them. It becomes a slightly difficult for the reader to keep track of the various personas through the labyrinthine structure of time in the Chronicle. Nevertheless, these experiences are necessary since they provide certain cues to build the rest of the story upon. This is a rather accurate reflection of how our memory works since remembering is often contingent on other retrieval cues. So, Marques ingeniously creates an impression of uncertainty that is usually associated with the human memory. The book contains certain elements of the crime-fiction novels, Spanish golden age honour shows and epistolary romance. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works have become a hallmark for magical realistic fiction. The Chronicle rightly fits into his typical writing style and would be a great way for someone to be introduced to books. One would expect the novella to be rather dry and repetitive since the crux of the plot is rather straightforward. However, Marquez weaves a complex yet beautiful narrative of a murder nobody wanted to commit. Through the use of fictitious elements, Marquez successfully conveys a broader attitude of a typical Colombian reality. Overall, it is a gripping book that leaves you with just right things to ponder upon.
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