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  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • Written by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781400034710
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Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Written by Gabriel García MárquezAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gabriel García Márquez

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A man returns to the town where a baffling murder took place 27 years earlier, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Just hours after marrying the beautiful Angela Vicario, everyone agrees, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace to her parents. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover; and her twin brothers announced their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister.
Yet if everyone knew the murder was going to happen, why did no one intervene to stop it? The more that is learned, the less is understood, and as the story races to its inexplicable conclusion, an entire society--not just a pair of murderers—is put on trial.

Excerpt

ON THE DAY they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. 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. "He was always dreaming about trees," Plácida Linero, his mother, told me twenty-seven years later, recalling the details of that distressing Monday. "The week before, he'd dreamed that he was alone in a tinfoil airplane and flying through the almond trees without bumping into anything," she said to me. She had a well-earned reputation as an accurate interpreter of other people's dreams, provided they were told her before eating, but she hadn't noticed any ominous augury in those two dreams of her son's, or in the other dreams of trees he'd described to her on the mornings preceding his death.

Nor did Santiago Nasar recognize the omen. He had slept little and poorly, without getting undressed, and he woke up with a headache and a sediment of copper stirrup on his palate, and he interpreted them as the natural havoc of the wedding revels that had gone on until after midnight. Furthermore: all the many people he ran into after leaving his house at five minutes past six and until he was carved up like a pig an hour later remembered him as being a little sleepy but in a good mood, and he remarked to all of them in a casual way that it was a very beautiful day. No one was certain if he was referring to the state of the weather. Many people coincided in recalling that it was a radiant morning with a sea breeze coming in through the banana groves, as was to be expected in a fine February of that period. But most agreed that the weather was funereal, with a cloudy, low sky and the thick smell of still waters, and that at the moment of the misfortune a thin drizzle was falling like the one Santiago Nasar had seen in his dream grove. I was recovering from the wedding revels in the apostolic lap of Mariá Alejandrina Cervantes, and I only awakened with the clamor of the alarm bells, thinking they had turned them loose in honor of the bishop.

Santiago Nasar put on a shirt and pants of white linen, both items unstarched, just like the ones he'd put on the day before for the wedding. It was his attire for special occasions. If it hadn't been for the bishop's arrival, he would have dressed in his khaki outfit and the riding boots he wore on Mondays to go to The Divine Face, the cattle ranch he'd inherited from his father and which he administered with very good judgment but without much luck. In the country he wore a .357 Magnum on his belt, and its armored bullets, according to what he said, could cut a horse in two through the middle. During the partridge season he would also carry his falconry equipment. In the closet he kept a Mannlicher Schoenauer .30-06 rifle, a .300 Holland & Holland Magnum rifle, a .22 Hornet with a double-powered telescopic sight, and a Winchester repeater. He always slept the way his father had slept, with the weapon hidden in the pillowcase, but before leaving the house that day he took out the bullets and put them in the drawer of the night table. "He never left it loaded," his mother told me. I knew that, and I also knew that he kept the guns in one place and hid the ammunition in another far removed so that nobody, not even casually, would yield to the temptation of loading them inside the house. It was a wise custom established by his father ever since one morning when a servant girl had shaken the case to get the pillow out and the pistol went off as it hit the floor and the bullet wrecked the cupboard in the room, went through the living room wall, passed through the dining room of the house next door with the thunder of war, and turned a life-size saint on the main altar of the church on the opposite side of the square to plaster dust. Santiago Nasar, who was a young child at the time, never forgot the lesson of that accident.

The last image his mother had of him was of his fleeting passage through the bedroom. He'd wakened her while he was feeling around trying to find an aspirin in the bathroom medicine chest, and she turned on the light and saw him appear in the doorway with a glass of water in his hand. So she would remember him forever. Santiago Nasar told her then about the dream, but she didn't pay any great attention to the trees.

"Any dream about birds means good health," she said.

She had watched him from the same hammock and in the same position in which I found her prostrated by the last lights of old age when I returned to this forgotten village, trying to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards. She could barely make out shapes in full light and had some medicinal leaves on her temples for the eternal headache that her son had left her the last time he went through the bedroom. She was on her side, clutching the cords at the head of the hammock as she tried to get up, and there in the half shadows was the baptistry smell that had startled me on the morning of the crime.

No sooner had I appeared on the threshold than she confused me with the memory of Santiago Nasar. "There he was," she told me. "He was dressed in white linen that had been washed in plain water because his skin was so delicate that it couldn't stand the noise of starch." She sat in the hammock for a long time, chewing pepper cress seeds, until the illusion that her son had returned left her. Then she sighed: "He was the man in my life."

I saw him in her memory. He had turned twenty-one the last week in January, and he was slim and pale and had his father's Arab eyelids and curly hair. He was the only child of a marriage of convenience without a single moment of happiness, but he seemed happy with his father until the latter died suddenly, three years before, and he continued seeming to be so with his solitary mother until the Monday of his death. From her he had inherited a sixth sense. From his father he learned at a very early age the manipulation of firearms, his love for horses, and the mastery of high-flying birds of prey, but from him he also learned the good arts of valor and prudence. They spoke Arabic between themselves, but not in front of Plácida Linero, so that she wouldn't feel excluded. They were never seen armed in town, and the only time they brought in their trained birds was for a demonstration of falconry at a charity bazaar. The death of his father had forced him to abandon his studies at the end of secondary school in order to take charge of the family ranch. By his nature, Santiago Nasar was merry and peaceful, and openhearted.

On the day they were going to kill him, his mother thought he'd got his days mixed up when she saw him dressed in white. "I reminded him that it was Monday," she told me. But he explained to her that he'd got dressed up pontifical style in case he had a chance to kiss the bishop's ring. She showed no sign of interest. "He won't even get off the boat," she told him. "He'll give an obligatory blessing, as always, and go back the way he came. He hates this town."

Santiago Nasar knew it was true, but church pomp had an irresistible fascination for him. "It's like the movies," he'd told me once. The only thing that interested his mother about the bishop's arrival, on the other hand, was for her son not to get soaked in the rain, since she'd heard him sneeze while he was sleeping. She advised him to take along an umbrella, but he waved good-bye and left the room. It was the last time she saw him.

Victoria Guzmán, the cook, was sure that it hadn't rained that day, or during the whole month of February. "On the contrary," she told me when I came to see her, a short time before her death. "The sun warms things up earlier than in August." She had been quartering three rabbits for lunch, surrounded by panting dogs, when Santiago Nasar entered the kitchen. "He always got up with the face of a bad night," Victoria Guzmán recalled without affection. Divina Flor, her daughter, who was just coming into bloom, served Santiago Nasar a mug of mountain coffee with a shot of cane liquor, as on every Monday, to help him bear the burden of the night before. The enormous kitchen, with the whispers from the fire and the hens sleeping on their perches, was breathing stealthily. Santiago Nasar swallowed another aspirin and sat down to drink the mug of coffee in slow sips, thinking just as slowly, without taking his eyes off the two women who were disemboweling the rabbits on the stove. In spite of her age, Victoria Guzmán was still in good shape. The girl, as yet a bit untamed, seemed overwhelmed by the drive of her glands. Santiago Nasar grabbed her by the wrist when she came to take the empty mug from him.

"The time has come for you to be tamed," he told her.

Victoria Guzmán showed him the bloody knife.

"Let go of her, white man," she ordered him seriously. "You won't have a drink of that water as long as I'm alive."

She'd been seduced by Ibrahim Nasar in the fullness of her adolescence. She'd made love to him in secret for several years in the stables of the ranch, and he brought her to be a house servant when the affection was over. Divina Flor, who was the daughter of a more recent mate, knew that she was destined for Santiago Nasar's furtive bed, and that idea brought out a premature anxiety in her. "Another man like that hasn't ever been born again," she told me, fat and faded and surrounded by the children of other loves. "He was just like his father," Victoria Guzmán answered her. "A shit." But she couldn't avoid a wave of fright as she remembered Santiago Nasar's horror when she pulled out the insides of a rabbit by the roots and threw the steaming guts to the dogs.

"Don't be a savage," he told her. "Make believe it was a human being."

Victoria Guzman needed almost twenty years to understand that a man accustomed to killing defenseless animals could suddenly express such horror. "Good heavens," she explained with surprise. "All that was such a revelation." Nevertheless, she had so much repressed rage the morning of the crime that she went on feeding the dogs with the insides of the other rabbits, just to embitter Santiago Nasar's breakfast. That's what they were up to when the whole town awoke with the earthshaking bellow of the bishop's steamboat.

The house was a former warehouse, with two stories, walls of rough planks, and a peaked tin roof where the buzzards kept watch over the garbage on the docks. It had been built in the days when the river was so usable that many seagoing barges and even a few tall ships made their way up there through the marshes of the estuary. By the time Ibrahim Nasar arrived with the last Arabs at the end of the civil wars, seagoing ships no longer came there because of shifts in the river, and the warehouse was in disuse. Ibrahim Nasar bought it at a cheap price in order to set up an import store that he never did establish, and only when he was going to be married did he convert it into a house to live in. On the ground floor he opened up a parlor that served for everything, and in back he built a stable for four animals, the servants' quarters, and a country kitchen with windows opening onto the dock, through which the stench of the water came in at all hours. The only thing he left intact in the parlor was the spiral staircase rescued from some shipwreck. On the upper floor, where the customs offices had been before, he built two large bedrooms and five cubbyholes for the many children he intended having, and he constructed a wooden balcony that overlooked the almond trees on the square, where Plácida Linero would sit on March afternoons to console herself for her solitude. In the front he kept the main door and built two full-length windows with lathe-turned bars. He also kept the rear door, except a bit taller so that a horse could enter through it, and he kept a part of the old pier in use. That was always the door most used, not only because it was the natural entry to the mangers and the kitchen, but because it opened onto the street that led to the new docks without going through the square. The front door, except for festive occasions, remained closed and barred. Nevertheless, it was there, and not at the rear door, that the men who were going to kill him waited for Santiago Nasar, and it was through there that he went out to receive the bishop, despite the fact that he would have to walk completely around the house in order to reach the docks.

No one could understand such fatal coincidences. The investigating judge who came from Riohacha must have sensed them without daring to admit it, for his impulse to give them a rational explanation was obvious in his report. The door to the square was cited several times with a dime-novel title: "The Fatal Door." In reality, the only valid explanation seemed to be that of Plácida Linero, who answered the question with her mother wisdom: "My son never went out the back door when he was dressed up." It seemed to be such an easy truth that the investigator wrote it down as a marginal note, but he didn't include it in the report.

Victoria Guzmán, for her part, had been categorical with her answer that neither she nor her daughter knew that the men were waiting for Santiago Nasar to kill him. But in the course of her years she admitted that both knew it when he came into the kitchen to have his coffee. They had been told it by a woman who had passed by after five o'clock to beg a bit of milk, and who in addition had revealed the motives and the place where they were waiting. "I didn't warn him because I thought it was drunkards' talk," she told me. Nevertheless, Divina Flor confessed to me on a later visit, after her mother had died, that the latter hadn't said anything to Santiago Nasar because in the depths of her heart she wanted them to kill him. She, on the other hand, didn't warn him because she was nothing but a frightened child at the time, incapable of a decision of her own, and she'd been all the more frightened when he grabbed her by the wrist with a hand that felt frozen and stony, like the hand of a dead man.
Gabriel García Márquez

About Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez - Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Gabriel García Márquez, nacido en Colombia, fue una de las figuras más importantes e influyentes de la literatura universal. Ganador del Premio Nobel de Literatura, fue además cuentista, ensayista, crítico cinematográfico, autor de guiones y, sobre todo, intelectual comprometido con los grandes problemas de nuestro tiempo, en primer término con los que afectaban a su amada Colombia y a Hispanoamérica en general. Máxima figura del realismo mágico, fue en definitiva el hacedor de uno de los mundos narrativos más densos de significados que ha dado la lengua española en el siglo xx. Entre sus obras más importantes se encuentran las novelas Cien años de soledad, El coronel no tiene quien le escriba, Crónica de una muerte anunciada, La mala hora, El general en su laberinto, El amor en los tiempos del cólera, Memoria de mis putas tristes, el libro de relatos Doce cuentos peregrinos, la primera parte de su autobiografía, Vivir para contarla, y sus discursos reunidos, Yo no vengo a decir un discurso. Falleció en 2014.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Exquisitely harrowing . . . very strange and brilliantly conceived . . .a sort of metaphysical murder mystery.”—The New York Times Book Review

“This investigation of an ancient murder takes on the quality of a hallucinatory exploration, a deep, groping search into the gathering darkness of human intentions for a truth that continually slithers away.” –The New York Review of Books

“Brilliant . . . A small masterpiece . . . we can almost see, smell and hear Garcia Marquez’s Caribbean backwater and its inhabitants.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“As pungent and memorable as a sharp spice, an examination of the nature of complicity and fate . . . an exquisite performance.” –The Christian Science Monitor

"
A tour de force . . . In prose that is spare yet heavy with meaning, Garcia Marquez gives us not merely a chronicle but a portrait of the town and its collective psyche . . . not merely a family but an entire culture.” –The Washington Post Book World

Awards

WINNER 1982 Nobel Prize
NOMINEE ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

A man returns to the town where a baffling murder took place 27 years earlier, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Just hours after marrying the beautiful Angela Vicario, everyone agrees, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace to her parents. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover; and her twin brothers announced their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister.
Yet if everyone knew the murder was going to happen, why did no one intervene to stop it? The more that is learned, the less is understood, and as the story races to its inexplicable conclusion, an entire society—not just a pair of murderers—is put on trial.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

The central action which shapes and informs every page of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the murder of the twenty-one-year-old aristocrat, Santiago Nasar, by the Vicario brothers in a “legitimate defense” of their sister’s honor. The novel consists of a detailed history of the circumstances of the murder taken by the narrator, a journalist and former friend of the victim, twenty-seven years after the incident in question. The long range effects of this murder on the citizens of the small unnamed Latin American town in which it occurs, and their tacit complicity in the crime itself, are revealed in the course of the narrator’s history. In the end, the question of whether Santiago Nasar actually deserved his fate remains unanswered. Why he was killed, how his death could have been prevented, the moment-by-moment events leading up to the crime, and the final brutal act are meticulously set down but, finally, the narrator is unable to come to any conclusions despite all the evidence he has amassed.

When Angela Vicario’s husband discovers his bride’s lost virtue the night of their wedding, he returns her to the house of her mother, as is his right. She is “damaged goods,” a disgrace to her family’s name, and so her mother beats her for hours. When questioned, Angela Vicario names Santiago Nasar as “my perpetrator.” Her twin brothers, pig butchers by trade, pick up their tools and set out to revenge their sister’s lost honor in the accepted manner. Drunk from the wedding festivities, and announcing their intentions all over town, the sleepless pair at last meet up with Nasar in the early morning hours. In attempting to explain Nasar’s apparent ignorance of what is about to occur, the villagers speculate that he is either innocent of the deed, too haughty to expect punishment for it, or simply resigned to his fate. In any case, Nasar seems unable to protect himself from attack. With the local bishop’s boat passing by in the background, against an ominous chorus of crowing cocks and barking dogs, in the blinding white light of day, the murderers move in on their victim.

Learning at last of the Vicario brothers’ intent, Nasar shows only confusion. “He turned pale and lost control in such a way that it was impossible to think he was pretending.” On the streets of the square the villagers gather “the way they did on parade days.” The previous night they had gathered for a wedding party, a riotous extravaganza, such as nothing that had been seen there before. Now they gather to greet the bishop, and perhaps, to witness the murder. Everyone who sees Nasar walking to the dock knows that he understands he is about to be killed. He appears so confused that he cannot find his way home. When the attack begins there are many witnesses, none of whom try to stop it. Nasar’s cries resound as the Vicario brothers keep on knifing him “with alternate and easy stabs” oblivious to “the shouts of the whole town, frightened by its own crime.” After the final stabs, Nasar rises out of the bloody dust to walk “more than a hundred yards entering the house of his mother with his usual good bearing, measuring his steps well… his Saracen face with its dashing ringlets… handsomer than ever.” Dusting off his own entrails which he carries in his hands, he announces, “They’ve killed me, Wene child,” and falls on his face in the kitchen.

“There had never been a death more foretold,” the narrator asserts, repeating the truth that haunts the entire town. Dismissing their superficial reactions—”most of the townspeople consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honor are sacred monopolies”—he finds the murder has in fact created “a single anxiety which had made of the town an open wound.”
In retracing the actions of the victim and his assailants, the narrator finds innumerable moments in which the right word or the right action could have prevented the murder from occurring. Nasar’s cook, Victoria Guzmán, and her teenage daughter admit years afterward that they both knew the time, place, and motive of the killing. “They had been told it by a woman who had passed by… to beg a bit of milk.” Yet that morning, one serves him coffee and the other escorts him to the door and opens, saying nothing. Clotilde Armenta, the proprietress of the milk shop where the Vicario brothers spend their last hours before the crime in drunken sleep, watches Nasar walk down the street to the dock where the town is gathering to greet the bishop. “For the love of God,” she murmurs, “Leave him for later, if only out of respect for his grace the bishop.”

Others assume that if the danger were real, Nasar must know of it. Don Lazar Aponte, a retired army colonel, and the local priest who see him on the dock “safe and sound” conclude that the threat “had all been a fib.” In fact, since so many know what is going on, no one who sees Nasar considers that he hasn’t been warned of Angela Vicario’s charge, and of her brothers’ desire for revenge. “It seemed impossible to all that he hadn’t.”

At the meat market where the brothers go to sharpen their butchering knives twenty-two people admit having heard them say, “We’re going to kill Santiago Nasar,” but pay no attention. “We thought it was drunkards’ baloney,” the witnesses declare. When a policeman hears of their plan, he informs Colonel Aponte, who takes away the Vicario brothers’ knives, reminds himself to warn Nasar, and then forgets to do so. By the time the bishop’s boat passes there were few left in the town who did not know “that the Vicario twins were waiting for Santiago Nasar to kill him, and in addition, the reasons were understood down to the smallest detail.”

Chance also contributes to the outcome of events. A warning note slipped under Nasar’s door is not discovered until after he is killed. Christo Bedoya, Nasar’s close friend, goes to Nasar’s home, finds the Vicario brothers waiting there, takes a gun, but does not know how to use it, and sets out to intercept his friend whom he cannot find. At last, Nasar walks unarmed into his courtyard, sees the Vicario brothers, pounds desperately on the door his own mother has bolted against the killers, believing that her son is already inside.

In a society of rigid hierarchies and strict codes of behavior such as the one García Márquez examines in this novel, deeper motivations can be seen to have been at work in influencing the actions of the townspeople. Economic and social inequities make Santiago Nasar a target of hatred even as he is an object of admiration. “Handsome, a man of his word, and with a fortune at twenty-one,” Nasar moves freely through the town in a privileged existence, afforded by money and maleness. When the butcher, Faustino Santos, perceives “a glimmer of truth in Pablo Vicario’s threat,” he asks, “Why they had to kill Santiago Nasar since there were so many other rich people who deserved dying first.”

In this culture, the question of honor is deeply tied to the position of women who are divided into categories of saint and whore according to economic class. We see Nasar’s formal politeness with his fiancée who lives closely guarded under her father’s roof; and we see Nasar’s crude physicality with the daughter of his cook. The reader learns how much Victoria Guzmán hates her employer just as she hated his father before him. Having been sexually abused by the father, she watches Nasar begin to take advantage of her daughter in the same way his father had taken advantage of her. Thus, the daughter, Divina Flor, confesses to the narrator after her mother dies, “In the depths of her heart she wanted to kill him.” It was the real reason she hadn’t said anything to warn Santiago Nasar on the morning of his murder.

If poor women are available for use in this society, the novel shows how the women of the higher classes are preserved for marriage and suffering and piety. In the Vicario family, the mother, a former schoolteacher, is known for her devotion, her meekness, and the spirit of sacrifice with which she cared for her husband and children. “At times one forgot she existed.” The daughters she raises are “perfect… any man will be happy with them because they’ve been raised to suffer.” They are taught embroidery, machine sewing, lace weaving, and “unlike other girls of the time, who had neglected the cult of death… [the Vicario girls] are past mistresses in the ancient science of sitting up with the ill, comforting the dying, and enshrouding the dead.” As for marriage, they must do so out of obligation, not out of love. So when Angela Vicario is told by her parents that she must marry Bayardo San Román, a wealthy, somewhat mysterious stranger who knows from the instant he sees her that she is the woman he must have, she has no choice but to consent, particularly since her family is of modest means and “she has no right to disdain that prize of destiny.”

Even after the engagement she is not permitted to go out alone with her intended. Closely guarded at every moment, her parents accompany her to ensure her honor. But, in truth, there is no honor left to guard, and Angela Vicario prays for the “courage to kill myself.” When she confesses to her confidantes, they tell her they are experts in “men’s tricks,” and convince her that most husbands “resign themselves to anything as long as nobody knew about it.” They teach her the old wives’ tricks which will enable her to “display open under the sun in the courtyard of her house the linen sheet with the stain of honor.”

An underworld of trickery and hypocrisy is exposed in the female sphere, one that makes a mockery of the whole notion of honor on which the murder of Santiago Nasar is based. The raw physicality that permeates the life of the town and which surfaces in the raw and powerful language of the book points up the frailty of the concept of honor as it pertains to the protection of these village women who, when not contemptuous of it, are shown to be less protected than they are imprisoned by its punishing constraints.

And although there is no evidence to support Angela Vicario’s accusation that Santiago Nasar is the “perpetrator,” only her word unsupported by any hint of affection or even attention having passed between them, her brothers go about exacting revenge. Twenty years later, the narrator reports, no one really believes it was Nasar who was the real cause of the damage. Even the examining magistrate can find not one probably clue to support the bride’s contention. Still, the Vicario twins’ court plea of homicide in legitimate defense of honor is upheld, and while the family leaves the town in disgrace and they themselves serve a three year sentence for the crime, Angela Vicario never wavers in her original accusation.

The inevitability of Nasar’s murder becomes the most overwhelming aspect of the narrator’s investigation. Too many forces, some explicable, some inexplicable, seem to be at work in the same direction. The cult of machismo, seen in the riotous drinking, the prevalence of weapons, the casual boasting which, in this instance proves to be more than mere words, even the repressed anger of women who are victimized by the culture in which they live, all combine to ensure the murder of the young Nasar. If there is a sense of loss in the death of the privileged young man with “the lady killer face” and the “brilliant future,” is one that exists alongside the less appealing aspects of Nasar’s character which reveal him callously partaking of the hereditary liberties of his sex and his class.

It is an entire society which the narrator’s investigation ultimately reveals, one in which religion and law appear ineffectual in providing a moral framework to guide and protect its citizens. The bishop, whose boat is passing by the dock bringing the townspeople out to be blessed, makes crosses in the air, continuously, mechanically, “without malice or inspiration,” as crates of roosters crow ominously in the background. But the bishop’s boat does not stop, and the people are left disappointed with his obligatory blessing.

After Nasar is killed, the mayor orders an autopsy which the village priest must perform since the local doctor is out of town and he had once studied medicine. “It was a massacre,” the narrator reports, and begins to catalogue the wounds made by the Vicario brothers alongside the further damage done by the autopsy, a “second assault.” Nasar’s face becomes unrecognizable, his body, an empty shell which the priest stuffs with rags and quicklime. The stench is overpowering; it engulfs the town.

In contrast to the brutality of real life—the hacked body of Nasar; the sweating crowds; the raw descriptions of physical ailments which plague the Vicario twins; the depiction of animal butchery; the odors and cries of animals and humans—there is an otherworldly surreal quality which characterizes Nasar before his murder. Clothed in white, seen by various characters as “already dead,” shining like aluminum, having the green color of dreams, Nasar appears as a vision in his last hours. Even the Vicario brothers partake of this surreal quality as they move in on Nasar. With their incongruous heavy black suits they bear themselves through the town almost mechanically under a two-day drunken stupor like “insomniac sleepwalkers.” To some they are simply will-less agents of fate carrying out the role that has been assigned them.

In a chronicle abounding with ironies from the initial misinterpretation Nasar’s mother makes of her son’s dream at the beginning of the novel, to the bizarre vision of Nasar seen by Divina Flor at the end, the narrator finds the ultimate irony in the eventual reconciliation of Angela Vicario and her husband, Bayardo San Román. Exiled with her family in a faraway Indian village, Angela Vicario is middle-aged, her yellow hair grey. Her life passes in a kind of half-mourning—a rejected wife who spends the hours at her embroidery. Still, that is only the appearance of Angela Vicario’s life. When the narrator interviews her twenty years after the murder, he finds in her a woman so mature and witty that he cannot believe she is the same person. She has come to understand her own life, as well as the life of her mother, “a poor woman devoted to the cult of her defects.” Although she addresses “letters with no future” to her lost husband, year after year she receives no reply. One day, after twenty-seven years, San Román appears at her door, a fat man who is losing his hair. Lest the reader think that the outpourings of love these letters contain have at last succeeded in reconciling the estranged couple, García Márquez makes sure to report that the two thousand letters Román has brought with him have never been opened.

As simply and inevitably as the story of Nasar’s death unfolds, and as plainly and powerfully as it is told, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not a novel which gives rise to simple explanations of human behavior. It comes face to face with an action which has far reaching effects on an entire community and shows how the complexity of the forces that not only bring about the murder of Santiago Nasar, but that influence the behavior of all those who are involved in the tenuous network of the society in which it occurs. If there is brutal, sometimes shocking language used to relate this history, there is no question that the language is sparsely and aptly employed and that its intent is to mirror the shock of the speaker. In contrast, there is in the luminous language a veritable canvas of light and dark, of red and white and gold and black. It is a novel to be studied for the depiction of character, for the beauty and skill of its language, for its power and complexity, and above all, for its relentless searching after the meaning of experience.

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

Comprehension & Discussion Questions

1. What information does the first paragraph of the novel give you about the story that is going to unfold?

2. Why doesn’t Victoria Guzmán warn Santiago Nasar about the men who are going to kill him?

3. What signs does Santiago Nasar overlook that would have forewarned him of the impending crime?

4. What impression does the writer give you of the bishop and of the townspeople’s relation to him?

5. How does the writer communicate the animosity of the power towards the rich in the novel?

6. Describe the character of Santiago Nasar.

7. What aspects of physical violence do you observe in the activities of the townspeople? Find examples from the book.

8. What precipitates the murder of Santiago Nasar?

9. In what ways are the wedding festivities unusual for the town?

10. What do you learn about the background of Bayardo San Román?

11. What is Bayardo San Román’s father known for?

12. How have the Vicario sisters been raised? What is it about them that the narrator’s mother notes is particularly unusual and virtuous?

13. What does it show about Bayard San Román that he buys the house belonging to the widower Xius?

14. What do Angela Vicario's confidantes explain to her about a woman’s “honor”?

15. Why does the narrator’s mother consider Angela Vicario’s putting on the wedding veil to be an act of courage?

16. Which of the townspeople were forewarned of the murder? What are their reasons for not having spoken to Santiago Nasar about it?

17. How does the writer build suspense about the fate of Santiago Nasar? Why doesn’t it matter that you know what has happened from the beginning?

18. Describe the autopsy that is performed on Nasar. Who does it? What is the narrator’s opinion of it?

19. What is ironic about the description of Nasar’s wounds as stigmata, about the description of his brain made during the autopsy?

20. After the murder and the autopsy, how does everyone recollect their impression of its affect on the town?

21. Who is considered to be “the only one who had lost everything”? In what why is this accurate or inaccurate?

22. What are the fates of the members of the Vicario family after the murder?

23. What plea do the Vicario twins make at their trial? What is your assessment of the accuracy of this plea?

24. In what ways does Angela Vicario change after the murder? What does she realize about her mother? About Bayardo San Román? How does she deal with this?

25. What is the effect of the murder on the people of the town? How do those who could have done something to prevent it console themselves?

26. What are some of the coincidences that conspired to allow the Vicario brothers to be successful in their murder of Santiago Nasar?

27. What does the magistrate conclude about Nasar’s implication in the crime? On what basis does he draw his conclusion?

28. What is the narrator’s assessment of Nasar's feelings at the time of his death?

29. What other opinions are expressed on this matter and by whom?

30. What instances are given to show that the Vicario brothers do not want to carry out the murder?

31. How does Santiago Nasar learn that the Vicario brothers are going to kill him? How does he react to this information?

32. Why does Placida Linero, Nasar’s mother, bolt the front door of the house?

33. What are Nasar’s actions after the Vicario brothers’ attack is concluded?

34. What effect is achieved by Nasar’s long walk into the house?

35. Who do you feel is to blame for the murder?


Composition

1. Point of View
In what ways does the narrator’s profession influence the way in which the novel is told? Why do you think García Márquez chose to make his narrator a journalist?

2. Plot
Although the first sentence of the novel informs the reader that Santiago Nasar is about to be killed, the actual murder scene is withheld until the final pages.
• What takes up the intervening pages?
• What purpose is served by having the reader wait until the end to “see” the murder itself?
• What effect does this have on the reader?

In what sense is the inevitability of the murder intensified by the sequence of events García Márquez sets down?

3.Action
A. Discuss the central action of the novel and the way in which the author traces its possible causes and its complicated effects on the townspeople.
B. What form of literature is distinguished by its sense of inescapable catastrophe?
C. In what way can the action of the novel be viewed as a contemporary tragedy? What aspects of Chronicle of a Death Foretold interfere with this definition?

4. Imagery and Symbols
Point out the way writers use patterns of images and symbols to convey a novel’s themes. Trace the images and symbols in Chronicle of a Death Foretold and discuss how each reflects an important aspect of theme. (Mention the cocks, animals, butchery, the cult of death, flowers, trees, colors.)

5. Surrealism
Research the literary and artistic foundations of surrealism and examine the way surrealistic elements abound in the novel. Have the class look for juxtapositions of unexpected and incongruous images, such as the vision of Divina Flor in which she sees Nasar walk into his room holding roses which is juxtaposed shortly thereafter with the real walk Nasar takes into the house in his dying moments holding his hanging intestines in his hands.

6. Irony
Research and discuss with the class the way writers use irony to comment on character and action as it is unfolding. Trace the incidents in the novel in which García Márquez used irony, and discuss his apparent reasons for doing so. Begin, perhaps, with a discussion of Bayardo San Román’s purchase of the house of the widower Xius, a house in which the widower and his wife had lived happily for thirty years.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

1. Compose character sketches of the women in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Describe their lives, their aspirations, the choices that are available to them, and their individual responses to the circumstances in which they find themselves.

2. Write an essay in which you discuss how violence and brutality are shown to be an intrinsic part of the life of the town and of the culture it reflects.

3. Discuss the class system that emerges in the society of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. On what is it based? In what ways does it influence the central action of the novel?

4. Write an essay in which you contrast the qualities of physicality and spirituality in the lives of the characters. Show how the language of the book reflects these opposing tendencies, and comment on García Márquez’s use of powerful images to reflect both the physical and spiritual forces at work in human life.

5. Discuss the overall attitude to religion that is presented in this novel. Use specific quotes from the book to support your discussion of the place of religion and the supernatural in the lives of the villagers.

6. Assume Angela Vicario’s identity and write a letter to a distant friend, a letter the narrator fails to get hold of, in which you reveal why you named Santiago Nassar as “the perpetrator”; how you feel about the consequences of what you did; and your true feelings for Nasar himself.

7. Write a news story reporting the murder of Santiago Nasar which conforms to the style and format of news reporting. Interview several townspeople and include their reactions to the murder in the story.

8. What is the “cult of machismo” referred to in the novel? In what way does adherence to it influence the course of events in Chronicle of a Death Foretold? Find newspaper or magazine stories whose events might also indicate the actions of men caught in the cult of machismo.

9. Do an abstract drawing or painting of the novel. Select colors which conform to those García Márquez himself indicates, and in amounts that approximate the frequency with which they appear in the book. OR do a surrealistic rendering of an aspect of Chronicle of a Death Foretold or one which expresses the entirety of the novel. Examine the work of the painters Salvador Dali, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, or others who employ surrealism in their canvasses.

10. Research the Supreme Court’s decisions in the area of obscenity and censorship in literature. Prepare a legal argument in which you defend the language of Chronicle of a Death Foretold as a legitimate expression of the conditions and characters portrayed in the novel. Present your case to the class.

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

Teacher’s Guide by Jacqueline Parker, writer, poet and teacher of writing and literature.


  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • October 07, 2003
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $13.95
  • 9781400034710

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