October 21, 2017
Educational Portal of the Americas
 Printer Friendly Version  E-mail this Page  Rate this Page  Add this Page to My Favorites  Home Page 
New User? - Forgot your Password? - Registered User:     

Site Search

Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 34
Author: Isabel Rodríguez Vergara, Ed.
Title: Colombia: Literatura y Cultura del Siglo XX


Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published in 1981 after a six-year literary hiatus during which García Márquez wrote a great deal of journalism.1 It appeared in the midst of a noisy controversy about its genre and about the relationship between reality and fiction.2 At first reading, Chronicle creates the illusion of transparency and linearity, which led to its being described as “a literary fraud.”3 The reader finds it easy to read, interesting and almost trivial, especially compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Autumn of the Patriarch. But a masterpiece is hidden under a false linearity and an uncomplicated plot.

The plot is simple: Santiago Nasar, a young Colombian of Arab descent who is admired and loved by most people in town but resented by some because of his wealth, is murdered by twin brothers to avenge the loss of virginity of their sister, Angela Vicario. She is sent home on her wedding night when her husband, Bayardo San Román, a wealthy businessman, discovers she is not a virgin. She blames Santiago Nasar for this loss. The whole town knows he is going to be murdered, but nobody does anything, which permits the tragedy to occur. Pedro and Pablo Vicario are sent to trial and acquitted for acting in “defense of their honor.” Some years later, Angela returns to live with San Román.

The labyrinth in which Chronicle is enclosed is masked in such a way that it seems as clear as the page of a newspaper. García Márquez creates the illusion of transparency by hiding the artistic conventions and, in particular, by calling it a Chronicle. My analysis will be based on the theory of satire proposed and developed by Mikhail Bakhtin mainly in L’ourve de Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Age et sous la Renaissance  (1955) and Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics  (1929).4  The novel represents what he calls a plurivalent world, full of symbolic meaning and mythical-religious, social, and historical allusions camouflaged in an apparently direct language and a linear structure. Implicit in it are parody and the author’s commentary on his own methods of construction, which force the reader to examine the structures of narrative fiction. To unmask this procedure we must analyze the novel. Among the aspects I shall consider are the formal division of the novel, time and space, the characters, the literary technique, and the relationship to the novelist’s previous works. I shall start by addressing the connection between chronicle and history, journalism, and literature, which is crucial in this work.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines a chronicle as  “a form of historical writing that provides a continuous and detailed summary of historical events arranged chronologically.”5  However, the phenomenon is not that simple, since narration in history (and chronicle) takes its conventions from narration in fiction. Thus the two cannot be easily distinguished, as Louis O. Mink points out in his study of history.6 García Márquez’s definitions of “objectivity” and “subjectivity” do not resolve the conflict either, because, as Mink puts it, “historians have been prone to introduce their individual idiosyncrasies and values both in the selection and in the combination of facts.”7 Thus, objectivity is conceivable only in a cumulative chronicle, that is, an accumulation of facts and times.8 After a detailed analysis, Mink concludes that the lack of a “scientific” language, as in the physical sciences, makes it impossible to separate history from fiction except for historians’ insistence that they are telling the truth.9

Hayden White, for his part, considers historical narrations to be verbal fictions that have more in common with literature than with the exact sciences. As for chronicles, White says, “The chronicle of events, out of which the historian fashions his story of ‘what really happened,’ already comes pre-encoded.”10 Dates in a chronicle are grouped by type according to the chronicler’s perspective.

As can be seen, the relationship between chronicle and history is problematic. However, most historians assume a radical opposition between history and fiction. The relationship between journalism and literature can be expressed in the same terms. Journalism, defined as  “the profession of choosing, writing, and publishing the news,” also involves subjectivity on the part of the journalist in the selection and ordering of the “news.”11 In the final analysis, narration and language are no different from literature. Thus our analysis leads us to a search for what it is that legitimately separates these “genres,” which is undoubtedly the central thesis of Menippean Satire.

When Chronicle of a Death Foretold appeared, critics and readers focused their attention precisely on the relationship between history and fiction, partly because of the author’s insistence that his text was based on events he had witnessed in Sucre thirty years earlier.12  The publication of Chronicle inspired a series of articles on the “real” main characters and even on García Márquez, who said:

The novel came out on a Monday and a magazine in Bogotá had already published a story from the place where the events occurred, with pictures of the supposed main characters. They have done a job that I believe is journalistically excellent; but there is something amazing about it, which is that the drama the witnesses told the reporters is entirely different from the one in the novel. Maybe the word ‘entirely’ will not do. The starting point is the same, but its evolution is different. I believe the drama in my book is better, more controlled, more structured.13   

In fact, not only is the story different from the “real” one, but so are the names of the characters and the presence of the author, as is documented by Gonzalo Díaz-Migoyo.14  García Márquez is not reproducing “reality” but creating a work of art. Let us observe the creative evolution of the work.

If we take the definition of “chronicle” I quoted above, we conclude that García Márquez´s Chronicle does not conform to the timing of events but cheats with them, showing them as superimposed planes from different temporal perspectives with different combinations of characters on each plane. As for historical accuracy, the difference between the events that occurred in “reality” and those occurring in the novel is thoroughly documented, as I have mentioned.

However, the narrative technique simulates a newspaper description, a chronicle. Ultimately, as I shall show, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a parody of newspaper stories. It is important to note here that the novel appeared after many years during which García Márquez devoted himself to journalism and in February of 1974 founded the magazine Alternativa, in Bogotá, publishing articles on Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Angola. He claimed that Chronicle of a Death Foretold was his best book and categorized it as a “perfect union between journalism and literature.”15  So that to him the novel does not mean a return to fiction, but represents the journalism he has always written. In an interview with Marlise Simons he says, referring to a newspaper article, “Journalism and Literature were almost joined. I have never been able to completely separate them.”16  This point, emphasized by the author himself, is highly pertinent to our present study. I said in another essay that García Márquez´s reportage, from when he was young, is very close to fiction. The mixture of events in real life with “inventions” of the author and touches of humor is a constant in the work of García Márquez. Jacques Gilard reached the same conclusion after compiling and analyzing several volumes of Gabriel García Márquez´s journalistic work. Referring to García Márquez´s first stage in journalism, Gilard writes:

García Márquez entered journalism about eight months after publishing his first fictional story, which is to say that his journalistic and literary works developed more or less simultaneously in the early years. In spite of its high quality, his  journalism would be of no interest today if the stories and the novels did not exist, and yet it is difficult—once the documentary material is available—to separate the two aspects, even though a spontaneous, arbitrary rank order urges us to see the chronicles and press pieces as mere background to a work of fiction. For all its  matchless successes, García Márquez´s journalism was mainly a school of style, and served as the apprenticeship for an original rhetoric . . . , his journalistic activity takes place within a specific framework, which is that of commentary in its humorous modality.17

If the problem is one of definition and we accept journalism as “the profession of choosing, writing, and publishing the news,” we must conclude that in García Márquez journalism and fiction are blurred: he fictionalizes “reality” and at the same time dramatizes the impossibility of including all of it and denies the possibility of a single truth. From this point of view, matters are simplified: the notion of genre is invalidated, confirming our thesis on García Márquez´s work as a “satire” in the sense of a literary genre that embodies multiple genres, a theatrical representation without hierarchies or actors, in which everybody participates as in a carnival, the element that creates parody.

“Chronicle,” on the other hand, refers to a type of old literature widely disseminated in the Middle Ages and used to recapture people and events that had passed through history. Most of the written “history” of the Middle Ages is known through chronicles. The history of the “origins” of the Latin American world is also known through chronicles (Chronicles of the Indies), which we recognize as a mixture of journalism, epic poetry, lyric poetry, essays, and theater, especially the narratives of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, which might be considered as short stories.18  Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a relative of this genre.

It is significant that during 1951 García Márquez was chief editor of a major weekly called Crónica, in which he condensed foreign detective stories. The journal appeared in Barranquilla in 1950 when he was just starting his career.19  We do not know with certainty if the title of Chronicle has any relation to this fact, but we do not doubt that the author is aware of the literary trajectory of the term “crónica” in Spanish American literature. In Mexico, where he has lived for years, the chronicle, as a narrative genre, continues to occupy a prominent literary position, as Jorge Ruffinelli establishes.20 The release of this literary work, so short and so widely publicized as a work of journalism, constitutes a unique event, without precedent in the history of publications in Latin America.21

Structurally divided into five parts of almost the same length, Chronicle begins, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, with a reference to time: “On the day that 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” (1). References to time appear in other works by García Márquez not only internally but also in the titles: One Hundred Years of Solitude, In Evil Hour, and others. Chronicle of a Death Foretold opens almost at the end of the action, like The Autumn of the Patriarch—in the former, close to the death of Santiago Nasar; in the latter, with the death of the patriarch. According to Gregory Rabassa, García Márquez´s journalism has had a marked influence on the style of his last three works. He depends on it for their development, though his style in One Hundred Years of Solitude is more legendary.22

The relationship of Chronicle of a Death Foretold to detective novels and Greek tragedy has already been mentioned.23   Its investigative structure invites the reader to explore with the narrator something that is not clearly specified, since we know from the beginning who killed Santiago Nasar twenty-seven years ago, how they killed him, and almost the exact hour of the crime. If we already know the events, we must conclude that what is in question is the whole structure of the novel, not the events: the fictional creation and the whole creative process of writing-reading. This procedure, indeed, is very similar to that of detective novels, but it does not differ much from the technique of The Autumn of the Patriarch or “Big Mama’s Wake,” even though the effect is different.

As I mentioned above, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is formally divided in five parts connected by a technique that makes them simultaneously “similar” and “different,” like mirror images: obverse and reverse at the same time. The narrator unites these parts, as if assembling a puzzle, in the manner of an investigator (a reporter or a policeman). He dramatizes this by writing “when I returned to this forgotten village trying to put back together the broken mirror of the memory from so many scattered shards” (5). Here the narrator is dramatizing the technical procedure of fiction and revealing in passing his awareness of the phenomenology of reading. The narrator introduces himself as the author, who has also been a witness and a marginal participant in the incident. His method is that of an investigative reporter, who counterbalances the actions and points of view of numerous witnesses and participants. He often enters into the action by offering his own opinions, but states them in such a way that he does not interfere with the total interpretation of the events, since the possibilities and perspectives appear structured and controlled inside the fiction. His statements leave the reader with an impression of scrupulous objectivity. This strong impression of journalistic objectivity involving several perspectives represents a plurivalent world, as in most of García Márquez’s works.

The novel is narrated—like all journalistic texts—in the third person, by someone who is compiling the facts years after they take place. The testimony of the characters/witnesses is set in quotation marks or narrated directly; the narrative also makes use of letters and of a summary to fill out the recounting of the drama.

The first sentence of the book, marking the precise time (as in chronicles), is followed by a premonition of Santiago Nasar’s death: “He dreamed that he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit” (1). Premonitions invoke an interpretation on the part of the reader and are of great importance in the novel, as we shall see. For now, let us discuss their meaning.

The fragment of Santiago Nasar’s dream cannot be interpreted by his mother, or by the reader, unless the other dreams are linked into a whole; that is, we must read all the dreams together in order to understand them. Just as Santiago’s mother cannot manage it since, being a careless reader, she misses part of the whole, the reader will not understand the entire novel unless he puts together one by one the fragments given him by the narrator. The premonitions are presented in this manner, like a metaphor of reading. The fragments of Santiago Nasar’s dream continue on pages 2 and 4, and when they are interpreted after the events of his death we see that they foretell the drama. His mother understands this too late, when she recalls the facts in an interview with the chronicler twenty-seven years later. It should be noted that the mother’s statements appear in quotation marks to increase their credibility. The woman describes to the journalist-narrator the dream Nasar had the week before his death. In spite of being a “great interpreter of other people’s dreams provided they were told while fasting,” (1) she had not noticed any omen.24  Santiago’s mother is thus the first person “guilty” of his death: she does not interpret his dream correctly.

Following step by step the mechanisms employed in the first part, we see that the second paragraph is related by an omniscient narrator: “nor did Santiago Nasar recognize the omen. He had slept little and poorly, without getting undressed. . . .”  Then the chronicler enters in the first person: “I was recovering from the wedding revels in María Alejandrina Cervantes’ apostolic lap, and hardly woke up with the loud din of the bells, thinking that they had rung them in the bishop’s honor” (3).25 The narrator tells us what he was doing at the very instant of Santiago Nasar’s murder. The other details of his activities the night before Nasar’s death—he visited the town prostitute and accompanied a group to serenade the newlyweds—come later, when he becomes a witness: “I was with him [Nasar] all the time, in the church and at the festival, along with Cristo Bedoya and my brother Luis Enrique, and none of us caught a glimpse of any change in his manners” (46). And later on “I had a very confused memory of the festival before I decided to rescue it piece by piece from the memory of others” (48). “Many knew that in the unconsciousness of the bash, I proposed marriage to Mercedes Barcha, as she had barely finished primary school, just as she would remind me fourteen years later when we got married” (49). The author becomes a witness, providing the reader with real, well-known facts about himself and thus increasing the credibility of the whole narrative. From that moment on, the reader will have to be adding two and two together to “stage” the victim’s death. Santiago Nasar’s mother knew nothing about the threat to her son. Neither does Santiago Nasar or the chronicler at this point in the narrative.

The fragmentation of the stories of the “other” participants (Victoria Guzmán the cook, Divina Flor her daughter, and Clotilde Armenta interpolating their biographies in their testimony) is immediately apparent. The Vicario twins Pedro and Pablo are described in accordance with what is written in the summary of the crime (second text) and approved by the chronicler: “I, who had known them since primary school, would have written the same thing” (16). This fragmentation and juxtaposition of opinions, a constant in the technique of The Autumn of the Patriarch, has a different effect in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Here, connecting all the details of the characters/witnesses’ testimony and leaving only the weather and the true motives of Bayardo San Román and Santiago Nasar uncertain creates an atmosphere of precision. That is why Chronicle seems so true to life while The Autumn of the Patriarch is so ambiguous.

As to the weather, the narrator doubts and allows the readers to see that his memory fails him: “Many coincided in recalling that it was one radiant morning . . . but most agreed in that the weather was so funereal” (2). There are contradictory references to the weather at various points throughout the novel. However, the telling of the minor details of the plot leaves no doubt in the reader. As we read from newspaper cuttings, from fragments given us by the narrator, we are building the facts as they must have happened. For example, the episode of the chronicler with the town prostitute mentioned in the first part will be completed in parts three and four (73-75, 79, 88, 89). That is, it ends after the description of Nasar’s death and the autopsy of the corpse.

In part one of Chronicle we also learn of an important event: the arrival of the bishop in town. For this occasion, Santiago Nasar dresses in white linen, in the same clothes he had worn the previous night to the wedding. Had it not been for the bishop’s arrival, Santiago Nasar would have gone horseback riding at the El Divino Rostro ranch as he did every Monday, and he would have loaded and taken his Magnum 357. The bishop’s visit thus changes not only the order of things in the town, but also Santiago Nasar’s routine, which makes his murder possible. We shall have more to say later about the bishop’s arrival and the relationship between the Catholic Church and the narrative when we take up the symbology of the novel. In this section, some paragraphs further on, the author creates, as in The Autumn of the Patriarch and “Big Mama’s Wake”, a parallel scene in which the chronicler finds Santiago Nasar’s mother lying aged and feeble in a hammock when he is trying to recompose the story. The memories of the old mother and those of the chronicler blend into one when he says of Santiago Nasar, “I saw him in her memory” (5). Then, Santiago Nasar’s appearance and character are described from the narrator’s and the mother’s perspective united in a single voice:

He had turned 21 years old the last week of 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 he died suddenly, three years before, and continued seeming to be happy with the solitary mother until the Monday of his death. From her he had inherited his instinct. . . . His father’s death had forced him to abandon his studies at the end of high school, to take care of his family property. By nature, Santiago Nasar was cheerful, peaceful and openhearted. (6)

As we shall see, this description is important to our mythical interpretation. In contrast, Victoria Guzmán gives an entirely different opinion: “He always got up with the face of bad night” (16); “he was just like his father . . . a shit” (9). We also learn about the indifference of Santiago’s mother toward the bishop and the  fascination with him on the part of Santiago Nasar (who compares the things of the Church with the cinema). In part one (starting on page 2) are told individualized versions of the events involving Santiago Nasar and the weather, as was said above; they begin with Victoria Guzmán, the cook. She asserts that it did not rain that day and recounts minor details of the events of the morning on which Santiago Nasar was murdered. Her daughter was “destined to sleep with Santiago Nasar” as she had slept with his father; hence her dislike of him. Twenty years later, Victoria Guzmán understands the revelation of Santiago Nasar’s death that came to him upon seeing her cutting up rabbits to throw the pieces to the dogs (which is the second premonition of his death). In the reconstruction of the facts, we later find that Victoria Guzmán had known that Santiago Nasar was going to be murdered that day and that she lied (13). References are made to historical-social matters such as the civil wars; there are social comments, as on the forced prostitution of servants by their masters; mention is made of Santiago’s father, Ibrahim Nasar, an Arab who came to Colombia at the end of the civil wars (10). The excessive power of money and weapons is criticized through the characters of Bayardo San Román and his father, General Petronio San Román.

In the same section is a description of Nasar’s house, with emphasis on the doors (clues in the crime), one of which, ironically, is named the “fatal door” (11). The murder takes place because of an accumulation of a series of coincidences: the arrival of the bishop, Santiago Nasar’s leaving by the wrong door, Victoria Guzmán’s lie, Santiago Nasar mother’s misinterpretation of his dream, and other coincidences that will appear in the next sections. The chronicler comments, “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” (11). The judge and the narrator want to leave the impression that everything happened almost simultaneously as a bundle of coincidences. Indeed, the text of Chronicle is a sum of coincidences; causality is a synonym of causation, as Rabassa points out.26

The next witness is Divina Flor, Victoria Guzmán’s daughter, who admits after her mother dies that the latter had said nothing to Santiago Nasar “because in the depths of her heart she wanted them to kill him” (13). She herself did not warn him because she was very young and incapable of making decisions on her own; however, she leaves the door unlocked so that he can come in if he has to. Nobody saw a message on the floor that someone had slipped under the door warning Santiago Nasar that the Vicarios were going to kill him. Clotilde Armenta, owner of the only store open after the night of the wedding, is perhaps one of the most active witnesses. In part one we learn that it is at Clotilde’s that the twins, Pedro and Pablo, wait for Santiago to kill him, since they can see his house from there. She tries to stop them (17), arguing the need to observe respect toward the bishop, which makes the Vicarios think it over for an instant, but in the end this argument does not work and they go on with their plan. Later, she tells her husband the twins’ plans (63) and sees the mayor arrive, take the knife away from them, and send them home to bed. Finally, it is she who “was certain that the Vicario brothers were not as eager to carry out the sentence as to find someone who would do them the favor of stopping them” (65). With everybody in town knowing what is going to happen, Clotilde Armenta finds it unbelievable that no one knows in the house across the way (66). It is she who sends a beggar to tell Victoria Guzmán and Father Amador that the twins are going to kill Santiago Nasar; it is she who sees them come back with new knives “the twins weren’t as resolute as before” (72); and it is she who describes Pedro Vicario as a man who looks like “a killer in the movies” (73). Clotilde Armenta is the best-informed witness: she had her store open, she waited on the twins, she listened to their intentions, and she watched the remaining characters involved in the crime walk past one by one. Her attempts to prevent the crime are negated by other coincidences.

But the reconstruction of the facts is not based solely on the witnesses’ testimony. There are other very important elements that contribute to the assembling of the fiction: for example, a judicial abstract, which the narrator finds incomplete and in very bad shape, the narrator’s own recollection, the letters the  narrator’s mother sends him, and the narrator as a witness. Dozens of people have been interviewed, including the victim’s mother, Angela Vicario and her brothers, Bayardo San Román, and members of the narrator’s family. The detailed observations of the characters who witnessed the tragedy, the verbatim quotations  that the narrator includes, and the precision concerning times, create the impression of a newspaper story, thus earning the reader’s trust. Other minor characters are interviewed in the first part of the novel: Margot, the narrator’s sister, who saw the boat arrive and invited Santiago Nasar to have breakfast at her house (20). She expresses favorable opinions about him (20). Other aspects of the relationship between Margot and the crime will be seen later (101). Father Carmen Amador, who had chosen the chickens for the bishop, and Cristo Bedoya, a friend of Santiago’s and the chronicler’s, who amuse themselves by calculating the wedding expenses. Others who already knew about the murder are mentioned: the mayor, Don Lázaro Aponte, and Father Carmen Amador. But they all believed that Santiago had been forewarned because it was impossible that he should not know (22). Luisa Santiaga, the chronicler’s mother, his father, and his brother Jaime also relate their testimony.

Biographical facts about Bayardo San Román are introduced in part two (pp. 27-53). A number of characters give their personal impressions of him, among them Magdalena Oliver, who thought he was a “faggot” the first time she saw him. The letters from the chronicler’s mother describe Bayardo as a character from a legend. The reader discovers that Angela Vicario is the chronicler’s cousin and that Santiago Nasar was baptized under that name because of Luisa Santiaga. Garcia Márquez’s sweetheart (Mercedes Barcha) also plays a part in the fiction, since at Bayardo San Román and Angela Vicario’s wedding celebration García Márquez proposes to her, when she has only just finished primary school. They would marry fourteen years afterwards, the narrator tells us. Don Petronio San Román, Bayardo’s father, enters the fiction as a “hero of the civil wars of the past century, and one of the major glories of the Conservative regime for having put Colonel Aureliano Buendía to flight in the disaster of Tucurinca” (36, 37). The chronicler comments on Don Petronio’s physical appearance and manner of dress. The narrative also includes Alberta Simonds, San Román’s mother: a beautiful mulatto from Curaçao, a former Antillean beauty queen, whose Spanish was still mixed with Papiamento. There is a contrast with Angela Vicario and her family: poor, beautiful, and brought up to get married. This section gives us details about Angela Vicario’s not being a virgin, though it is never said whether Santiago Nasar was the really guilty part.

There is an explicit ambiguity about the two heroes (or victims?): Bayardo San Román and Santiago Nasar. We cannot understand them: “But no one yet knew what cards Bayardo San Román was playing” (46). “Nor was it known what cards Santiago Nasar was playing” (46). This truth and the one about the  the weather are the only ones that will never be solved in the narrative. Part two closes with the description of how the party ended, the return of Angela Vicario to her parents by San Román because of her deflowering, the beating she gets from her mother, and her confession to her two brothers about Santiago Nasar’s guilt; with this accusation Angela Vicario condemns Santiago Nasar to death. Part two continues the technique of part one:  we are shown another angle of the tragedy with characters that are new but interconnect with those in part one and their testimony.

The polyphony of voices continues in part three (55-83) with the  description of the Vicario brothers: “Their reputation as good people was so well-founded that no one paid any attention to them...we thought it was drunkard’s baloney, several butchers declared, as did Victoria Guzmán and many others who saw them later” (60). These polyphonic voices openly announce the crime: “Twenty-two people declared they had heard everything said, and they all coincided in the impression that the only reason the brothers had said it was so that someone would come over to hear them” (58). These declarations are followed by those of Faustino Santos, a butcher; Leandro Pornoy, a policeman who died the following year; Mayor Lázaro Aponte; Hortensia Baute, the first person who wept for Santiago even before he was dead; and Prudencia Cortés, Pablo Vicario’s sweetheart. Prudencia and her mother are the only ones who openly approve of the crime as a legitimate defense of honor. María Alejandrina Cervantes also contributes her opinions; Santiago Nasar had been madly in love with her. There are Luis Enrique and Margot, the chronicler’s brother and sister, and especially Clotilde Armenta, who proves to be the best witness because she was so near the scene of the crime and the twins (61-73). It is in part three that a precise time of the events is offered. After the party, Santiago Nasar enters his house around 4:20 and leaves at 5:30 in the morning. He and the chronicler have been at María Alejandrina Cervantes’ house until after three in the morning: “it was she who did away with my generation’s virginity” (74). The narrator tells us that around four o’clock in the morning, he, his brother Luis Enrique, Cristo Bedoya, and Santiago Nasar walked up the Widow Xius’s hill to serenade the newlyweds. The chronicler asserts that, “until then it hadn’t rained” (77). His testimony conflicts with that of the other witnesses; for example, Pablo Vicario, among others, says,  “It was not raining” (70). We then learn that the newlyweds were not there and that Bayardo San Román had already returned Angela Vicario to her parents. We are told in detail the whereabouts and activities of Cristo Bedoya, Luis Enrique (who was very drunk and could hardly remember anything), the priest, and Santiago Nasar (who slept at his house for about an hour).

Part four (83-111) is the central point of the narrative. Here at last, through a ferocious autopsy, do we get a description of Santiago Nasar’s murder, an event we have known about since the first sentence of the novel. The fifth and final section depicts the murder from the twins’ and witnesses’ points of view. The cutting up of the body serves here as a metaphor of the reading of the text: as the body parts are examined one by one in detail, Santiago’s death is assembled, thus establishing a Foucaultian relationship between death and writing. It will be recalled that the body of the dictator in The Autumn of the Patriarch is also cut up. The account of the autopsy is grotesque, bloody, and minutely anatomical, (84-88) but with humorous touches, like the finding of a gold medal that Santiago Nasar had swallowed when he was four years old (87). It is Father Carmen Amador who performs the crude autopsy, which has no legal standing because he is not a doctor (83). Dr. Dionisio Iguarán, who was the right person to do it, was not in town: “it was as if we have killed him all over again after he was dead. . . . but it was an order from the mayor, and orders from the barbarian, stupid as they might have been, had to be obeyed” (83). The narrator later contradicts this statement, excusing the Mayor’s attitude on the ground of lack of experience (83).

The dogs attack Santiago’s corpse in an attempt to eat it and the narrator has to help Divina Flor stop them. Plácida Pinero orders the dogs killed. Santiago Nasar’s body is exposed for public contemplation while his friends make him a “rich man’s” coffin (84). Note that every character in Chronicle takes part in Nasar’s death, turning the murder into a communal crime. A meticulous account (journalistic, of course) of the autopsy is given: “It was a massacre, performed at a public school with the help of the druggist, who took notes, a first year medical student who was here on vacations. They had only a few instruments for minor surgery, and the rest were craftsmen’s tools” (86). The seven mortal wounds, in addition to the minor ones, are described and it is said that, “he had a deep stab in his right hand.”  The report adds, “It looked like some stigmata of the crucified Christ” (87).

This episode is crucial to our symbolic interpretation of the novel. Further on, the chronicler describes the reactions of Pedro and Pablo Vicario in the Riohacha jail and the declarations of the townspeople pointing to only one victim: Bayardo San Román, who was found unconscious in bed and in the “last stages of ethylic intoxication” (97). All that remained of him was “ a memory of a victim” (99). It should be noted that the concept of “victim” is questioned here. Who is really the victim,  Bayardo San Román or Santiago Nasar?

The smell of Santiago Nasar’s body seems to follow the characters, especially the narrator, who was on his way to María Alejandrina Cervantes’ house. She, for her part, is getting ready to consume a real “banquet” to relieve her sorrow (89). The effect of Nasar’s death on the other characters is described: Pedro Vicario, for example, could not get the dead man’s smell off his own skin. Neither of the brothers slept for several days. Pedro Vicario exclaims, “I was awake for eleven months” (92). Years later, the chronicler tries to interview Bayardo San Román but he refuses; instead he talks to Angela Vicario, twenty-three years after the drama. She insists that Santiago Nasar stole her virginity and tells the chronicler everything: “even the disaster of her wedding night” (104), and her mad love for Bayardo San Román, to whom she wrote hundreds of letters: “She wrote a weekly letter for over half of her lifetime” (109), moved by an obsession, until her husband came back to her for just a few hours, “He was carrying a suitcase with  clothing to stay, and another just like it with almost two thousand letters that she had written him. They were arranged by dates, in bundles tied with colored ribbons, and they were all unopened” (111).

In the fifth and last part (113-143) the narrator starts telling the story in the  plural, in a joint voice combining his own with those of all the other characters, emulating the final chorus of a drama:

For years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a single common anxiety. The cocks of drawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren’t doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate. (113)

This paragraph contains a metaphor of the reading of Chronicle of a Death Foretold as the chronicler wishes it to be. A reading that is not linear but a juxtaposition of episodes, that is, a dialogic reading. An analysis of their consciences by some of the characters concerning their participation in the crime follows the chronicler’s own statement of his involvement. Cristo Bedoya, for example, “never managed to explain to himself why he gave in to the impulse for spending two hours at his grandparents’ house, until the bishop came, instead of going to rest at his parents” (113). And again “but most of those who could have done something to prevent the crime and did not do it, they consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honor are sacred monopolies, giving access only to those who are part of the drama” (114).

Some of the witnesses suffer consequences of the murder: Hortensia Baute suffers hallucinations and does penance: “one day she could not stand it anymore and she ran naked in the streets” (114); Flora Miguel, Santiago Nasar’s sweetheart, became a prostitute in Vichada; Aura Villeros, the midwife, suffered a bladder spasm; Don Rogelio de la Flor, Clotilde’s husband, died at the autopsy of the victim, and Plácida Linero devoted herself to “chewing pepper cress seeds” (115). From the effect of Nasar’s murder on the characters the narrator goes back in time, a procedure repeated throughout the novel: “Twelve days after the crime, the investigating magistrate came upon a town that was an open wound” (115). He  presents the lawyer as a recent graduate, an unknown, and gives the reader details about the abstract (second text) that we already knew something about: an incomplete text, in no particular order, salvaged by the chronicler (only 322 random sheets of the 500 there should have been). The magistrate is portrayed as a person who “evidently” loved literature, had read the Spanish and some of the Latin classics, and was quite familiar with Nietzsche (116). Later the narrator says, “Nevertheless, what had alarmed him most at the conclusion of his excessive diligence was not having found a single clue, not even the most improbable, that Santiago Nasar had been the cause of the wrong” (117). The identification of the chronicler-author with the magistrate is evident: both are lawyers, both reexamine the case of Santiago Nasar’s murder; both know Nietzsche, and Spanish and Latin literature. Neither of them, of course, finds the ultimate truth.

With this procedure García Márquez demythicizes fiction by openly showing its artifices. The narrator has created a double of himself (the magistrate) and a double of his text (the summary) to enhance its credibility. Both the magistrate and the narrator believe in Santiago Nasar’s innocence. Helped by the victim’s closest friends, the narrator examines Santiago’s last hours: “My personal impression is that he died without understanding his death” (118). The narrator then comments on the examination of conscience of other witnesses, but this time mentioning those who incriminated Santiago Nasar: Polo Carrillo comments that, “he thought that his money made him untouchable” (120); Fausta López says that Indalesio Pardo said, “I lost my nerve,” and for that reason didn’t prevent it (120). Escolástica Cisneros, Celeste Dangond, and Yamil Shaium offer their own justifications. The last minutes of Santiago Nasar’s life are told more briefly, tying up the last loose threads of what the reader already knows. The Vicario brothers relate Santiago Nasar’s murder as it appears in the summary. After wounding Santiago three times “they both kept on knifing him against the door with alternate and easy stabs, floating in the dazzling backwater they have found on the other side of fear. They didn’t hear the shouts of the whole town, frightened by its own crime” (140). It is insinuated here that this was a communal crime, and the novel ends with Santiago Nasar dead, lying face down in the kitchen of his own home.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Menippean Satire

In its narrative technique, Chronicle of a Death Foretold belongs, like The Autumn of the Patriarch, to the dialogical genre since it constructs a narrative in the form of a dialogue to find the truth. This is the opposite of the monological technique, which assumes an established truth. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold the dialogical principle appears through a juxtaposition of a number of points of view, inciting the reader to form his own opinion. The text is also that of satire. A carnival-like text, a theatrical spectacle in which there is no distinction between actors and spectators, Chronicle makes all its characters actors who are guilty of the crime and participants in it, and culminates with their attendance at Santiago Nasar’s murder in the square shown as a public act. To comprehend this theater of symbolic signs, we must interpret the names of the characters, the place of sacrifice, and the role of the community in the novel.

The “characters” and events in the novel are presented, as in a parody, from different points of view, like a house of mirrors that lengthens and compresses them in several directions and degrees. All the elements of the text are in opposition, shaping themselves into an extended dialogue. Let us, then,  study the assembled mosaic that is Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

The first intertextual element represents a parody of Christ’s passion: the way it happened, the geographical setting, the youth and innocence of the victims, and the omens. As in The Autumn of the Patriarch, the central scene in our novel is that of the human sacrifice: Santiago Nasar is communally sacrificed in a carnival atmosphere (the community admits its sins, up to a point). René Girard, commenting on the phenomenon of the sacrifice, says of this institution:

There is no object or enterprise in whose name a sacrifice cannot be offered, especially from the moment when the institution’s social character begins to vanish. There is, however, a common denominator of sacrificial efficacy, the more visible and preponderant while the institution remains more alive. This denominator is internal violence: it is the dissensions, the rivalries, the jealousies, the fights among close ones that the sacrifice seeks above all to eliminate, for it restores the harmony of the community and strengthens social unity.27

According to Girard, death is “the worst act of violence that a living being can suffer...the person who dies finds himself in a relation analogous to that of the sacrificial lamb.”28  Santiago Nasar is indeed that “sacrificial lamb” who pays the price so that collective life can go on, so that the community can be born again to the fecundity of a new order. Let us observe the environment in which Santiago Nasar’s sacrificial ceremony takes place.

The wedding preparations, the animal sacrifices, the amount of food and money consumed, the extravagance of the party, the music, the drinks and dance: it all suggests a carnival.29 For example, Santiago calculates the costs of the spree:

He recounted that they had sacrificed forty turkeys and eleven hogs for the guests, and four calves which the bridegroom had set up to be roasted for the people on the public square. He recounted that 205 cases of contraband alcohol had been consumed and almost 2,000 bottles of cane liquor which have been distributed among the crowd. There was not a single person, rich or poor, who had not participated in some way in the wildest party the town had ever seen. (19-20)

This carnival is prolonged by the preparations for the arrival of the bishop:

. . . the people were too excited with the bishop’s visit to worry about any other news. They’d placed the sick people in the archways to receive God’s medicine, and women came running out of their yards with turkeys and suckling pigs and all manner of things to eat, and from the opposite shore came canoes bedecked with flowers. But after the bishop passed without setting foot on land, the other repressed news assumed its scandalous dimensions. (23)

And it is precisely in the midst of the town’s emotional frenzy that Santiago Nasar’s sacrifice takes place, right after the great “banquet” suggested by the exuberance of the wedding and the preparations for the arrival of the bishop. Ironically, the holy envoy does not disembark; he merely pauses for a few minutes to bless the town (a signal of approval of the sacrifice) and keeps on going. At the end of Santiago’s autopsy the idea of a banquet is reiterated (the “massacre,” as the narrator labels it) when the chronicler goes to the house of María Alejandrina Cervantes, who is:

. . . awake as always at dawn, and completely naked as always when there weren’t any strangers in the house. She was squatting like a Turkish houri on her queenly bed across from a Babylonic platter of things to eat: veal cutlets, a boiled chicken, a pork loin, and a garnishing of plantains and vegetables that would have served five people. (89)

We are witnessing a representation of a ritual of life and death, implicit in the perception of the carnivalesque world. “The party itself is nothing but a preparation for the sacrifice that signals at one and the same time a paroxysm and its conclusion.”30 Chronicle dramatizes a symposium, a dialogue within the banquet that is both ambivalent and familiar. This extraordinary situation within the banquet has, as its purpose, to end the violence on the one hand, but on the other, to seek the truth, the encounter with an authentic and fulfilling way of life. The grotesque scene of the murder and the slaughter (autopsy) of the corpse have their philosophical justifications in these purposes. The corpse, for its part, is a metaphor of the text (culture), which must be submitted to a massacre to comprehend and renew it. In Chronicle the ritual appears as follows: “It was a massacre, consumed in the public school’s lot...it was as if we had ‘killed’ him all over again after he was dead” (83, 86).

The symbology of the Catholic religion in the works of García Márquez has been studied previously,31 and I myself have discussed it in Chapter II of my book El mundo satírico de Gabriel García Márquez (1991). Chronicle of a Death Foretold also makes use of this symbology in its construction, launching a camouflaged attack against Catholic principles and hypocrisy. Arnold M. Peñuel in his valuable study on the novel mentioned this aspect 32 His thesis focuses on the doctrine of renunciation of instincts promulgated by the Catholic Church. My interpretation, however, differs from Peñuel’s principally in proposing satire as the origin of this novel and all of García Márquez’s work. The most outstanding point, common to Peñuel’s thesis and to mine, is perhaps Santiago Nasar’s representation as an image of Christ, already present in The Autumn of the Patriarch and analyzed in my book. Evidence of this is found in the names of many of the characters, who together create a biblical ambiance: Pedro (Peter), Pablo (Paul), Poncio (Pontius), Magdalena (Magdalene), Escolástica (Scholasticism), Vicario (Vicar), Angela (Angel), Lázaro (Lazarus) Aponte, Cristo (Christ) Bedoya. Santiago Nasar’s own name evokes this biblical connection: Santiago Apóstol, or Saint James the Apostle, patron saint of Spain, invoked by the old Spanish Christians who fought against the Moors. According to Américo Castro, who devotes a whole chapter of his book España en su historia (1948) to a pilgrimage still practiced today:

At the beginning of the ninth century, a grave near the city of Iria Flavia was venerated. It was believed to contain the body of the Apostle James. The orthodox opinion always acknowledged that the apostle was James the Elder, son of Zebede, mentioned as such by Berceo in the thirteenth century in accordance with ecclesiastical Poem of Fernán González tradition; but popular belief, as opposed to the orthodox, venerated a James (Santiago) who included the Elder and was called ‘the brother of God’ in the Gospel, a description taken literally, as we shall see, by those who venerated the grave. This brotherhood, forgotten by orthodoxy, formed  the center of that belief over many centuries, and acquired considerable magnitude, especially because it referred to a brother of the Savior,  that is, a co-divinity.33

This popularized aspect of Saint James (decapitated in Palestine) may have been what interested García Márquez in creating a character for his novel: Santiago, brother of the Savior, a co-divinity, and at the same time a literary character. Santiago, like Christ, is of Semitic origin and his surname, Nasar, suggests the Nazarene. His constant companion and friend is Cristo Bedoya (Christ), his double (his brother). Various instances support this interpretation. Cristo Bedoya is said to know Santiago Nasar’s house “as well as he knew his own house”; before his death the people “were looking at us as if we had our faces painted” (121). Even the circumstances surrounding Santiago’s approach to his death are parodies of the crucifixion of the Christ.34  The people go to the plaza with them: “The people were breaking up and heading toward the square the same way they were. It was a thick crowd, but Escolástica Cisneros thought she noticed that the two friends were walking in the center of it without any difficulty, inside an empty circle, because everyone knew that Santiago Nasar was going to die and they didn’t dare to touch him” (120, 121). The name and figure of Santiago come from two texts: the one summarized by Castro, a product of Spanish popular religious tradition, already textualized, and the biblical one. We also know that Santiago Nasar, like Christ, is considered innocent by the majority. The details of his murder match those of Christ’s. “Actually, Santiago Nasar wasn’t falling because they themselves [the Vicarios] were holding him up with stabs against the door” (141); the fact that he did not bleed, like a divine being: “The strange thing is the knife kept coming out clean. . . . I’d given it to him at least three times and there wasn’t a drop of blood” (139). The details revealed by the autopsy complete this interpretation: “He had a deep stab wound in the right hand. The report reveals that, “It looks like a stigma of the crucified Christ” (87). Let us also remember that the cocks crow (announcing the death of Christ and Peter’s treachery) when Santiago Nasar walks toward the plaza:35 “It [the boat] appeared at the bend in the river, snorting like a dragon, and then the band of musicians started to play the bishop’s anthem, and the cocks began to crow in their baskets and aroused all the other roosters in town” (18). On Monday, Santiago Nasar routinely went to the ranch called Divino Rostro (“Divine Countenance,” 3), a name popularly given to the cloth Veronica used to wipe Christ’s face. When Santiago Nasar finishes calculating the cost of the wedding and asserts that his own will be just as luxurious, the chronicler says, “My sister felt the angel [of death] pass by. She thought once more about the good fortune of Flora Miguel, who had so many things in her life, and was going to have Santiago Nasar for Christmas that year” (20); the wedding was going to be held on the same day Christ was born. It is also important to notice that when Yamil Shaium bids goodbye to Santiago Nasar, he says, “See you Saturday” (122), the date of Christ’s resurrection.36  Santiago Nasar’s death had been announced everywhere: by the brothers themselves (apostles) to more than a dozen people, besides the omens, in the same way as we know that Christ’s death was announced in the Old Testament and by Christ himself in the New Testament. Both men died young in the midst of decadent values.

What is the meaning of all this sacred parody? Some critics have mentioned in their studies of the novel a criticism of communal values that involve the primitive code of honor.37  To violate this code implies a guilty party, and guilt is ambiguous in the novel. This enables us to see the novel not as a text that judges, but as a polemic text (a satire) that seeks to review and analyze those communal values (moral and institutional), including violence. The judicial system which is destroyed is also questioned–destroyed. Girard comments in this connection: “There is no principle of justice in the penal system that really differs from the principle of vengeance.”38  Implicit in Santiago Nasar’s death and in the twins’ trial, the central values that are examined (satirized) are honor and virginity. In The Autumn of the Patriarch a similar procedure exposes Latin American culture to a profound analysis.

The cult of virginity is inherent in the Catholic religious code of behavior. The best expression of that code is the virginity of the mother of God, who at the same time is called his wife. The condemnation of the cult is made in the text through a parody of the death of Christ. This time Santiago Nasar is the “sacrificial lamb” who must die to renew the values of an entire community. The difference in values for men and women is criticized; this is why Divina Flor is destined for Santiago Nasar’s bed as her mother had been for his father’s. Related to the cult of virginity are other decadent values, such as marriage without love: in Bayardo San Román and Angela Vicario and in Santiago Nasar’s parents: “He was the only child of a marriage of convenience without a single moment of happiness” (6).39

Besides the symbology of the central scene of the novel, there are symbolic names that form part of the same net; they reveal an intertextual relation. Let us see their significance in the context of the novel. Except for Angela Vicario, humanized at the conclusion of the novel and shown as a “new” person who is in command of her own destiny, the characters in Chronicle of a Death Foretold lack any psychological development. This suggests to us that the central character is the community, as it is in The Autumn of the Patriarch. While Peñuel claims that the main interest of the novel lies in exploring the collective psyche or the communal values, 40 Jorge Olivares sees it as a “metafictional narrative” that guides the reading and comments on the dynamics of reading and writing in general. For Olivares, attention is focused on the act of deciphering texts.41 These two positions, the most significant in relation to the novel, are not opposed in my theory of satire; on the contrary, they complement each other. Hence the relevance of this theory to the analysis of all Gabriel García Márquez’s works. The characteristics of Chronicle are, as I said above, those of carnivalized literature: incompatible narrative elements, parodies, anecdotes (with biographical facts about Garcia Marquez himself), biblical allusions, and multiple voices that give testimony on Santiago Nasar’s death, all juxtaposed, in polyphony, in an environment of festivity, hidden under an apparent linearity and transparency of the text. Its artistic principle is not that of evolution, but of coexistence of all its unequal elements at one point in time.

The names of the characters also look like the result of a disorderly juxtaposition: some surnames appear to belong to other first names and it is only through an analysis of the whole that we manage to interpret them. I have mentioned the symbology of Santiago Nasar’s name, and alongside it that of Cristo Bedoya’s is obvious. The former is defined in name by his double (Santiago, Saint James, and Nasar, from Nazareth). The Vicarios, intermediaries of the Church, serve as such in Chronicle; Angela is portrayed as a saint and her family life as sacred. Her father, Poncio Vicario (it was Pontius Pilate who handed Christ over to the Romans), fulfills his function as an intermediary: through his daughter he offers Santiago Nasar to be sacrificed.42 The twins, Pedro y Pablo, (Peter and Paul) are of a double interest: first as the “generators of violence” that ends with the sacrificial rite and second as components of the sacred parody. On the phenomenon of mediation, Girard comments, “In numerous primitive societies, twins inspire great fear. It may happen that one of them is eliminated or, even more frequently, both are eliminated.”  Later he adds, “As soon as the twins of violence appear, they multiply with extraordinary speed, producing the sacrificial crisis.”43  In the text, the twins kill Santiago Nasar violently to avenge their sister’s loss of honor. To stop their “maleficent contagion,” as Girard puts it, the twins must be isolated or one of them must disappear according to the laws of sacrifice; but before this takes place, a number of members must be submitted to “purifying rites” to cleanse themselves of the contagion caused by the twins.44  In Chronicle, people show a certain concern for the twins: “The twins’ fear was in response to the mood in the streets” (93). The twins are arrested (94), and, later, one of them dies (96), completing the purifying rite and cleansing the society. They purify themselves:

They asked for a lot of water, soap and rags, and they washed the blood from their arms and faces, and washed their shirts; but they could not rest: Pedro Vicario asked also for his laxatives and diuretics, and a roll of sterile gauze so he can change his bandage. (91)

His symptoms are described in detail (91). The effects are also seen in the other characters. The text says, “Hortensia Baute, whose only participation was to see the two bloody knives that weren’t bloody yet, felt so affected by the hallucination that she fell into a penitential crisis” (114). “Lázaro Aponte, who had seen and caused so many repressive massacres, became a vegetarian as well as spiritist” (88). “Aura Villeros, the midwife who had helped bring three generations into the world, suffered a spasm of the bladder when she heard the news, and to the day of her death had to use a catheter in order to urinate” (114).

As can be seen, the symbology of sacrifice, the presence of the twins, and the purifying rituals against contagion, as described by Girard, form a code within which the novel can only be understood by interpreting it in its entirety. On the one hand, under the symbolism of religious parody, Pedro and Pablo, biblical names given to two of Christ’s apostles,45 take the initiative in the novel to avenge their sister’s honor. Their mother, Purísima del Carmen, is the person who embodies the Church doctrines in their purest form (41, 42). Her daughter, Angela Vicario, is considered an angel in the community, the fruit of her mother’s teachings; hence her name. The bishop, unnamed, appears as the first person guilty of Santiago Nasar’s death, by blessing it and by changing the order of things with his short visit.

The name of Dionisio Iguarán has a double significance in the fiction: one  intertextual (the namesake of the character in One Hundred Years of Solitude), the other related to Dionysus, an element in the novel to which great importance is attached because it represents the instinctive and unconscious part of human vitality.46  In relation to the Dionysiac, Peñuel evokes the presence of Nietzsche, who sees Christianity as the main cause of the repression of instincts and uses it to interpret two components of human nature, Dionysiac and Apollonian, with positive and negative aspects that are found throughout the novel. The text calls to the need for expressing instincts freely. This is the merit of the character María Alejandrina Cervantes, who, “did away with my generation’s virginity” (74),  a symbol of fertility, tenderness, and comfort whom the novel presents as an ancient goddess. “María” expresses virginity, maternity, love; “Alejandrina” (Alexander), the name given to seven popes; and “Cervantes,” a tribute to the author of Don Quixote.

The name of Father Amador, on the other hand, is defined by its opposite: he does not love, neglects his duty to human beings in order to welcome the bishop, receives the Vicario brothers in church after the crime, and performs the autopsy, destroying the body that the Church so much rejects as the source of sin. Completing the symbology of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Peñuel suggests that Xius’s name derives from Zeus, the Greek god of Olympus, and the house on a hill with a view of a heavenly landscape signifies a glorification of the past (like Yolanda Xius) and of the body. Finally, Peñuel also notes that Petronio, Bayardo San Roman’s father, is associated with the Satyricon (Trimalchio’s banquet) through the lavish wedding celebration.47  Indeed, we can identify a parody of this work through Bayardo San Román’s trying to impress his friends with the cost of the  wedding.

Santiago Nasar’s communal sacrifice as a parody of Catholicism and as a  Dionysiac rite (expressed by the delirium upon seeing his blood) merely signifies that the community values are dying and will lead to the extermination of culture. The intertexuality of Chronicle of a Death Foretold takes place through symbolic clues associated with the names of the characters and, principally, the central scene. In this sense, the originality of the novel resides in the parody of journalistic mechanisms (just beginning to emerge in “Big Mama’s Wake”) so subtly treated that it can easily deceive the reader. In this respect it is the complete opposite of The Autumn of the Patriarch, whose presentation at once aroused suspicion and forced the reader to read it looking for clues to its interpretation.

Time and Space

The idea of time in Chronicle is polyphonic, as in The Autumn of the Patriarch. Only things that can be conceived of as presented simultaneously, or can be interconnected at a single point in time, form part in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The chronicler-reporter’s eagerness to show the reader the personal version of each witness of Santiago Nasar’s death is evident. The characters/witnesses coexist in a very limited time and space. The narration of the chronicle (from the wedding to Nasar’s murder) takes place in two days—similar to the death in The Autumn of the Patriarch--: Santiago dies on a Monday (“but he seemed so 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,” 6). The narrator cites precise times to increase his credibility as a reporter.

However, it is possible to know exactly when the crime occurred. Time passes in the form of an ellipse: temporal circles that touch each other and intermingle. The first circle is the time of the chronicle itself, which is to say, the time of telling Santiago Nasar’s murder. The second is the time of the summary, written twelve days after the crime (115), on which part of the fiction is based. The third time is that of the characters/witnesses’ and the narrator’s memories stretching over many years. Last is the time of writing-reading. The allusions to the time of the chronicle itself are also juxtaposed, as is the testimony in the narrative. Let us look at them one by one.

We know that the wedding was supposed to take place on Sunday morning: “the only unforeseen surprise was caused by the groom on the morning of the wedding, for he was two hours late in coming for Angela Vicario” (45). The second reference to chronological time is six o’clock in the afternoon, when the formal act ends and the guests of honor leave (49). Then, around ten o’clock in the evening, Angela Vicario sends for her small suitcase (51); at eleven, Pura Vicario goes to bed (51); after she has fallen asleep, exactly when is not known, three knocks on the door announce the arrival of Bayardo San Román to bring her daughter back (51). At twelve o’clock, the party breaks up (50); before three  in the morning, the twins return home drunk; at three, Santiago Nasar and the chronicler meet at María Alejandrina Cervantes’s house; at three-twenty, the twins, dressed in black and drunk, go up to Faustino Santos’s (58). At almost four o’clock the chronicler and some friends go up to Xius’s home on the hill to serenade the newlyweds (76); at ten past four, the twins enter Clotilde Armenta’s store (61); at four-twenty, Santiago Nasar goes into his house (73); at five-thirty,  Santiago Nasar wakes up (the first sentence in the book, 1); at six-five, he leaves his house (2); forty-five minutes before he dies, Santiago Nasar calculates the  cost of the party (48); at six-forty-five, he enters the house of his fiancee,  Flora Miguel (113); at six-forty-six, Cristo Bedoya goes to his house looking for him and cannot find him (131). Santiago Nasar must have died around seven o’clock in the morning. Obviously, however, the detective game does not stop with finding the exact hour at which he dies, but goes further into investigating the mechanisms of the fiction.

The space in the story is as limited as on a stage. The drama unfolds in one section of the town: the plaza, Clotilde Armenta’s store, Santiago Nasar’s and María Alejandrina Cervantes’ houses, and those of the Vicario family and Xius. Polyphony dramatizes the simultaneity of the narrative in a single space: the narrative of the small spatial circles converge into one. What unites these small circular spaces is that through them we know a fragment of the story and that the juxtaposition of these fragments creates the entire fiction. In all these spaces we experience the carnival atmosphere created by the wedding, the bishop’s arrival, and Santiago Nasar’s sacrifice. Finally, the writing is camouflaged by the voice of the narrator, that is, Chronicle acquires metafictional dimensions. As Olivares says, it is a “self-conscious” novel: its title mocks the reader and forces him to enter the investigative process of intertextual construction similar to that of the chronicler.48  Literary critics have focused their interest and studies on the metafictional aspect of modern literature.49 Patricia Waugh defines it as follows:

Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionalization of the world outside the literary fictional text.50

In the novel the reading process is dramatized as follows:

For many years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a single common anxiety. The cocks of dawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren’t doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate. (113)

Elsewhere the chronicler says, “Much later, during an uncertain period when I was trying to understand something of myself selling encyclopedias and medical books in the town of Guajira, by chance I got as far as that Indian death village” (102). García Márquez is questioning here the phenomenon of non-linear reading of the novel and that of writing itself, concluding that he writes to understand himself and by chance. He adds later, “but no matter how much they tossed the story back and forth, no one could explain to me how the poor Santiago Nasar ended up being involved in such a mix-up” (24). The narrator is dramatizing in this way the situation of the reader, of fiction, and of reality, and the impossibility of knowing “ultimate” truth. On the next page, the chronicler comments on his mother’s attitude when the chronicler’s sister told her the news: “it was the same as always: you begin telling her something and before the story is half over she already knows how it came out” (24, 25). We do not read this novel to know how it ends, since we are told from the start. Instead, we read it to look for something else hidden within the narration: the fundamental structures of narrative fiction and the fictionalization of the world outside the text. In short, what these statements indicate is the author’s absolute consciousness of his creation, of narrative technique; they also imply a questioning of the originality of literature. The themes are not new. Literature is merely a rewriting of old topics or themes. That is why no one could stop the twins; the drama was already written; thus, when asked about Santiago before he dies in the story, the narrator’s brother answers, “Santiago Nasar is dead” (80). García Márquez has created a work of fiction by parodying journalistic technique.

The metafictional aspect of the novel also achieves erotic dimensions, as Olivares shows:

Even though Crónica pretends to expose the crime, it exposes primarily its own novelistic conventions by organizing the text around three interrelated acts: copulation, assassination, and writing. Angela’s seduction engenders her brothers’ physical violence, which in turn engenders the narrator’s chronicle.51


My reading of Chronicle of a Death Foretold conforms to my initial thesis: the novel as satire. Seen in this way, Chronicle is a plurivalent text that holds many voices heard simultaneously: many texts in contention that can only be read through intertextuality. Chronicle subverts its own notion of genre by parodying—destroying—the genre of chronicle itself and the genre of detective novels; in the final analysis, it subverts the very  notion of the relationship between life and art differing from that of fiction, in that it cannot arrive at absolute truth. The novel nullifies the reader’s illusion of seeking “facts.”  Rather, Chronicle encourages the reader to focus his attention on the creative process of fiction, that is, on language. The religion through which Santiago Nasar represents Christ, thus turning the novel into a sacred the judicial system, suggesting that it is an inoperative system, whose purpose is vengeance and whose code is fictional. The very maner in which the story is presented, on one hand giving characters and exact times in which the events take place, implies a parody of the shown, it parodies  detective novels. The only possible reading of the text, therefore, is the metaphorical one.

* Originally translated by Luis Antonio Báez in collaboration with the author.



1. Originally published as Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Bogotá: Oveja Negra, 1981). The translation (New York: Ballantine, 1982), from which I shall be quoting, is by Gregory Rabassa.

2. See the review by Adelaida López Martínez, Chasqui 10 (1981): 72.

3. This opinion of Rosario Ferré’s is cited by Carmen Rabell in “Periodismo y acción en Crónica de una muerte anunciada,” Santiago, Monografías del Maitén, 1985, 13; the term “fraud” takes on negative connotations, even though Ferré is right in principle.

4. In Mikhail Bakhtin’s terms, discussed mainly in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 1929, translated by R.W. Rotsel (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1973), and L’oeuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Age et sous la Renaissance, 1955.  See also Julia Kristeva, “Bakhtin, le mot, le dialogue et le roman,” in Semeiotike: Récherches pour un sémanalyse (Paris: Gallimard, 1969) 143-172, and Tzevetan Todorov, Mikhail Bakhtin, the Dialogical Principle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

5. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1973, vol. II,  909.

6. Louis O. Mink, “Narrative Form as a Cognitive Instrument,” The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding (eds.) Robert A. Canary and Henry Kozicki (Madison: U. of Wisconsin Press, 1978) 129-149.

7. Ibid,  142.  

8. Ibid.,  143.

9. Ibid.,  144..

10. Hayden White, “The Historical Text as a Literary Artifact,” in Canary and Kozicki, op. cit.,  44..

11. I have taken the definition of journalism from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. V,  617.

12. On this aspect, see Gonzalo Díaz-Migoyo, “Sub-rosa: La verdad fingida de Crónica de una muerte anunciada,” Hispanic Review 55. 4 (Autumn 1987): 425-440.  It contains a quite useful bibliography.29.

13. Interview with Jesús Ceberio, “Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada es mi mejor novela,” El País [Madrid], 1 de mayo de 1981, 29.

14. In Díaz-Migoyo the events are summarized as follows:  “The event occurred on January 22, 1951, in Sucre (Colombia): When he discovered on their wedding night that his wife, Margarita Chica Salas, was not a virgin, Miguel Reyes Palencia returned her to her mother.  The next morning,  Cayetano Gentile Chimento died at the hands of Victor, Margarita’s brother, as responsible for his sister’s dishonor.  It was a crime with no mystery or complications, common in its motives, circumstances, and execution.”  Later, Díaz-Migoyo compares the opinions of the characters interviewed on the occasion of the publication of the novel, highlighting their differences; for example, the fact that the author did not witness the death of the protagonist, as he claims

15. “Entrevista a García Márquez,”  Diario [Madrid] 28 abril, 1981,  71-73.  In another interview, with Rosa E. Peláez and Cino Colina, reprinted in Excelsior, México, D.F., 31 diciembre 1977, García Márquez also stresses that the genre of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a problem of definition, since he sees little difference between being a reporter and a chronicler.  He adds that one of his goals is to combine journalism and fiction in such a way that when the news becomes boring, he can improve and embellish it with his own inventions.

16. Interview with Marlise Simons, “García Márquez on Love, Plague and Politics,” New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1988, 3, 23-25.

17. In Gabriel García Márquez, Textos costeños I  (comp.) Jacques Gilard (Bogotá: Oveja Negra 1981) 26.  Gilard critiques García Márquez´s reportage from his earliest days on.

18. On chronicles, see Orlando Gómez-Gil, Historia de la literatura hispanoamericana desde los orígenes hasta el momento actual (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968) 23-54.

19. García Márquez, Textos costeños I, op.cit.,  18.

20. Jorge Ruffinelli, “La crónica como práctica narrativa en México,” Hispanic Journal, 8. 2 (Spring 1987): 66-77.

21. John Benson expresses this opinion in his review of Chronicle of a Death Foretold in Latin American Literary Review, XI. 21 (Fall-Winter 1982): 63-77.  See  64.

22. Gregory Rabassa, “Gabriel García Márquez’s New Book: Literature or Journalism?” World Literature Today,.56.1 (1982): 49.

23. Several reviews and articles mention these points.   See Angel Rama, “García Márquez entre la tragedia y la policial o crónica y pesquisa de Crónica de una muerte anunciada,”  Sin Nombre, 13 (1982): 1-27; Arnold M. Peñuel, “ The Sleep of Vital Reason in García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada,” Hispania, 68 (December 1985): 753-766; Richard Predmore, “El mundo moral de Crónica de una muerte anunciada,Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, 390 (1982): 703-712; Jonathan Yardley, “García Márquez and the Broken Mirror of Memory,” Washington Post Book World (March 27, 1983): 3.

24. Rabassa translates this sentence as “provided they were told her before eating.”  This is somewhat ambiguous since the phrase in the Spanish text contains the word ayuno—”fasting.”  “Fasting” suggests, within the context of the novel, a connection between the ability to interpret dreams as superstition and the purgation or cleansing of the body and soul required to foretell the future.

25. Rabassa’s translation, “I was recovering from the wedding revels in the apostolic lap of María Alejandrina Cervantes, and I only awakened with the clamor of the alarm bells, thinking they had turned them loose in honor of the bishop,” lacks the notion that the chronicler would have remained asleep with María Alejandrina Cervantes had it not been for the loud noise that the bells were making in the bishop’s honor.

26. Rabassa, op. cit.,  49.   

27. On the symbology of sacrifice, see René Girard, La violencia y lo sagrado, translated by Joaquín Jorda,  Barcelona, Anagrama, 1983 (originally published as La violence et le sacre, Paris, 1972).   I quote from page 16.   See also, by the same author, Violent Origins (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987) and Des chases cachées depuis la fondation du monde (Paris: B. Grasset, 1978).   

28. Girard, La violencia y lo sagrado, op. cit.,  265.

29. On the ritual character of parties, see bid.,  127-144.  Girard’s study complements Bakhtin’s analysis of carnival perfectly.

30. Ibid.,  265.

31. See Graciela Maturo, Claves simbólicas de Gabriel García Márquez, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Fernando García Cambeiro, 1977).

32. Arnold M. Peñuel, “The Sleep of Vital Reason in García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada,” Hispania, 68 (December 1985): 753-766.

33. Américo Castro, España en su historia: Cristianos, moros y judíos (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1948) 107-153, deals with “La creencia de Santiago de Galicia.”

34. On Christ’s crucifixion in the midst of the yelling populace, see Matthew 27:11-50.

35. On the denial of Peter, see John 18:15-27.

36. On Christ’s resurrection on a Saturday, see Matthew 28:1-10.

37. See Peñuel, op. cit.  Also Isabel Alvarez-Borland, “From Mystery to Parody: (Re)Reading García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada,” Symposium, 38 (1984-85) especially  278-286.  This topic is the center of discussion in Richard Predmore, “El mundo moral de Crónica de una muerte anunciada,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, 390 (1982): 703-212, and Peter S. Prescott, “Murder and Machismo,” Newsweek (November 1, 1982):  82.

38. Girard, La violencia y lo sagrado, op. cit.,  2.

39. The concern over “what people will say” is studied by Peñuel,  762.

40. Ibid.,  761.

41. Jorge Olivares, “Gabriel García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada as Metafiction,” Contemporary Literature, 28 (1987): 483-492.

42. Peñuel also analyzes the symbology of names in his article.  On Pilate, see Matthew 27:1-2.

43. Girard, op. cit.,  64.

44. Ibid.,  64, 65.

45. See Apostles, 13:1-15.

46. On the dialectic between Dionysians and Apollonians in culture, see Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner, translated  by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967).  Although this topic is discussed thoughout this book, see  1-41.  Also from the same author, Beyond Good and Evil  translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1966) 233-236.

47. Peñuel, op. cit.,  761.

48. The metafictional aspect of the novel is well studied in Olivares, op. cit.

49. See Robert Scholes, Fabulation and Metafiction (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 1979); Robert Spires, Beyond the Metafictional Mode: Directions in the Modern Spanish Novel (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984); Patricia Waugh, Metafiction:  The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction (New York: Methuen, 1984).

50. Waugh, op. cit.,  2.

51. Olivares, op. cit.,  484.