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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 64
Año: 1998
Autor: Isabel Rodríguez Vergara
Título: Haunting Demons: Critical Essays on the Works of Gabriel García Márquez

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