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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

CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD:
VIOLENCE AS A GENRE*

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.