Chronicle of a Death Foretold begins with Santiago Nasar's final morning, clearly stating he is going to be killed. He awakes from uneasy dreams-after which he feels "splattered by bird shit"-to greet a bishop who is supposed to be landing in their town. He mentions the bad dreams to his mother, Placida Linero, who is known to interpret the dreams of others, though even she fails to foresee her son's ensuing death. We are also introduced to the narrator, a good friend of Santiago's, who is telling the story twenty-seven years after the fact.
As he walks to see the bishop, Santiago meets many people who later report that he was in a good mood. He wears unstarched white linen, his suit for special occasions. The narrator states that he was "recovering from the wedding revels [Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman had been married the previous evening] in the apostolic lap of Maria Alejandrina Cervantes," the respected local prostitute, on the morning in question. He mentions that Santiago was unarmed, as was his custom, though he owned several guns.
Santiago's mother remembers him on the morning of his death as twenty-one years old, "slim and pale" with "his father's Arab eyelids and curly hair." The Nasar family's two servants, Victoria Guzman and Divina Flor, also see him go to greet the bishop. Victoria had been seduced by Ibrahim Nasar, Santiago's father, years before, and is determined that her daughter not meet the same fate as she; when Santiago makes a pass at Divina, Victoria quietly threatens him with a bloody knife, which startles him. Victoria and Divina both know about the murder plot, though neither mentions it: Victoria because she "thought it was drunkards' talk" and Divina because "in the depths of her heart she wanted them to kill him." As he leaves the house, he grabs Divina's "whole pussy."
Several coincidences immediately arise that make Santiago's death possible: first, he fails to notice a note that had been pushed under the door, warning him in detail of the murder; second, the narrator notes that he generally used the back door of the house, which he failed to do on the day of his death, but which, if he had used it, would have saved his life. On his way to greet the bishop, Santiago passes the milk shop where the twins Pedro and Pablo Vicario are waiting to kill him. However, Clotilde Armenta, the proprietress of the milk shop, convinces them to let Santiago Nasar see the bishop first.
The bishop does not even come ashore, which disappoints many, though Santiago remains in a good mood, reflecting on the magnificent wedding the night before and saying that his own wedding to his fiancÃ©e, Flora Miguel, will be just like it. The narrator then turns to Margot; she invites Santiago to breakfast on the day of his murder and he goes home to change first. She then finds out about the plot to kill him-something about how Angela Vicario was returned to her family in shame-and tells her mother, Luisa Santiaga. Luisa, though she has ties to both sides of the conflict, decides to warn Santiago and his mother. On her way to do so, however, someone says, "Don't bother yourself, Luisa Santiaga. They've already killed him."
The first paragraph of Chronicle of a Death Foretold "foretells" many of the concerns that Garcia Marquez develops throughout the novel. For instance, he focuses on time-mentioning that Santiago woke at 5:30 a.m., that he was killed on a Monday and that the narrator is speaking from twenty-seven years in the future. Specific mentions of time continue throughout the story. Garcia Marquez complements this concern with an unusual structure: instead of unfolding chronologically, the novel is a kind of spiral. Each chapter has its own system of time, tending to circle back on itself. This obsession with time, coupled with Garcia Marquez' unusual structure, suggests the paradox that however journalistically the events of Santiago's death may be recorded, our knowledge can never be certain. Garcia Marquez's descriptions of events almost always include specific times, but they often contradict one another, suggesting that each account "believes" in its own accuracy-though none is wholly accurate.
Also, within the first paragraph, Garcia Marquez introduces the importance of his culture to the ensuing events-especially the role of extrasensory knowledge. Placida Linero is plainly announced to be an "interpreter" of dreams; such occult abilities are treated as commonplace throughout the narrative. Characters consistently respond in an intuitive way to the coming murder. For instance, Santiago's recoil at the sight of the butchered rabbits (a sight that he, a hunter, is well accustomed to and doesn't usually mind) anticipates his own evisceration at the novels end. This tendency to foretell the future also reinforces the treatment of time in the novel: time is not a linear thing, but rather cyclical-hence the spiraling structure of each chapters. Santiago's death is present before it happens and many signs point to it; the characters simply fail to read these signs before it is too late.
Part of this failure stems from the uniqueness of individual perspectives on daily events. Not only does each character fail, in his or her own way, to prevent the murder; the characters in the novel can't even agree upon what the weather was like on the day in question. The inconsistency of memories, thus, is one of the central themes of the work. Throughout, Garcia Marquez replays the same events from different characters' points of views; these differing accounts are clear in themselves, but when compared they reveal, in Garcia Marquez' own words, "a broken mirror of memory [put] back together from so many scattered shards."
This fragmentation of memory corresponds, in turn, to a fragmentation of social responsibility. From the outset, it is apparent that Pedro and Pablo don't really want to kill Santiago-they simply see it as their duty in defending their family honor to attempt the murder. They do all that they can, it seems, to inspire the townsfolk to prevent their success, announcing their intention publicly, even to Santiago's friends. Each member of the society, however, leaves it to the rest to prevent the murder, a collective shirking of conscience that ultimately fails. To some degree, an astonishing number of coincidences occurred to prevent even those who wanted to warn Santiago from doing so; even so, the failure to prevent Santiago's death is a failure of every individual within the society. Even the moral beacons of the town, such as the priest and the mayor, are too self-absorbed to stop a stupid, unjust, easily preventable killing.