Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4


The chapter begins after Santiago's stabbing, as he is in his death throes on the kitchen floor; his dogs are howling uncontrollably and Placida Linero orders that they be locked up in the stable. At noon they escape and burst back into the house, after which Placida orders them killed. Following the dogs' death the house is silent.

The mayor orders that Santiago's body be refrigerated until Dr. Dionisio Iguaran, who is out of town, can perform an autopsy. Their attempts at refrigeration fail, however; Santiago's body rots until Father Amador, who had briefly attended medical school, is prevailed upon to perform the autopsy. The body comes back badly botched, "as if [they'd] killed him all over again after he was dead," along with the judgment that there were seven fatal stab wounds and many more smaller ones. Father Amador also notes that Santiago's liver revealed a poorly cured case of hepatitis, meaning that he would only have lived a few more years anyway, an opinion later disputed by Dr. Iguaran.

The chapter goes on to describe the fallout after Santiago's death. The narrator, for instance, visits his lover, Maria, only to find her gorging herself: her way of mourning. He falls asleep while mourning with her and is awoken when she tries to make love to him; she soon stops, however, saying, "I can't. You smell of him."

Pedro and Pablo Vicario, who are in jail, also smell Santiago everywhere. They are afraid to sleep, where they commit the murder again in their dreams. Also, they both have horrible excretory problems-Pedro suffers from sergeant's blennorrhea, which makes urination painful, and Pablo suffers from "pestilential diarrhea." They are further troubled because the generally peaceful Arab community had been vengeful after Santiago's death. Eventually Susana Abdala, the ancient matriarch of the Arab immigrants, cures both Pedro's blennorrhea and Pablo's diarrhea.

The narrator relates the fates of the Vicario family: after the debacle, they retire from the town and never return, moving to Manaure instead. The twins insist that their killing was honorable all the way up to their trial day, when they are absolved. They move to Riohacha near Manaure where Pablo marries Prudencia and becomes a goldsmith. Pedro, meanwhile, reenlists in the army and disappears one morning in enemy territory.

Bayardo's fate is also related: Colonel Aponte finds him in Xius' house, still wearing his wedding clothes, "in the last stages of ethylic intoxication." His mother and two sisters come and carry him to their boat in a hammock, still drunk and looking as though he was dead.

Angela and her mother, meanwhile, move to an Indian village in the upper Guajira. The narrator notes that he saw her there twenty-three years after the murder and is surprised by "the way in which she'd ended up understanding her own life." She has matured and grown witty and she doesn't shy away from recounting the details of the wedding and murder, though she never tells the identity of her true lover.

Angela tells the narrator the while her mother was beating her she realized that she loved Bayardo. One day long afterwards she saw him in a hotel lobby in Riohacha and from that day on she "went crazy over him." She wrote him letters continually though he never replied, and in so doing "she became lucid, overbearing, mistress of her own free will, and she became a virgin again just for him, and she recognized no other authority than her own nor any other service than that of her obsession." She wrote him a letter once a week for seventeen years and finally Bayardo arrived at her house, old fat and balding, with two suitcases, one filled with clothing "in order to stay," and another with almost two thousand letters that she'd written to him, all unopened.


Santiago Nasar's dogs, first shown in Chapter One begging for the rabbits' innards while Victoria Guzman cooks, make a memorable repeat appearance. Divina Flor, while holding the dogs off in Chapter Four, screams, "Help me! What they want is to eat his guts." Thus, once again, time has looped back on itself: Santiago's death, present from the beginning, has come to pass: the eviscerated white rabbit has become the eviscerated youth in white linens. Such repetitions emphasize the death's "foretold" nature; no one, Garcia Marquez, could have prevented this innocent from dying.

And it's not just the dogs that are obsessed with guts in the fourth chapter. Another main event of the section is Father Amador's botched autopsy of Santiago, whose gore and wounds evoke much of the meaning of this passage. For a good deal of the book, Santiago is treated as a sort of idea, a man maligned by fate and misremembered by the community that failed him. In Chapter Four, however, Garcia Marquez shows him as a human being. His death throes are described in horrific, close detail, and Garcia Marquez makes much of the comparison to Jesus Christ, noting stigmata in Santiago's left hand. Like Christ, Santiago has been sacrificed for a sin that he (likely) did not commit; he is a scapegoat, a sacrificial lamb in white linen. And like Christ, his martyrdom is recorded in gruesome physical detail.

And the autopsy-a second death, as his mother notes-is just as disrespectful and senseless as the murder itself. It tells us nothing new at all. Perhaps its only function is to make the villagers feel better about their failure to prevent the death-after all, Father Amador "discovers" that Santiago would only have lived a short while longer anyway due to an enlarged liver. We can doubt very much the truth of this conclusion; it seems merely to serve as a sort of umbrage for a guilty town. As with the constant talk of coincidences, the town would rather blame fate for Santiago's death than scrutinize themselves.

Similarly, the majority of townsfolk don't even consider Santiago a victim of this murder. They consider Bayardo the only victim, because only he has lost honor, assuming that Santiago slept with Angela and thus deserved his death and that Angela, through Santiago's killing, has been redeemed. Again, as with the autopsy, this is umbrage from collective guilt: we know how unlikely it is that Santiago slept with Angela, but the townsfolk by and large seem to require a simple explanation for his death. They need him to be guilty-though he probably isn't-so that they don't have to see themselves as guilty. Garcia Marquez, however, insinuates that everyone in the town shares the stain of guilt.

And every character shares innocence as well. Even Angela, who seems easiest to condemn for her randomly chosen death sentence, finds redemption. She explains to the narrator many years after that the reason she could not fake her virginity-in other words, fake her virtue-is that she was, in fact virtuous. He writes that she had a "pure decency...carried hidden inside the solidity her mother had imposed." Her willingness to reveal her indecency (her lost virginity) is, in fact, an act of decency; Angela, like everyone, contains both innocence and corruption. She is corrupt in the weak bodily sense that her patriarchal society values-she is deflowered. But within herself she is pure, uncorrupt. As she says, she is a second virgin. Then again, she condemns an innocent man and stands by her lie forever. We will never get a simple reading on a Garcia Marquez character; they are both deceived and deceivers, innocents and fallen, human through and through.

Finally, one of the most magical parts of this novel is the return of Bayardo with his suitcase full of unopened letters. The gesture captures the incredible sense of grief and love that follows a betrayal: Bayardo can't bring himself to read the letters, Angela can't bring herself to stop writing them. When he returns, toting seventeen years of Angela's most anguished outpourings, it is as though he brings her life back with him. The same solid pure decency that kept her from deceiving Bayardo ultimately wins him back; her stubborn reliance on her self-defined-not society-defined-virtue. Angela is a charming, witty woman, as full of mystery as her lover when the novel closes, making it all the easier to forgive her youthful, extorted condemnation of Santiago.