Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5


For years after, no one in town can discuss anything but the murder. They become obsessed with the number of coincidences that aligned in order to make the murder possible; some are never able to forgive themselves for their part in the murder. For instance, while Placida is able to explain why she locked the main door (Divina swore she'd seen Santiago enter and go upstairs), she can't forgive herself for failing to notice the omens in Santiago's dreams.

The narrator shifts to twelve days after the murder, when the investigating magistrate comes to town. The magistrate, who is unnamed, notes in the margins of the case that "he never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature." He is further alarmed at "not having found a single clue, not even the most improbable, that Santiago Nasar had been the cause of the wrong."

Shifting to the murder day, we learn that the twins tell Santiago's good friend Indalecio Pardo, about their plan. Indalecio loses the nerve to warn Santiago when he sees him. On the morning, Santiago walks with Cristo Bedoya, who notices strange looks among the crowd but is not yet aware of the plan. The crowd parts for them, not wanting to touch a man who will soon die.

After Cristo and Santiago part, Yamil Shaium, an Arab who had immigrated with Santiago Nasar's father, warns Cristo of the plot, but Cristo is unable to find Santiago again. Somehow, no one has seen him enter his fiancée's home off the square. Cristo goes to Santiago's house, where he tells Victoria of the plot (she already knows); when he cannot find Santiago he leaves without telling Placida, for want of frightening her.

Back in the square, Pedro Vicario calls to Cristo to warn Santiago but Cristo is still unable to find his friend. He tells Colonel Aponte, who swears that he sent the twins home but agrees to take care of the matter again. Instead the mayor stops by the social club to check on a dominoes date. Cristo meanwhile goes to the narrator's house, where he assumes Santiago must have gone, only to hear distant shouting and learn that he was too late.

When Santiago arrives at her house, his fiancée Flora, who knew of the plot, furiously returns his love letters to her, saying, "Here you are, and I hope they kill you!" She later explains that she didn't believe they would really kill Santiago but thought they would force him to marry Angela. Santiago has no idea what caused her outburst and calls after her, rousing the whole family, at which point Flora's father, Nahir Miguel, informs him of the plot. Santiago is totally confused, and thus clearly innocent, so Nahir tells him to hide in their house or take a rifle for protection.

Santiago, however, leaves without the rifle, afraid and baffled-unable even to find his own house. The twins see him and walk after him; Clotilde Armenta screams for Santiago to run. Meanwhile, Victoria had finally told Placida about the murder plot; Placida asks Divina if her son is at home, and when Divina swears that he is, she locks the door, seeing the Vicario brothers running at the house with their knives out. Santiago, shut out of his own house seconds too late, is killed. The twins stab him repeatedly, including a horizontal slash across his stomach that releases his viscera.

Just then, a group of angry Arab immigrants brandishing guns chase the twins to the church. Santiago stumbles into the house through the back door "that had been open since six" and dies in the kitchen.


This chapter does not contain much that is new-we've already seen these events before, several times. It serves rather to place these events in a larger, literary context, mostly through the testimony of the visiting judge. This investigating magistrate-who interprets the events of this novel much like a reader or a critic himself-clearly sides with many of the conclusions that Garcia Marquez has already invited us to accept. He concludes that Santiago Nasar's behavior during the morning of his death was "overwhelming proof of his innocence" and that Angela's impassivity in naming him as her perpetrator suggested the she was lying. Moreover, the judge determines that the Vicario brothers don't want to murder Santiago-they even tell Indalecio Pardo, a good friend of Santiago Nasar's, about their plan to kill him; when Clotilde Armenta tells him to warn Santiago, Pedro tells him, "Don't bother. No matter what, he's as good as dead already." This statement was "too obvious a challenge;" the twins "must have thought that he was just the right person to stop the crime without bringing any shame on them."

But the magistrate's purpose is not just to tie up these loose ends. After all, we could be reasonably sure that Santiago is innocent and that the Vicarios are ambivalent about killing him well before the magistrate passes his judgment. What the magistrate brings that is new is a sense of the preceding events as literature. The judge in this chapter states that "he never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature." This is a tongue-in-cheek comment if ever there was one, as the proceeding-though based on a real event-is, in fact literature. Indeed, Garcia Marquez' novel is literature, to a great degree, because of, not in spite of, the use of coincidences.

Garcia Marquez uses these coincidences in two ways, both of which get at the deepest resonances of the novel. On the one hand, the series of unbelievable chances that result in Santiago's death suggest that the death was fated, that no one could have stopped it. There is a sense of magic in this reading, of inescapable destiny. This theme has been developed from the very first words of the book, even from the book's very title. Santiago's death is "foretold." He dreams ominous dreams, responds strangely to the rabbit guts, etc. All the way until his death, it is as though fate works through the townsfolk, keeping them from warning him until it's too late. Even Santiago himself is, in this reading, complicit in his own death. He goes for the front door, resulting in his murder-not the back, which would have saved him. As characters comment throughout the book, he's already dead. There's no saving him.

But on the other hand, maybe all of these coincidences aren't coincidences at all. The narrator records them twenty-seven years after the fact, remember, and the people he interviews seem uniformly willing to shirk their complicity in the murder onto a sense of the murder's fatedness. Taking the two prongs of "magical realism": if the sense of fate in the book is what makes it magical, it is this attentiveness to magic as a human psychological condition that makes the book realistic. Only in hindsight do these coincidences seem so bafflingly coincidental. Perhaps, in reality, they are simply instances of selfishness and strategy-Divina Flora, remember, has reason to hate Santiago, and she may very well cause his death when she tells Santiago's mother that her son is safe upstairs-with a reasonable measure of chance. Perhaps the very act of calling Santiago's death a "series of coincidences" is merely a collective purging of conscience. He could have been saved-he should have been saved-but he wasn't, and so, in hindsight, people pretend he never could have been saved, or that he deserved to die, or that he would have died anyway of an "enlarged liver."

Given that Garcia Marquez based this novel on the real-life death of a friend of his, it seems reasonably that the second reading might be the more accurate. His story is not just a beautiful evocation of magic and fate, it is a specific condemnation of cultural practices-such as honor killings and enforced virginity-that result in chaotic, vigilante "justice." Santiago's death, though beautifully and carefully crafted in the language of destiny, is not destined. It is the result of moral failure, for which all members of society-including Santiago himself-can assume some burden of the guilt.