Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold Study Guide

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, is a hybrid of literary genres, at once a journalistic account of a historical murder that took place in Sucre, Columbia, a psychological detective story, and a work of allegorical fiction. On January 22, 1951, two brothers in the Chica family murdered Cayetano Gentile Chimento, because he has sex with their sister, Margarita Chica Salas, before her marriage to Miguel Reyes Palencia. When Miguel discovered her lack of virginity, he returned Margarita to the Chica Salas family, at which point they discovered and killed the man who had deflowered her. This historical murder provides the provides the main thrust of the story in Chronicle of a Death Foretold; the work is not pure history, however, in that it stages the murder in a narrative fashion and takes several fictional liberties in telling the story. Moreover, Garcia Marquez is less concerned with the recording of facts (the specific historical setting of the novel, for instance, is never mentioned, and the names in the novel have been changed) than he is with an exploration of the murderers' reasons for going through with the murder, as well as the townsfolk's reasons for allowing the murder to happen against their collective conscience. The result is quite unique and striking-a balance of journalism and allegory, of history and morality play.

Each generic component of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is expressed stylistically. The journalistic concern comes through both in Garcia Marquez' detached consideration of the daily habits of the denizens of the town as well as in a strict time line. The novel is calibrated down to the minute. We know that Santiago woke up at 5:30 in the morning to see the bishop, and that he was dead by 7:05. To put Garcia Marquez' style in flatly journalistic terms, he is always concerned with showing us the who, where, when and how.

He is also concerned with the why, which comprises the psychological component of the story. As the title suggests, there is no mystery surrounding the death of Santiago Nasar, the character based on the historical Cayetano. We know that he is killed, when he is killed and who killed him immediately. But the why of his death-the complex social milieu that both tolerates and despises the murder-is not so clear. Marquez dispassionately (more or less) presents the social pressures at work, allowing us not a simple answer or a simple judgment but merely a glimpse into the welter of justice and injustice foregrounded by Santiago and Angela's alleged tryst.

Finally, the story works on the level of allegory, using a variety of biblical references to comment upon the morality or immorality of Santiago's death. Garcia Marquez regularly paints Santiago as a Christ-like character. Santiago appears with a stigmata-like stab wound on his hand, for instance, and is murdered wearing a white linen suit, which summons images of Biblical robes and of sacrificial lambs, suggesting Santiago's ultimate innocence. Moreover, Santiago is impaled on a wooden door, like Christ to the cross, in broad daylight with a crowd of people watching: a public crucifixion of sorts.

The novel was published in 1981. In allowing its publication Garcia Marquez broke a self-imposed "publication strike," under which, for years, he had refused to publish any work until the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was no longer in power. Chronicle of a Death Foretold was an immediate success; more than a million copies of the novel were printed in its initial publishing run. Marquez won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982, the following year.