Chapter Three describes the manner in which the Vicario twins went about killing Santiago. It begins with their acquittal, after they had spent three years in prison awaiting trial for the murder, because the homicide was ruled in "legitimate defense of honor."
The narrator then describes the number of people whom the brothers told about their plan to murder Santiago: at least twenty-two. They went about their scheme publicly, even sharpening their knives at the meat market. Next, the brothers visit the milk shop, where they discuss their plan with a policeman, Leandro Pornoy, and with Clotilde. Clotilde is the most concerned of those who are in on the plot, knowing the twins to be scared and immature and thus "capable of everything." She tells her husband, Don Rogelio de la Flor, of the murder plot, only to be dismissed as silly.
Pornoy tells the mayor, Colonel Lazaro Aponte, about the twins plot; he too is dismissive until he discovers that Bayardo San Roman had returned Angela Vicario to her family. Realizing that Santiago Nasar might be in real danger, he takes the twins' knives away and sends them home, failing to detain the brothers (which Clotilde recommends). The mayor then forgets to tell Santiago, only remembering when he sees him waiting to greet the bishop. Clotilde, in an attempt to warn Santiago herself, sends a beggar woman with a message to Victoria Guzman, the Nasars' servant, and also warns Father Amador. Victoria Guzman, however, fails to warn Santiago, and Father Amador is too preoccupied with the bishop's visit to pass on the warning.
Having been sent home, the twins get into a disagreement about whether or not they have fulfilled their duty to try and kill Santiago. Pedro thinks they have but Pablo forces his twin to continue with the plan. With two new knives they head back to the milk shop, meanwhile stopping at the home of Pablo's fiancÃ©e, Prudencia Cotes, where they discuss the murder over coffee. Prudencia tells the narrator that she approved of Pablo's design; she later waits three years while he is in prison and marries him upon his release.
Back at the milk shop, Clotilde tries to get the twins drunk on a bottle of rum so that they will be unable to go through with the killing. The twins drink too slowly, though, meanwhile continuing to mention their plan to all who come by.
The narrator then tells how Santiago, the narrator, Luis Enrique, and Cristo Bedoya spent the night in revels while the twins plotted Santiago's death: from Maria Alejandrina Cervantes's whorehouse and they went serenading until after four a.m., including a trip to Xius' old house where they serenaded a lone Bayardo, unaware that he had returned Angela. Santiago Nasar then catches an hour of sleep at his house before the bishop's arrival and the narrator goes to sleep with his lover. Luis Enrique, meanwhile, goes to the milk shop for some cigarettes, where the twins tell him of their plan to kill Santiago. Luis responds by saying "Santiago Nasar is dead" and stumbles home. He does not later remember saying this, and his next memory after passing out is his sister the next morning, crying, "They've killed Santiago Nasar!"
This chapter concentrates on the possibility that the Vicario twins didn't really want to kill Santiago Nasar. The narrator writes, "The Vicario brothers...had done much more than could be imagined to have someone to stop them from killing [Santiago], and they had failed." At every step they try merely to enact their vengeance-without ever having to fulfill it. They hang out at the milk shop, more or less waiting to be stopped; then they wait in front of Santiago's door-the last place anyone would have thought he'd go. Thus even the murderers deserve some sympathy. They are acting as mere performers of a public, social expectation to avenge their family honor. The failure of coincidence to inform Santiago of their plot-despite their best efforts to broadcast it-is more to blame, in a way, than they are, for the murder.
However, some individuals clearly carry more of the burden for Santiago's death than others. The mayor, for instance, refuses to detain the twins even when doing so would have been a favor to them. As Clotilde says, he should "spare those poor boys from the horrible duty that's fallen on them." Clotilde, like Cassandra (the Trojan princess in ancient mythology who was gifted with foresight but condemned to be always ignored), is the only character who realizes the danger of the twins' spoken intent. She sees their unwillingness to kill, coupled with their determination to do so if the opportunity comes. And like Cassandra, her warnings go unheeded, lost in the shuffle of others' concerns and a general failure of perspicacity.
But can we truly blame anyone for Santiago's death? Perhaps only abstractions-such as the institution of gender relations presented in the book-are completely blameworthy. Garcia Marquez clearly dramatizes the double standard of sexuality at play in the depicted society: premarital sex is the ultimate transgression against society, while for the men-who hang out at Maria Cervantes' brothel-it is totally acceptable, even for those who are engaged to be married, such as Santiago and the narrator. According to the narrator, Maria Cervantes "did away with my generation's virginity." By "my generation," of course, he means "the men in my generation." His very language contains the double standard that Santiago's death exposes.
And who, after all, is truly "virginal" in the novel? Virginity connotes purity-and Garcia Marquez is careful to show that none of his characters-not one-is perfectly pure. All are guilty; each has secrets and weaknesses. Thus he subtly undermines the very notion of valuing "virginity." To value virginity-as a symbol of perfection or unstainedness or what have you-is to misunderstand the human animal, which is full of guilt and corruption and frailty. No wonder, then, that the unrealistic value placed on female virginity leads to unnatural murder-the emphasis is itself unnatural.