No one in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is purely guilty; Marquez makes every character in the story a partial victim. Angela Vicario, though she names Santiago as her lover and thus condemns him, is a victim of the double standard between the genders in her society; she is persecuted for having premarital sex, returned to her family and beaten, whereas men are expected to go to brothels and have as much premarital sex as they want. She is required to name a lover, and name she could have given would have been a death sentence for that man. Bayardo San Roman is also a victim of deceit, as he married Angela under the pretext that she was a virgin. While we may think that Angela's virginity or lack thereof shouldn't concern him, Bayardo, as a product of his culture, cannot help but return her. Santiago Nasar is obviously a victim as well; he is killed for taking Angela's virginity, an act that he likely did not commit. Finally, the Vicario twins are also victims of societal expectations: they are bound by honor to try to kill the man whom Angela cites as her lover. If they hadn't made this attempt, they would have been seen as weak and unmanly. Prudencia Cotes, for instance, told the narrator that she wouldn't have married Pablo Vicario if he hadn't been a man and killed Santiago.
Just as Marquez gives all of his characters a measure of innocence in Santiago's death, so too he gives them a measure of guilt for the murder. Angela, clearly, tells Santiago was her lover, which likely is not true. Bayardo and the Vicario twins are also clearly guilty-the one for returning the bride, which set vengeance in motion, the others for actually committing the murder. But other less likely characters share guilt in the story as well. Santiago Nasar himself, for instance, sexually abuses his servant, Divina Flor, and in turn Divina-who admits that in the bottom of her heart she wants Santiago dead-likely allows the twins to kill him.
This causal chain of guilt touches less central characters as well-the mayor, for instance, who is too busy worrying about his dominoes game to prevent the murder, and the priest, who is too busy worrying about the bishop's visit. Garcia Marquez suggests that the members of the town-almost all of whom could have stopped the murder-abet it both through their actions and their inactions.
The importance of honor to the culture portrayed in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is evident throughout the novel. The murder itself is committed in order to gain back the honor that Angela lost when she had premarital sex, and the honor that was lost to the family with her sex and then failed marriage. Most people in the society tend to think that disputes over honor are better left to those involved; even the jury in the Vicario twins' case find them innocent, because they killed Santiago to win back Angela's honor.
This is another important theme linked to the novel's depiction of Latin American culture. When Angela has premarital sex, and married as a non-virgin, she not only dishonors her family but also fails in her duty to them. According to the society portrayed in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Angela has an obligation to stay a virgin and marry to as high a station as she can (even though she doesn't love the man she marries); if she hadn't had premarital sex, she would have married a very wealthy man. Other characters also have a duty to their family. Among the Vicario's, Pedro goes off to war to earn money for the family, while Pablo stays home to take care of his parents.
The first sentence in chapter five reads "For years we couldn't talk about anything else." Garcia Marquez depicts a society in which everyone in the town knows about the murder that is going to happen except for the man who is going to be murdered-until it's too late. This is one of the central ironies of the book: that everyone is so eager to talk about the murder, but no one is willing to talk about it to the murderer. The natural human tendency to "talk behind someone's back" thus becomes responsible, in part, for a killing.
Also, Garcia Marquez shows us that human memory, as represented by gossip, is fragmented and inconsistent. Like a "big fish" story, the tale of Santiago's death has undergone a gradual transformation in the town's memory up until the time, twenty-seven years after, when the narrator records it. In fact, no one can even agree what the weather was like, let alone the details of the murder.
Human beings live by pattern and routine-that is how we're most comfortable-and the denizens of Santiago's town are no different. Garcia Marquez writes, "Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly began to spin around a single common anxiety." The murder of Santiago Nasar throws off the whole town and disrupts the peaceful balance of life, thus changing the lives of many people forever. This unusual event, in turn, is patterned into a new way of life for the townspeople, who for years and years after the event discuss it regularly. What had been new becomes routine again.
Another example of the cathartic effect of routine and ritual in human live is the habit of writing to Bayardo that Angela develops. She sends him a letter every week for seventeen years, filled with her deepest feelings. Even though he never reads them, the mere act helps Angela to develop and strengthen as a person. Indeed, her display of tenacity and love is so overwhelming that it eventually convinces Bayardo to come back to her. He doesn't need to know what the letters say; the fact that she has written them so dutifully is enough to convince him of her constancy.
Fate as an Evasion of Guilt
The townsfolk in the novel obsess over Santiago's death "...because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and mission assigned to us by fate." The narrator of the novel spends much of his ink in convincing us, or convincing himself, that Santiago Nasar was fated to die under the knives of the Vicario brothers at the specific time and place that the event happens. He fills his narrative with forebodings and omens, all of which clearly point to his death before it happens, though no one is able to interpret them and deter the act.
However, the book also invites consideration that the role of fate is not so strong as the townspeople come to believe. They all share a part in Santiago's murder-whether because they endorse the sense of "honor" that insisted upon a death or because they actually neglected to warn Santiago of the danger he was in. So the emphasis on fate, in this light, acts as a collective alleviation of guilt. The townsfolk desperately want to believe that the death was truly "foretold," that it couldn't have been stopped, thus disburdening them of the moral weight of having killed an innocent member of their society.
Machismo-an important part of Chronicle of a Death Foretold-can be seen in the emphasis on male pride in the novel and on the sexual behavior of the male characters. The men take pride in visiting Maria Cervantes's brothel, where they use women for sex. They are not ashamed of their actions, because their society endorses such desires and deeds. When Bayardo San Roman returns Angela Vicario, he demonstrates machismo-a woman is only worth marrying, he suggests, when she is a virgin; after that she is soiled. The Vicario brothers' murder of Santiago Nasar is also a machismo act-an attempt to take back Angela's honor by killing the man who deflowered her. As the string of events in the novel shows, the severe emphasis on masculine and feminine behavior leads to injustice. One man's machismo commits another man's-Bayardo's refusal to accept Angela leads the Vicarios to kill Santiago without trial or evidence.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The link below will lead you to a great synopsis by Random House. It is far too detailed for me to give you a synopsis that will do it justice. I've used this site with my own students; it's extremely helpful.
Santiago, Divina, Victoria, Clotilde, Margot, Luisa, and the murderers are all forewarned about Santiago's death. The fact that we know Santiago will die doesn't matter, as we spend our time waiting for the inevitable..... not to happen.