The central question at the core of the novella is how the death of Santiago Nasar was foreseen, yet no one tried to stop it. The narrator explores the circumstances surrounding his death by meticulously collecting the testimonials of the villagers who were present during his murder and exploring the seeming contradiction of a murder that was predicted in advance. The book explores the morality of the village's collective responsibility in the murder of Santiago Nasar.
Unlike the traditional detective novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold doesn't investigate the murder, which is made clear from the first sentence. Instead, the true mystery is the violation of Ángela Vicario.
The book delves into issues of gender and chastity as well. Santiago Nasar, for example, exhibited sexism at several points during the novella, even threatening to rape the daughter of his servant in order to "tame" her. This further complicates the central theme of the book for modern readers as Santiago Nasar may therefore be viewed as a morally dubious character, despite the narrator's claims that he was a stand-up youth. It may even be suggested that his death preempted future crimes (such as the rape of his servant's daughter) that he would have perpetrated. As it appears that both he and the villagers are at fault, this throws into question whether his murder was the simple tragedy it is painted as, or a more complicated exploration of human morality.
Another key motif is the use of omens and premonitions (keeping in the theme of "foretelling"). The weather, dreams, and nature all provide evidence of what is to come in the novella.