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Thematic Analysis of Gabriel García Márquez’s "Chronicle of a Death Foretold"

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Thematic Analysis for Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Thematic Analysis for Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

In his story Chronicle of a Death Foretold Gabriel García Márquez exquisitely exhibits a well crafted story of a foretold tragedy. Situated in García Márquez’s native Latin America the author portrays the typical strict code of morals characteristic of Latin America which eventually orchestrated a murder in the name of honor. Gabriel García Márquez artistically utilizes his journalistic experience with his literary abilities in Chronicle of a Death Foretold to create a wonderful story of murder and mystery. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold Gabriel García Márquez through the use of plot, character, point of view, symbol and irony exhibits a magnificent story of an announced death surrounded by a decorated Latin American folklore which adorns the story throughout its development, crafted from the mind of the journalist and the skill of the artist.

The story occurs in the early twentieth century in Latin America a place where family and honor are highly regarded, they are essential in order to achieve social respect. García Márquez accurately portrays the essence of Latin America’s strict moral codes through his anecdote of recounted events narrated in the first person point of view in which García Márquez himself constructs the events from witnesses’ accounts that led to the murder of Santiago Nasar. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold García Márquez exhibits both his experience as a journalist and his artistic skills of a writer. “He is subsequently asked about the crónica genre and answers that is all a matter of definition, that he can see little difference between reporting and the writing of chronicles. He goes on to say that one of his ultimate aims is to combine journalism and fiction in such a way that when the news item becomes boring he will embellish it and improve upon it with new inventions of his own” (Rabassa 1). Certainly García Márquez combined both in Chronicle of a Death Foretold the chronicle method of journalism, and the artistic aspect of literature to create a unique tale in which both of the author’s writing methods were creatively combined.

Santiago Nasar is a wealthy bachelor of Arab descent who lives in the Colombian village in which the story takes place, he is one of the main characters and the murder victim. He is definitely a flat character mainly because his type is well established and defined as a seducer, womanizer and a symbol of machismo. García Márquez introduces the story by narrating how Santiago Nasar woke up at five-thirty, an hour before on the day they were going to kill him. “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on” (García- Márquez 3). From this advance in the event in which the story will culminate the reader can conclude that he will be the victim of an assassination. “This event takes place in gory detail on the last few pages. It is the sole preoccupation of the pages in between. And on the first we more or less know that it has already happened. So the suspense is not acute” (Hughes 1). “It is his author who kills him first, foretelling his death in the first (and in that sense final) sentence of the novel: ‘“On the day they were going to kill him…”’ We are reminded immediately of García Márquez’s habit of beginning his books in an arresting way, perhaps a by-product of his long journalistic practice” (Gass 1). From the narrator himself the reader knows that Nasar is having a bad dream in which he is walking in a drizzle through a timber forest. His mother who is renowned for her ability to interpret dreams fails to do in this case. “Santiago Nasar also dies in his dreams—dreams that could have been seen to foretell it, had not his mother, an accomplished seer of such things, unaccountably missed ‘“the ominous augury”’ (Gass 2). Her failure to interpret her son’s dream is only one among two fatal errors which ultimately culminate in Santiago Nasar’s assassination at the hands of the Vicario brothers. The entire village itself appears to be the protagonist of the story, a single character as the protagonist is hardly identified since García Márquez himself is piecing together the story based on witnesses’ accounts. In other words the whole village itself contributes to the events which would ultimately culminate in an assassination which could have been prevented.

There are seven main characters in the story: the narrator who is Gabriel García Márquez himself who is acting as a journalist attempting to piece together the events that occurred in the day of the tragedy from witnesses’ accounts. “The publication of Chronicle of a Death Foretold showcased García Márquez the journalist” (Williams 2). He narrates how he is going one by one with the witnesses to attempt to gather more information which would contribute to arrange the puzzle of the tragedy, he even relies on personal records of the participants and in documents from the trial of the Vicario brothers. “It might seem risky to attempt to piece together a puzzle embedded in a novel’s plot when so much critical focus celebrates that novel’s fragmentation, its indecipherable artifice, and it’s purely textual, metafictional focus” (Christie 1). Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a puzzle in its prime essence, but it is this puzzle that creates the magnificent fiction that García Márquez brings to the reader. “The characters who are most quoted as sources of information are, in descending order, the following: Angela Vicario (directly quoted twelve times), Cristo Bedoya (nine lines), Pablo Vicario (seven times), and Margot (seven times). The narrator-investigator’s total ‘“record”’ for his chronicle consists of nine citations from the written record and a total of 102 quotations from the thirty seven characters” (Williams 5). By continually mentioning the steps of his investigation García Márquez portrays himself as the journalist, however he inputs an unparalleled literary essence to his work. “Contrary to what has been announced in the title, this novel is not a chronicle: the narrative situation in effect subverts any historical pretension underlying the literariness of this verbal construction” (Williams 5). This fusion of journalism and literature is the primary essence of García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Cristo Bedoya is Santiago Nasar’s best friend and closest companion, he is also a flat character because he is simply a contributor to a well established moral code in a town in which moral values and family honor are highly regarded. Santiago Nasar is murdered by the Vicario brothers, not so much because he was indeed guilty of their sister’s dishonor which is never proved or established in the story, but instead because he seems suitable for the accusation.

Angela Vicario is the sister of Pedro and Pablo Vicario, she is the bride of Bayardo San Roman who is a man of a wealthy family who came to town looking for someone to marry and had chosen her. On the day of their splendorous wedding Bayardo San Roman takes her to the house he bought from a widow at a high price which the widow couldn’t resist after insisting that the house was not for sale. On that night Bayardo San Roman discovered that his bride Angela Vicario was not a virgin and returned her to her house. Immediately after this event Angela’s mother beat her ferociously. “ The only thing I remember is that she was holding me by the hair with one hand and beating me with the other with such a rage that I thought she was going to kill me” (García -Márquez 46). Angela’s brothers Pedro and Pablo Vicario forced her to tell them the identity of her perpetrator and she confessed that it had been Santiago Nassar. “She found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other” (García- Márquez 47). It is clear that there is not strong evidence that Santiago Nasar was her actual perpetrator, but information from the story forces the reader to be a skeptic and speculate that it had been someone else who Angela Vicario did not remember at that time. From this it can be inferred that the assassination of Santiago Nasar was a mistake and a tragedy since he was not guilty of dishonoring Angela Vicario. There is a suggestion of the typical Latin American literary tool known as “Magical Realism” which is an offshoot of surrealism which advocates for the fantastic and supernatural. Angela mentions that she was confused with names from this world and from the other in which the “other” comes to represent the spiritual world. After Angela’s confession the Vicario brothers knew that they had a task ahead of them, a task of honor and moral duty which they had to execute immediately. They prepared to murder Santiago Nassar and grabbed butcher knives which they used to slaughter pigs and began their journey stopping first at the local butcher shop in which they sharpened their knives and took every opportunity to inform bystanders of the task of murder they had ahead in hopes that they would be stopped from committing such a travesty. Even with their plans revealed to every possible person they could find, nobody stops them from committing the crime. It was almost as if the town wanted to see a cold blood murder or felt that it was a necessary action of honor that must not be stopped. The authorities themselves which are informed of the plans of the Vicario brothers

Colonel Lazaro Aponte told me. Along the way three people stopped him to inform him in secret that the Vicario brothers were waiting for Santiago Nasar to kill him, but only one person could tell him where. He found them in Clotilda Armenta’s store. “When I saw them I thought they were nothing but a pair of big bluffers,” he told me with his personal logic, “Because they weren’t as drunk as I thought.” Nor did he interrogate them off to sleep. He treated them with the same self-assurance with which he had passed off his wife’s alarm. (García -Márquez 56).

From this piece of textual evidence it can be inferred that even the authorities of the town had a sense of moral duty to allow the murder to take place since it seems that the colonel himself believed that the crime had to be committed in order to avenge Angela Vicario’s honor. “Altough Crónica de una muerte anunciada also paints a dark picture of Hispanic culture, especially as exemplified in Church doctrine, again a glimmer of hope is present in Angela Vicario’s ultimate liberation from the influence of her mother Pura, who epitomized the ideology culminating in Santiago’s death.” (Penuel 170). Indeed Chronicle of a Death Foretold portrays the dark side of Hispanic culture, but it illustrates it in its pure essence which is what gives the story its magnificent theme which can fully be appreciated by the Spanish reader.

All of the characters in García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold appear to be flat and static. The main characters are flat characters and the rest of the characters which constitute bystanders and family members of the main characters are nothing but static characters. There are three types of conflict present in the story: Man vs. Man which is exemplified by the physical aggressions from the Vicario brothers to Santiago Nassar which ultimately led to his death by the wounds caused by the Vicario brothers’ butcher knives. Man vs. Himself is also present in the tragedy in which the Vicario brothers informed everyone they could of the murder they are about to commit with hope that they would be stopped, because they feel forced to do it since is their responsibility of honor, but does not represent their personal feelings. In other words the Vicario brothers did not want to murder Santiago Nasar because there is strong evidence in the story that suggests that they did everything they could to avoid committing such a travesty which they were forced to commit by society’s strict codes of honor and morals.

But in any case, they waited, and this time it was Pedro Vicario who thought his brother was wasting time on purpose. While they were drinking their coffee, Prudencia Cortes came into the kitchen in all her adolescent bloom, carrying a roll of old newspapers to revive the fire in the stove. “I knew what they were up to,” she told me, “and I didn’t only agree, I never would have married him if he hadn’t done what a man should do.” (García- Márquez 62).

This piece of textual evidence supports the claim that the Vicario brothers were under pressure to commit the murder of the man who had dishonored their sister and their family. “Central to the investigation of the events surrounding the crime is the code of honor which leads the Vicario brothers to arm themselves with pig-killing knives and take the life of a man with whom they were drinking and singing just a few short hours before” (Lilburn 4). Prudencia Cortes who is the fiancé of one of the Vicario brothers supports the idea of the strict moral and honor codes of Latin America in which murder was orchestrated on the basis of honor which was a moral responsibility and a high regarded priority.

Throughout the story there is strong symbolism which foreshadows and surrounds the murder of Santiago Nassar for example the floral decorations of the wedding party which reminded Santiago Nassar of funerals.

He estimated that they’d set up floral decorations in the church equal in cost to those of fourteen first-class funerals. That precision would haunt me for many years, because Santiago Nasar had often told me that the smell of closed-in flowers had an immediate relation to death for him, and that day he repeated it to me as we went into the church. (García- Márquez 42).

References to death and sorrow are made through symbolism throughout the story for example the disagreement on the weather that day which some claim have been rainy and others sunny. Rain ultimately makes reference to death by its dark chromatism produced by the shadow of clouds.

One of the significant arguments that critics have expressed towards the translation of Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gregory Rabassa is the fact that the novel cannot be fully understood from a North American point of view as Mr. Anthony Burgess points out “Mr. Rabassa’s rendering is smooth and strong with an inevitable North American flavor, but it is English, and García Márquez writes in a very pungent and individual Spanish” (Burgess 1). This is a very true argument. There are scenes in the novel in which certain Latin American conservative traditions cannot be translated to the English reader since the novel was written in an individualistic Spanish. The allegory and diction that García Márquez implements is written from a Latin American point of view and can only be fully understood by a reader who is familiar with Latin American culture. Therefore the novel’s content can only be partially understood and criticized from a North American point of view.

In Gabriel García Márquez’s tragedy Chronicle of a Death Foretold he portrays the guilt of a town in Latin America for having allowed the murder of a man to take place. “Part morality tale, part fairy tale, Chronicle of a Death Foretold unfolds like a Greek tragedy. We know everything essential to the plot from the opening page, and yet García Márquez fills in details with such a masterful skill that we hang on breathlessly to the final paragraph, where the murder is described” (Rodman 1-2). The tragedy was clearly foretold, but due to the strict moral and honor codes characteristic of Latin America the murder was allowed to take place. “The novel turns upon itself without going beyond its own fixed ideological limits, that is, the limits of the town’s mentality. The language and boundaries of this ideology are a fundamentally medieval tradition—a matter of honor. The bride is rejected, the murder is conceived, and then allowed to be executed—despite the full knowledge of everyone in this town—because of the entire town’s tacit acceptance of a medieval conception of human relationships” (Williams 5). A foretold death which was ultimately consummated orchestrated by man’s absurd laws of honor and morality is presented through García Márquez’s well crafted tragedy of a death which was clearly announced in the same manner as rain is announced by the gathering of clouds.

Word Count: 2,768

Works Cited

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García Márquez, Gabriel. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1982.



Rabassa, Gregory. “García Márquez’s New Book: Literature or Journalism?” World Literature Today

            56.1 (Winter 1982): 48-51. Rpt. in Novels for Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc. And Ira Mark

            Milne. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.



Williams, Raymond L. “Chapter 7: ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ (1981) and Journalism.” Gabriel  

            García Márquez. By Williams. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Twayne’s World Authors Ser. 749.

            Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <>.


Lilburn, Jeffrey M. “Overview of ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”’Novels for Students. Ed. Michael L.

            LaBlanc and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25

            Nov. 2010. <>.


Burgess, Anthony. “Macho in Minor Key.” New Republic 188.17 (2 May 1983): 36. Rpt. in Novels for

            Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale,  2001. Literature

            Resource Center. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <>.


Gass, William H. “More Deaths Than One: ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold,’.” in New York 16.15 (1983):

            83-84. Rpt. in Novels for Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 10. Detroit:

            Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.


Rodman, Selden. “Triumph of the Artist.” New Leader 66.10 (16 May 1983): 16-17. Rpt. in Novels for

            Students. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature

            Resource Center. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <>.


Hughes, David. “Murder.” Spectator 249.8044 (11 Sept 1982): 24. Rpt. in Novels for Students. Ed.

             Michael L. LaBlanc and Ira Mark Milne. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature

            Resource Center. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <>.


Christie, John S. “Fathers and Virgins: García Márquez’s Faulknerian Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”

            Latin America Literary Review 21.41 (June 1993): 21-29. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary

            Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 170. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web.

            26 Nov. 2010.  <>.


Penuel, Arnold M. “A Contemporary Fairy Tale: García Márquez’s ‘El Rastro de tu Sangre en la 

                 Nieve.”’ Studies in Twentieth Century Literature (1995): 170. Criticism of the Works of Short                                                                        

                     Fiction Writers. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 83. Detroit: Gale,  

                  1995. 164-170. Print.







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TARA on May 17, 2012:


Kaie Arwen on January 05, 2012:

Thanks for this! Whenever I'm doing research for school, and I see the name of another Hubber pop up it makes me smile! :-)

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