Postcolonial Literatures Unit 2 Chronicle of A Death Foretold

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2. Give an overall summary of the novel Chronicle of a death foretold.

Ans: Chronicle of a Death Foretold describes the murder of a young man, Santiago Nasar, and the events leading to this death. It also follows some of the characters’ lives after he is killed.

The murder occurs following Angela Vicario’s wedding night, when her wealthy husband, Bayardo San Roman, discovers that she is not a virgin. San Roman returns Angela to her family, where she is brutally interrogated for two hours, finally confessing that Santiago Nasar was the man who deflowered her. Much evidence throughout the story suggests that this accusation is false. However, Angela’s brothers, Pedro and Pablo Vicario, take her word for it and kill Santiago in broad daylight in a crowded public square.

Having armed us with this foreknowledge of the murder, Garcia Marquez relates the events leading up to it in non-chronological fashion. He describes the wedding of Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman: the grandest celebration the town had ever seen. Bayardo’s father was the famous General of the civil wars, General Petronio San Roman, and his family is very wealthy. The formal festivities of the wedding end at 6:00 p.m., when Angela and her groom leave to consummate their marriage; the public stays, however, drinking and dancing until midnight. Some of the wedding guests, including Santiago Nasar, his friend Cristo Bedoya (who narrates the story) and the narrator’s brother continue reveling even after midnight, even spending time at Maria Alexandrina Cervantes ‘s brothel with the Vicario twins, who do not yet know of their sister’s disgrace.

Following Angela’s confession that Santiago Nasar took her virginity, her twin brothers decide to kill him. They announce their plan to anyone who will listen, in part, it seems, to allow someone to stop them or warn Santiago. Everyone behaves as though someone else will halt the revenge a local police officer, the mayor, the butcher, and even the local priest all knew of the murder plot-but no one stops it. By six o clock a.m. of the day following the wedding, everyone in town knows the twins are going to kill Santiago. Santiago himself, however, is still unaware. A few try to warm him, including Cristo Bedoya, who has spent the morning with him; Cristo finds out too late, however, and cannot find his friend to warn him.

Eventually, the father of Santiago’s fiancee warns him of the plot. He is extremely confused as to why the Vicario twins want to kill him, and his fear leaves him so shaken up that he cannot even find his way back to his house. The Vicario brothers spot him while he stumbles through town. Santiago sprints to his door, which, unfortunately, is locked, due to his mother’s belief that he was safe at home and her desire to keep the Vicarios away from him. Pedro and Pablo catch up to Santiago and stab him to death against his own door.

After the murder, an angry group of Arabs, with whom Santiago’s father immigrated, chase the Vicarios into a local church. The twins give themselves up and are locked in prison. The Vicario family, meanwhile, ashamed by the whole ordeal, leaves town in disgrace. The twins are tried three years later and acquitted because the murder had been an honor killing. Upon his release, Pablo marries his fiancée Prudencia Cotes. Pedro reenlists in the army and goes missing in enemy territory.

Meanwhile, the story of Bayardo and Angela unfolds as well. Bayardo San Roman nearly drinks himself to death following the revelation that his bride was not a virgin. He is taken away from the town on a boat by his mother and two sisters. Meanwhile, Angela realizes (while she is being beaten by her mother, in fact) that she loves Bayardo. After coincidentally seeing him in a hotel a few years after their annulled marriage, she begins writing him a letter every week. One day, seventeen years later, Bayardo shows up at her door with one suitcase full of clothes (indicating that he wants to return to her) and one full of her unopened letters.

3. Discuss the genre and narrative structure of the novel. 

Ans: Chronicle of a Death Foretold reads like a fictional work. The reader of Garcýa Marquez, however, should be interested in knowing that the account the novel relates is based on a factual event. However, as Latin American literary critic Gonzalo Dyaz-Migoyo put it, “it is an account no less imaginary for being faithful to the facts and, conversely, no less historical for being a work of the imagination” (Dyaz-Migoyo 75). The faithful facts to which Dyaz-Migoyo refers took place in Sucre, Colombia in 1951, years before Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published. On January 22, 1951, Miguel Reyes Palencia returned his wife, Margarita Chica Salas, to her family on the morning after the nuptial night because she had not been a virgin. A short while later, Margarita’s brother, Victor Chica Salas, killed Cayetano Gentile Chimento for stealing his sister’s honour without an intention to marry her.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a combination of journalism, realism, and detective story, and therefore a hybrid genre. Its journalistic orientation, announced in the title of the novel with the use of the word chronicle, is seen in the novel’s precise detailing of the time of each event and the matter-of-fact usage of language that marks the plot and presents the events of an atrocious and horrid crime. Journalism, however, at-tempts to report on the basis of fidelity to the facts. As such, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a deceiving chronicle, for the facts are altered by the fictitious additions made by Garcýa Marquez. In real life, the returned bride continued to live alone after her return, while the embarrassed husband left the country, got married in Costa Rica, and went on to have twelve children with his new wife. In the novel, Angela stays with her mother and Bayardo goes off and is not heard of until seventeen years after the date of the wedding, when he and Angela reunite.

The story is told in a journalistic style of reporting. Garcia Marquez freely admits that he is the narrator who is reconstructing the story. Luisa Santiaga, the narrator’s mother in the novel, is the name of Garcýa Marquez’s own mother, and Luis Enrique, the narrator’s younger brother, is also the name of Garcýa Marquez’s own younger brother. Luisa Santiaga has a daughter who in the novel is a nun; Garcýa Marquez, in real life, has a sister who used to be a nun. As if that were not enough, the narrator recounts that on the night of Angela and Bayardo’s wedding, he proposed marriage to Mercedes Barcha, only to marry her fourteen years later because at the time she was just finishing primary school. Garcia Marquez married a woman of the same name, Mercedes Barcha, to whom he proposed on the exact day of the wedding in 1951 and whom he wed fourteen years later because she, too, was just finishing primary school. Most of the story has a factual/journalistic base with a few exceptions, such as the fact that Garcýa Marquez was not in town at the time of the crime, nor were the lovers ever reunited. 

Both instances are fictitious. The realism of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is seen in its intent to faithfully portray life in a coastal town. The novel accurately describes the routine of everyday life: the ways in which the town’s people prepare for the visit of the bishop, and celebrate at Angela’s wed-ding; the habit of the single young men to spend time at the bordello; and even the fact that, as a result, one of the Vicario twins is suffering from a venereal disease.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold, as is typical in realistic fiction, is interested in ordinary people, whom it faithfully depicts at both the social and the  psychological levels. The reader of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is exposed to the inner workings of the minds of the twin brothers and the nature of the personality of other characters. As a detective story, Chronicle of a Death Foretold seems to fit the pattern almost perfectly. The murder is being pieced together by the nameless narrator, a friend of the victim, in the same manner that a detective might approach the case. However, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is intentionally deceiving moreover; it can be read as if inverted or backward. From the start the reader knows the culprits, so there is no unsolved crime. Instead, the reader looks to find out whether the victim or the culprits is actually in the wrong. 

The absurdity of the crime, however, calls for a reader who might question who really killed Santiago Nasar. The physical evidence indicates that the killers are the Vicario brothers, but is there any responsibility on the part of the townsfolk or the legal or religious authorities? This is a question for the reader to decide. In that sense, then, the novel can indeed be read as a detective story.

The narrative structure of Chronicle of a Death Foretold will seem familiar to the Garcýa Marquez reader. It starts in medias res (in the middle of things). At the start of the novel, an omniscient narrator (a character within the novel who knows everything there is to know) is describing the last hours in the life of Santiago Nasar. The time line of the events is very precise and linear, faithfully following the clock. However, the reading is not so linear. Even the events of the main plot do not unfold in a straightforward manner, but rather move back and forth in time. Besides dealing with the genesis of the main plot, Chronicle of a Death Foretold also has a subplot describing the short-lived idyll of Bayardo San Roman and Angela Vicario. This subplot, contained in Chapters 2 and 4, plus the intrusions by the omniscient narrator discussing the origin of the characters, makes the narrative structure a bit complex, although not impossible to follow. In the end, the focus remains on the killing of Santiago Nasar.

The narrative structure, like the genre, is rather deceiving. The story of Santiago Nasar’s murder is described with rigid adherence to the exact hour and minute of each event because of the insistence by the narrator to be exact. However, the time line presented to the reader is arbitrarily jumbled and replayed haphazardly, moving forward and backward in time  with equal ease. While Chapter 1 stars at 5:30 and has Santiago killed by 7:05, an hour and thirty-five minutes later, the narrator eventually takes the reader all the way back to the end of the nineteenth century and its civil wars.

4. Discuss the social and historical context of the novel. 

Ans: Chronicle of a Death Foretold is one of Garcýa Marquez’s works that is least concerned with the political context, which permeates many of his other writings. Whether in Leaf Storm, No One Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Love in the Time of Cholera, the reader is faced with descriptions of the Colombian civil wars of the end of the nineteenth century. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, however, this historical fact is dealt with in a single reference. The reference, how- ever, should not pass unnoticed. General Petronio San Roma in, father of the groom, Bayardo San Roma in, is a member of the Conservative Party regime. Although the narrator describes him with admiration (he routed Colonel Aureliano Buendýa of the Liberal Party), the narrator’s mother, when she recognizes the general, will not even shake his hand. Luisa Santiaga remembers him as a traitor who ordered his troops to shoot Gerineldo Marquez in the back.

Although the historical context of the novel can be inferred from what has already been noted, the novel is not at all clear about the exact time of the events. What is clear is the time when Garcýa Marquez, working as a journalist, first heard of the incident, 1951; and the time when he published the book, 1981. In the early 1950s, Colombia was experiencing terrible shootouts between conservatives and liberals. This social and historical moment, recognized in Colombian history as La violencia (the Violence), is neither the background nor the focus of the novel. What are the background and focus, instead, are the disparity and even hatred between the rich and the poor. The marriage of Bayardo San Roman and Angela Vicario provides a striking example of opposing social and economic forces. No one in town is as rich as Bayardo San Roma in. It is his wealth, along with his charm, that wins people over to him. This includes everyone-the priest, the mayor, and the town’s aristocracy. Because of his wealth, Angela Vicario’s mother says, in response to Angela’s statement that she does not love Bayardo, “Loye can be learned too” (209). The attacks on the wealthy found in No One Writes to the Colonel are well camouflaged in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, due, perhaps, to an effort to fully focus on the main plot. Another such attack, for example, occurs when Faustino Santos, an obscure character, asks the Vicario brothers why they must kill Santiago Nasar when there are plenty of other rich men who deserve to die first. The narrator, however, adds that Faustino Santos says this jokingly.

By 1981, when Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published, Colombia was facing many of the guerilla factions still fighting today. The guerilla groups of Colombia have been at war with the government’s army since the 1950s. The Colombian guerillas, as reported by the world news, continue to resist to the present day. In 1981, Garcýa Marquez and his wife, Mercedes, were linked by rumour to a guerilla group, M-19, which specialized in urban violence. Although just a rumour, the government forces wanted to arrest Garcýa Marquez and his wife. The couple sought asylum in the Mexican embassy and then left the country. Later that year, Colombian President Belisario Betancur invited the couple to return.

5. Why is Chronicle of a Death Foretold not in chronological order?

Ans: Narrative Technique is the method used to bring out the story to the reader and both the works are different in the type of narrative that they are written in. Chronicle of a death foretold is written in first person narrative where as Death in Venice is written in third person omniscient. Chronicle of a Death Foretold is written in an unconventional first person narrative that is, while the narrator tells the story in fist person it is from an omniscient point of view. The narrator is constructing and telling the story of Santiago Nasar’s death by putting together what different people had to say about his death that happened 27 years ago. 

Basically like a past tense narrative but it is not the type that a person usually reads about, as in a typical first person narrative we only know the narrators point of view and not what the other characters are thinking, but in Chronicle of a Death Foretold the whole book is based on multiple points of view regarding what happened to Santiago by the characters in the book, their memories of the incident of Santiago Nasar’s murder. An example of the first person narrative in Chronicle of a Death Foretold would be on page 3, at the starting of the page ‘I was recovering from the wedding revels in the apostolic lap of Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, and I only awakened……… Death in Venice is a simple, conventional third person narrative where in there are no I’s or me’s, the narrator is explaining what happens as if he were watching everything happen from above the characters. 

Even though the narrator is giving an account of what is happening in the book from his own point of view, somehow he is yet able to read the characters minds and tell the readers what the characters are thinking. Aschenbach does not ‘communicate’ with the readers directly, or ‘tell’ the readers his thoughts directly. We are told about Aschenbach from the ‘narrator’ of the novel. This technique gives the readers a sense of detachment from him, because of the distance created by the author between the reader and Aschenbach, and helps enrich the novel by leaving us pondering full of questions. Some questions are answered, some are not.

Both the books have a detached aura to them. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold the narrator is detached as what he is narrating that is Santiagos murder had taken place 27 years ago and thus the emotional feeling of Santiagos death did not greatly affect him or any other characters while they narrate the events. Thus the feeling of a detached narrator is there in the book Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Where as in Death in Venice there is a feeling of detachment because the reader is not connected to the main character Aschenbach in anyway the narrative technique itself creates the detached aura as mentioned earlier.

Both the books also have great emphasis on time; they both in fact start off with reference to time. Chronicle of a Death Foretold starts off with, ‘On the day they were going to kill him… up at five-thirty in the morning…. Death in Venice starts off with, ‘On a spring afternoon in 19, the year in which for months on end so grave a threat…… peace of Europe,… fiftieth birthday…..” Thus it can be observed that both books have an emphasis on time as there is not only a reference to time in the first lines of the books but this continues throughout the starting of the books. 

The emphasis on the time tells the reader a lot about the book that may not be mentioned in it as if the reader knows the time period he/she can also make other conclusions about the books based on that time period that he knows the book is from. For example in Death in Venice the reader can conclude that Aschenbach is an old man who is living in the time when the First World War was about to break out and there is emphasis on the fact that war was about o break out as the grave’ threat is referred to more than once. The time factor also comes in the books as Death in Venice is in a way based on present events, events narrated as they happen where as in Chronicle of a Death Foretold the narrator is telling the reader the events that had taken place twenty-seven years ago from multiple view points. “He was always…., Placida Linero, his mother, told me twenty-seven years later, recalling the details of that unpleasant Monday.”

Chronicle of a Death Foretold has a more interesting; one can say a staring with some shock impact, than that of Death in Venice as in Death in Venice the book starts of slow much slower than the starting of Chronicle of a Death Foretold and also Death in Venice makes it read make mathematical deduction on time of year, date, etc thus in a way asking the reader to be calculating because there are constant reference to time in some form or the other.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold as suggests is about death but not in a chronicle (chronological) order as the title says as the reader learns that Santiago Nasar has already been murdered at the start of the book; the death of Santiago has already taken place in the start of the book and the rest of the book the reader learns of the different views that people had of the events that were leading to his death. The exact opposite is the case in Death in Venice as the protagonist Aschenbach in not dead in the start of the book but the book tells the story of the events that finally at the end of the book lead to his demise. Thus among the two books Death in Venice can be called the more traditional and formally written one where as Chronicle of a Death Foretold cannot be called so. The reader does get the feeling that something is going to happen to Aschenbach in the first chapter because Aschenbach goes for a walk to overcome his writers block, which he usually never does and along his walk he comes across a stonemasons yard full of head stones which gave him the feeling of being in the presence of a graveyard and then exactly after which he see the man that is said to be standing in the portico of the chapel, above two apocalyptic beasts that guard the steps leading up to it….. This part gives the reader a strange feeling. 

First it is the stonemasons yard which gives the feeling of a graveyard then there is the mysterious man who is said to be standing near apocalyptic beasts, apocalyptic which is associate with the end of the world, doom, death, destruction and to add to that when Aschenbach looks back to see the man he had disappeared which was strange and this gives the reader the feeling of something bad was going to happen. None of this happens in Chronicle of a Death Foretold as we learn of Santiago’s death in the start itself so thus there is no suspense building up to his death.

With regard to the characters in both the books, Aschenbach is the one that is more influenced by external events in the manner that his actions are always a result of some external force for example when it appeared it was going to rain Aschenbach stop at the cemetery for shade. Contradictory to Aschenbach, Santiago was not so influenced by the external events.

6. Discuss Chronicle of a death of foretold as a postmodern novel. 

Ans: The turmoil that the Western society witnessed in the aftermath of the destruction of two wars of twentieth century was not so easy to overcome. The era that was ushered in saw the rapid transformation of all that was familiar to the west. The social and cultural scenario in the West was in a state of flux as the post-war world witnessed several economical and political upheavals along with revolutionary technological developments. In literature, it constructed a discourse that rejected totalizing narratives and instead believed in partial, fragmented and incomplete narratives. Postmodernist fiction soon became an international phenomenon.

Garcia Marquez through his novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold presented a postmodern masterpiece. The novel was inspired from Garcia Marquez’s own life. A gruesome killing of his own friend in Sucre, Colombia (1951) in the name of honour was turned into a complex and rich plot of this novella. The story is an attempt to piece together the fatal day when a young man is murdered, for having seduced and deflowered a young woman, who is disowned by her outraged husband and is returned to her family.

Written in the vein of popular literary genre of postmodernism i.e. a detective fiction, Chronicles of a Death Foretold, helps in reinstating what Linda Hutcheon, in her phenomenal work A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction calls “the presence of the past”. As per Hutcheon, the most important concept of postmodernism is to see the past with critical eyes, Marquez’s narrator, is a journalist, who comes back to his hometown in order to reconstruct the events that led to the butchering of his friend Santiago Nasar. Garcia Marquez’s narrator is not the omniscient narrators of the past. On the contrary, this is an indecisive, subjective and hesitant narrator who finds it difficult to analyse the past incidents from an objective point of view.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold contains multiple narratives, that is an amalgamation of facts, feelings, imaginations and memories of all the characters whom the narrator investigates in order to arrive at the crux of the death of Santiago Nasar. All of these narrations are peppered with several surreal and fantastic descriptions about the day and weather “…but most agreed that the weather was funereal, with a cloudy low sky and the thick smell of still waters…”

It makes the reader realise that in narrator’s world reality and fantasy coexist. This postmodern technique of fusing the ridiculous and real and  thereby creating an alternative reality, attained perfection under the hands of Garcia Marquez who had achieved world recognition for his extra ordinary use of Magic Realism.

Irony the most avidly used technique by the postmodern writers has been suffused into this work to make it multi faceted. The title, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, makes a mockery of the process of chronicling as the story line operates in a circular manner; the novella begins and ends with death. Marquez pushes the envelope with his own deconstruction of the entire traditional way of presenting a murder investigation. Everyone in the novella is aware that Santiago Nasar is going to be killed, “There had never been a death more foretold”. However, no one warns this unfortunate protagonist. Therefore, Garcia Marquez’s title operates on two levels; the death has been foretold to the readers at the onset and the brothers who would be avenging their sister’s honour also.

The other irony is the elusive question whether Santiago Nasar was destined to die, to which the narrator observes: “… but no matter how much they tossed the story back and forth, no one could explain to me how poor Santiago Nasar ended up being involved in such a mix- up.” Postmodernist novels had started the trend of defying the expectations usually associated with the main characters of a novel. One is then forced to view this chronicle as a parody or even a mock tragedy where the protagonist is fated to die. However, the complexity of this text lies in the categorization of Santiago as the hero. Throughout the entire novel one can’t help but realise that Santiago was not the typical hero. He was not even a hero but an ordinary man who had his own fears, own faults and own flaws of character.

Marquez deliberately tantalises the readers with various people’s impression of Santiago in order to maintain the curiosity and confusion of his readers. On one hand, we have the narrator stating “by his nature Santiago Nasar was merry and peaceful and openhearted” (Marquez, 6) and on the other, we have Victoria Guzman, Santiago’s servant who reveals about him “He was just like his father…A shit”. Further, we have the narrator’s sister Margot who observes “I suddenly realised that there couldn’t have been a better catch than him”

The detailed autopsy report of Santiago Nasar, prepared by an unqualified priest and the inability of the entire official authorities to prevent the butchering of Santiago from taking place, brings the element of absurd in the text to the forefront. The narration also erases the old beliefs about the inherent evilness about the villains, for Marquez through this novel shows the murderers of Santiago to be humans who are following their brotherly duty in avenging the honour of their family and especially their sister. “Their reputation as good people was so well-founded that no one paid any attention to them….”

Beyond the inversion of narrative technique and the characterization of the hero, even the traditional path of love is turned upside down in this novel. The narrator mentions that Angela Vicario was never given the privilege of falling in love as she was brought up in a strict patriarchal society and at the beginning had detested her suitor Bayardo San Roman, “I detested conceited men, and I’d never seen one so stuck up….”.She is forced to marry this man as nobody in her family views love between the couples as a prerequisite to good marriage. Moreover, for Angela’s mother “love can be learned too”.However, Bayardo falls in love with Angela at first sight; but even Bayardo’s love is unable to overcome his wife’s lack of virtue. Ironically, Angela after being abandoned on the doorstep of her parent’s house, by her husband realizes that she has now fallen in love with her husband.

Therefore what Marquez has achieved through Chronicle of a Death Foretold is to provide the readers with a novel that is open to multiple readings. It reinforces its important feature of being comfortable with the self reflexivity, temporal disorder, fragmentation and irony, the cornerstones of cultural and literary phenomenon called postmodernism. And it is through texts such as this, that one can attempt to understand a complex phenomenon that has left all the critics divided in their opinion of whether to praise or to criticize it.

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