Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s evocative novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, is remarkable in that it not only portrays the impact of one man’s death in a small town in Columbia but also makes the reader ponder over the prevailing cults in Latin America such as the cult of virginity and the cult of machismo. Marquez uses the prominence of the Cult of Virginity to reflect the hypocrisy found in a society, and does so by heightening the expectations of an ideal woman, questioning what defines a victim in society and evoking the weaknesses within this Cult of Virginity. Hypocrisy, in this context means the contrast in the treatment of women versus the treatment of men. Marquez reflects on the double standards prevailing in the Columbian society through various literary devices such as style, language and imagery.
Marquez highlights the importance of the Cult of Virginity in the 1980’s Columbian society where most of the people were Catholic Christians. The Cult is an amalgamation of the beliefs of the people in the Columbian town, where they deem that honor is gained from chastity before marriage. The cult creates these obstinate parameters that women need to abide by in order to be accepted in society. Marquez adopts an ironical tone while exposing these strictures for women to show how the women are taught to be obedient and subservient in the patriarchal society. In the case of Angela Vicario, “it was imposed on her, the obligation to marry a man whom she had barely seen”. If a woman is found to be violating her stereotyped gender role, she becomes the “profanation of the symbols of purity”. Marquez has very successfully blended a historical account with fiction in order to show that men want women to be virgins not because of religion that advocates for virginity but for the mere grounds of satiating their expansive and almost uncontrollable sexual appetite. He exposes the diabolical nature and religious hypocrisy of men who openly practice the cult of machismo and dominate the women in the name of religion.
Angela Vicario breaks the Cult of Virginity by indulging in intercourse not with one but with many. Her rebellion is an indication that even in this primal society, women can assert their sexuality. Marquez ironically refers to the “symbols of purity” to evoke that women are expected to be virgins in the society because it is virginity that gives a woman her purity. These moral values are held high in regard, and are meant to be treasured in the Columbian society. The depiction of these social and cultural aspects make the reader question “is purity synonymous with virginity and vice versa?” Marquez’s diction becomes very effective when the reader sees that most of the women have names that are symbolical of purity and chastity, such as ‘Divina’, ‘Pura’, ‘Maria’, ‘Angela.’ The labeling of the names is confined to women alone, and the so-called patriarchs of the society-the men-are exempted from showing any such label or behavior that binds them to such strictures.
If on one hand the reader witnesses so many furors in the name of virginity, there are prostitutes in this society who are symbolic of the break in the Cult of Virginity; their status in the society divulges further the hypocrisy of men. This is suggestive in the case of Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, “the most elegant and the most tender woman in the House of Mercies.” She is admired by the whole generation of men, old and young, and is attributed with having “an apostolic lap”-a paradox connoting a prostitute with religion. These two diametrically opposite roles assigned to women question the role of church and religion in this society. It is here that the entire concept of a society practicing Catholicism and cult of virginity looks questionable, a fact which insinuates the deterioration of religion in this society. Can the Catholic Christians hold religion and prostitution at par with each other? It appears that the Columbian society is a culture founded on the pillars of religious hypocrisy and machismo, and that the cult of virginity is nothing but a sham that allows men to have “first hand women” in order to satiate their lust.
The Cult of Virginity far from endowing the women with a right to equality plays a role in classifying the ideal woman- the woman represented by Angela. Marquez portrays the Vicario daughters as a perfect example of what is the role of women in a society. “The girls had been reared to get married”, and “they knew how to do screen embroidery…announcements.” the word “reared” as translated by Rabassa gives an animal connotation- a foreboding that the girls have to follow a code of conduct and a type cast role in order to survive in this unjust and hypocritical society. In the case of Angela, the fact that she was born with “the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck” foreshadows her woebegone future. It is not much later in the story that she plays the role of “the rejected wife” for the rest of her life. Her mother Purisima Vicario makes sure that her daughters “were raised to suffer” and devoted their lives in the “spirit of sacrifice.” The word “sacrifice” reflects the fact that a woman has to sacrifice all her desires and happiness at the altar of the male hypocrisy.
The break in the Cult of Virginity evokes the weaknesses and loopholes it encompasses within. It is not Angela alone who dares to challenge the typecast gender roles by losing her treasure box, there are other girls also who “taught her old wives’ tricks to feign her lost possession”. This indicates that with modernization and global feministic concerns, the girls also altered their perception on what is morally correct. The fact that the women of this society are such experts in feigning virginity shows that virginity is not symbolical of purity in their eyes. A virgin may not be a pure woman, and it is not necessary that a woman filled with the milk of human kindness has not had sexual intimacy with a man. Marquez through this novel subtly makes an attempt to make the reader understand the misconceptions prevailing in the Latin American society.
It is but natural that in a society based on injustice and immorality, the girls who have to repress their emotions too are fascinated by the ‘forbidden fruit’. The fact that the men have no idea of the internal tricks of women shows that the Cult of Virginity was only a superficial concept and lacked substance from within. Marquez very subtly insinuates that the Columbian culture is founded on whims and shadows of the past, and there is no gainsaying that such a culture will disintegrate soon-a fact that is witnessed by the narrator after 27 years of the murder. The reader also tries to comprehend the intricacies of this culture wherein women are subjugated and subordinated by their counterparts in the name of their purity and chastity. Does this culture really bind the women to a vow of chastity? On the contrary, the novel is a mirror that shows that the Columbian women are adept in old wives’ tricks, and even Angela reared under the keen eyes of her parents was not a virgin.
Marquez follows a journalistic style in this novel to fill his writing with a volley of questions, repeatedly, concerning the virginity of women. Most of the men are shown to be profligates, indulging in and priding themselves of the pleasures of wine and women. The Vicario brothers butcher Santiago for deflowering their sister but nobody questions his actions when “Santiago nips in the bud all the women that ever came to the woods.” Marquez employs bird imagery to develop the character of Santiago. He is a falcon free to tame any woman in the society, and it is very ironical that nobody stops him. There exist no honor codes for the poor Mulatto girls or the prostitutes working at the brothels. What kind of a society is this where men consider it their prerogative to control the innate desires of a woman but leave the licentious men at their will? By creating the image of Christ at the event of Santiago’s death, Marquez further probes into the misconception and hypocrisy prevailing in this society when the word of a woman is considered decisive, and Santiago is butchered without being offered a fair trial.
Marquez is successful in making the reader ponder over the status of women today in rural towns of Columbia. His purpose seems to be enlightening the readers with what is happening around even at the threshold of the 21st century. Through this Nobel Prize winning novel Marquez describes a hypocritical society where man made laws, such as honour and reputation, are held superior to the divine laws. Did the Vicario brothers not wish that someone had informed Santiago about their plans to murder him? Marquez describes the deplorable conditions that exist in a society based on hypocrisy and injustice. The novel is a blatant attack on the superimposed cult of virginity in which men so pride themselves. And no doubt a culture that forbids the right to freedom and sexuality to its inhabitants will always swallow, literally or figuratively, the lives of Santiago, Angela and Bayardo. Had there been no such cultural expectations imposed on the women, the town would not have had to be guilty of collective responsibilty toward the violation of a woman.