The novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is part fiction part history, and is based on an incident that took place in Sucre in 1951, where Marquez had been living with his family. In this melodramatic incident, a landowner, Miguel forsook his wife, Margarita, when he found on his wedding night that she was not a virgin. Through a journalist style, and the genre of magic realism, Marquez blends facts and fiction to show the farcical honor codes and double standards of the people of the society. This novel is a reflection of a society wherein every one is closely related to the other, yet the people are indifferent and elusive to the moral and ethical actions that are violated in the name of honor, religion and double standards. The use of the setting, characters and conflict help Marquez lash upon the virginity paradox, the hypocritical thinking and superficial religious values prevailing in Columbia.
To begin with, Marquez chooses the Columbian town, which is deeply engulfed in the Latin American culture to show the poignancy of the importance of virginity and honor codes. The setting of this town is very instrumental in understanding the cultural and societal norms prevailing here. Through the setting, Marquez speaks of the people whose lives are filled with alehouses, whorehouses and gambling places. Marquez uses the natural setting of Columbia to establish surrealism, and also gives the reader a sense of what Latin culture is, which makes the death of Santiago much more personal. Marquez’s focus is on the cultural setting of the town rather than the historical setting. The quote “On the upper deck, beside the captain’s cabin, was the bishop in his white cassock and with his retinue of Spaniards” indicates that the Bishop, although a 20th century priest, is still wrapped in the vestiges of Spanish culture. He has his retinue and dress code, everything of which is a reminiscent of the long gone Spanish colonization. The Bishop is a man of authority for the people gathered around to welcome him. The reader does not understand why the Columbian people are still living in the shadows of the culture of the colonist country, although Columbia has long been liberated from the clutches of Imperialism. The setting shows that the people of the town are zealot catholic Christians, who wait on the river bank for the arrival of Bishop on every festive occasion.
The novel is a strong depiction of a society that has stereotyped values and sets for men and women. Man is the breadwinner. He has every right to enjoy his life, and exercise his prerogative to choose from plenty of girls for marriage. Every woman in the society is earmarked as a conventional bride from her very childhood. The role of the women is confined to “sewing,” “stitching” and “embroidering.” In contrast to this, “The brothers were brought up to be men but the girls had been reared to get married.” The quote claims that men are the rulers of the patriarchal society, who have the right to merry making and indulge in sexual pleasures.
Wine, women, gambling and promiscuity are the order of the day for them. Santiago is a philanderer who went “nipping the bud of any wayward virgin who began showing up in those woods.” Garcia tells about, Maria Alejandrina Cervantes, the town whore, “It was she who did away with my generation’s virginity.” At the death of Santiago, she is there with her mother, an allusion that reminds the readers of the presence of Mary Magdalene at the death of Jesus. The reference shows the importance of the “madam of the local Bordella” in the town, but it is the irony of human kind that the other women have to lead a stereotyped life. Marquez’s quote is is remarkable in that it shows how the Columbian society has perceived the notions of the Spanish culture that has obliterated the native culture and values of Columbia. The reader is surprised to see the prevalence of the stereotyped roles of men and women even in the 20th century Columbia. Marquez uses the word “brothers” to show that the brothers act as a unit for the family. But the “girls” are reared to marry separately, and that they are disintegrated form the family soon after the wedding.
Marquez reflects on the closely-knit people of the society who gather at the bank of the river to wait for a Bishop, who hates them. The word “hates” is not commensurate with the profession of the Bishop. But he does not bother any more than to wave his hand from the boat and turn back. Marquez shows how religion has been reduced to corrupted man made traditions, customs and superstitions. The town is still revolving around communal values set hundreds of years ago, thereby showing the laxity and reluctance of the people to overcome these values, and adjust themselves to modern values. Placida Linero tells the readers of the hatred of the Bishop for this town by this quote “He won’t…. this town.” The character of the bishop that is reflected in the eyes of the readers is that of a man who loves coxcomb soup, may be a sexual innuendo, more than the people. The Bishop either fails in his duty, or perhaps he understands that this town is in the imprecation of heinous honor codes. The confused reader does not understand the reason behind his hatred for this town and rather feels confused as to why the Bishop gives the obligatory blessing. Marquez uses short sentences to show the pauses in the flow of Placida’s ideas. She knows the routine affair of the Bishop but she too does not understand why he behaves so.
The honor codes have a predominant role in the Columbian culture. Since the people in the town are very closely knit, it is very important for every family to maintain its sense of honor. The women have to keep their virginity intact, and the men have to wreak vengeance if some one violates the honor of a family. “Honor is love” Angela’s mother says to to show how deeply honor dwells in the psyche of the Columbian women. The main honor lies in protecting the girls from getting wayward, as a deflowered girl becomes alienated from this rigid society. This is the reason Angela’s blind father always accompanies her outside home. The reader is shocked to see that although there have been so much furor on honor codes, the women are secretly indulging in the forbidden fruit. Honor code is nothing but a farce, and it has lost its values in the eyes of the modern women. Marquez uses a very short sentence in “Honor is love” to show that the people of Columbia are never going to compromise with the honor codes although they know it very well that the concept is losing its hold on the people.
The murder of Santiago Nasar creates a conflict in the mind of the characters. Some consider the murder threat only an absurdity while others leave Santiago to his malignant fate. Some are of the opinion that he must be killed for violating the honor of Angela Vicario. It appears that this society is so staunchly ruled by honor codes that “death” can be “foretold” and truly Santiago “died without understanding his own death.” The quote “There had never been a death so foretold” shows the paradoxical beginning of the novella wherein the death of Santiago is foretold. Santiago’s murder is pronounced but as fate would have it, he is, fortuitously, aloof to the echoes of this proclamation. He is lost in merry making, in the “apostolic lap of Maria,” and it is the irony of his fate that no one bothers to warn him. The “foretelling” tells the negligence of the people of Columbian society. The reader is surprised to find the indifference of the people to a murder, which is yet to take place. Marquez uses an oxymoron in the very title of the novella. He fills the reader with tension and suspense, and makes him desperate to see the outcome of this threat. It is Marquez’s literary genius and powerful style that he starts the novella straightaway with the murder of the protagonist.
To conclude, Marquez is very successful in showing that the Columbian society is ruled by primitive customs of virginity and honor codes. The men take advantage of religion to impose virginity on women, in order to enjoy “fresh meat.” But the women are not to be considered less smart than them. They use “old wives’ tricks” and are dexterous enough to blindfold the men. Through the use of characters and conflict Marquez penetrates the gossamer of the farcical Columbian society with which it is woven. The novel successfully shows that Columbia is still in the specter of the Latin American culture, and the people have to pay the price of following a foreign culture blindly.