‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ does not merely chronicle the history of the events that led to the untimely death of the protagonist Santiago Nasar ,but also chronicles the social environment in which this event occurred. In the narrative the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, narrates through this travesty of events the social environment that prevailed in Colombia during those times. Marquez uses the cultural setting and the values adhered in Colombia as a justification for the murder of Santiago Nasar. However it is required to understand the social environment prevailing in Colombia at that time in order to understand the reasons and the manner of the killing of Santiago Nasar.
The title of the novel itself suggests that Nasar’s death was inevitable and pre-planned-his murder was considered to be a matter of the Latino cultural code of honor-to be an ‘honor killing’. It is commonly believed that the reason why honor is considered a driving force in a person’s life is because it determines how the rest of the society judges that person’s honesty, sincerity and integrity. Angela Vicario’s claim of losing her virginity to Santiago Nasar resulted in an endless pursuit by her brothers, as was expected by their society to regain their family honor. This act of pre-marital sex was seen as a disgrace to the Vicario family and her brothers-Pedro and Pablo Vicario felt that the only way to regain their family’s honor and pride was Nasar’s death. Therefore, in a way Marquez paints a picture of Colombian society where societal values were considered more integral than the inherent goodness of man…” Before God and before men, it was a matter of honor”.
Marquez has depicted that the entire town was aware of the clandestine plan being plotted behind the scenes which portrays a society where everyone is fervent to talk about the murder to each other, but no one proposes to discuss it with the murderer. ‘Most of the townspeople consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honor are sacred monopolies.’ They felt the quarrel was better left to those involved directly. The narrator found countless moments in which the right word or the right action could have stopped the murder from taking place. Therefore in a way Marquez puts the responsibility of Nasar’s death on each and every individual in the town who was reluctant to take any action but at the same time he never holds an inquiry over the basis of the murder. This shows how honor killings were acceptable in the society and taking someone’s life unlawfully due to premeditated malice was not objected to. Marquez also shows a lack of individualization and personal perspectives within the people, rather the communal morals dominated the chain of events in town.
The carnage of Santiago Nasar initiated by the Vicario brothers and the severe fury directed at Angela by her mother on finding out the truth about her daughters depravity indicates how Angela had a duty towards her family to remain unsullied until marriage. As a part of her duty towards her family she was obliged to marry Bayardo because he was affluent and moneyed, even though she did not love him. In the same vein, Pedro also sets off for war to earn money for his family while Pablo remains at home to take care of his parents. This shows us how a sense of duty towards the family was very important within the society. Angela was forced into matrimony with Bayardo San Roman by her family because he came from a prestigious family while the Vicarios were relatively poor. Angela’s family did not consider her wish or opinion of any importance, they were content with receiving gifts from Bayardo’s family and were in high spirits at the prospect of living a comfortable life after Angela’s marriage. ‘The parents decisive argument was that a family dignified by modest means had no right to disdain that prize of destiny.’
Hence their concern was the material gain that they would receive through this alliance. Marquez portrays women as helpless creatures within Colombian society who had no say or freedom to express their opinion. Women were considered vulnerable and their aspirations were regarded as insignificant and trivial. Significantly Angela’s marriage to Bayardo because of his wealth epitomizes how commitment to a rich man was the only means by which a woman could obtain financial security in her life. Women did not enjoy any individual worth nor could they command a say in their own lives, hence they were forced to follow the dictats of the men in their parental home and later the husband, once married. Angela’s mother lived her life in a very constricted social environment and felt it is perfectly in order for Angela to follow the same norms without any questions or hesitation. Thus Marquez has portrayed women as totally domesticated creatures who have been taught to live within the confines of their homes and never to overstep the boundaries of their narrow societal beliefs. A similar situation has been described in ‘The Kite Runner’ by Hosseini wherein he has given a detailed account of the miserable plight of women in Afghanistan who do not enjoy any social or political rights. They appear to be as helpless and dependent on men as Marquez has depicted women in ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold.’
Marquez also emphasizes on male pride and the sexuality of their characters in the novel. Moreover, Marquez suggests double standards for men and women quite explicitly in the novel. It is acceptable for men to treat women as disposable pleasures rather than meaningful pursuits-they feel proud of visiting Maria Cervantes’s brothel…‘it was she who did away with my generations virginity’ -shows how Maria was an object of desire for the men who used her for their sexual needs as she was the ‘most serviceable in bed’.
They did not feel ashamed of their actions as the society endorsed male sexuality. It was all right for men to visit prostitutes to satisfy their desires but it was deplorable for a woman to take a lover before marriage. When Bayardo found out that Angela had had a lover in the past, she is rejected and returned to her house on her wedding night. She is also subjected to a beating by her mother which shows the double standards present within the society.
The Latin American community of the town was one with its roots stemmed deep in religion and faith which also explains why the notion of virginity was seen as one of such critical importance. The town’s close ties to the Catholic religion elucidates why the belief of a woman staying ‘pure’ until marriage was considered so important. The principles of Catholicism did not adhere with what Angela did and without even questioning her claim, severe actions were taken against Santiago Nasar for the ‘crime’ that he had committed. The significance of the Church is greatly stressed upon by Marquez’s depiction of the society, however it is ironic that although the story takes place in a town that is religious, religions seems to have lost much of its value. In the novel and this can be seen by the sumptuous preparations that the people of the town made upon the arrival of the Bishop. However on the big day, the bishop does not even step foot in the town and sails right on by with a mere wave to the innumerable spectators. It seems as if the Bishop does not value religion, he does not take the name of god or do anything remotely close to spiritual or pious, instead he keeps on waving his hand back and forth in an obliging manner. Thus through this event, Marquez ultimately reveals a society in which moral frameworks such as the law and religion appear to be ineffective to mentor and secure the citizens.
Marquez’s portrayal of Colombian society is one in which he has depicted a very narrow-minded and petty social structure where violence predominates and social customs which have been passed down through generations are allowed to prevail. In order to practice these and uphold their values they are willing to kill in cold blood and there is no stigma attached to such killings, in fact it is celebrated as an honor killing. Such an incident as presented in the story of Nasar can only be realistically acceptable in a society such as the Colombian society. In any free thinking society, such a story of blood and gore would not be acceptable or believable. Hence, Marquez has been able to capture the essence of the story as well as the Colombian society in all its stilted detail in order to make the novel chronicle the events which he has described.