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    Chronicle of a Death Foretold: A Greek Tragedy in Magic Realism

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    Marquez subtly transforms a historical murder into a crime thriller in his novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold[1]. The very first line of the novel informs the reader about the murder, which prompts the reader to discover how and why the protagonist, Santiago Nasar will be murdered. Marquez appraises the foretold death but leaves it to the reader to explore a number of factors responsible for the death such as honour codes, the orthodox society or the laxity of the people that culminated into the death of the protagonist. Marquez weaves the story of Santiago’s murder with the gossamer of tension and suspense. His web successfully traps the reader as no one is ready to take the responsibility of the murder which had even been foretold.

    The greatest tension Marquez builds in this novel is by removing the element of suspense itself from the novel and thrusting the plot in a vein similar to a Greek tragedy. Marquez’s line, “On the day they were going to kill him”(Marquez 1) is able to draw a parallel between his work and the Greek tragedies where the audience was lured by the theatre despite knowing the sum and substance of the tragic plot. Marquez uses the tool of magic realism to make his story “Part morality tale, part fairy tale”[2], in addition to Greek tragedy. The element of prophetic dreams perplexes the reader as he instinctively tries to explore if the dreams have any mortal innuendoes. The reader knows everything essential to the plot from the opening page, yet he is intrigued by the novel until the final paragraph, wherein the murder is described. In addition, it is not strange that by the time Marquez elucidates it, the reader is already grappling with a number of key themes such as revenge, honour, racism and religion, confused as to what it was that accentuated the murder.

    Marquez orchestrates the story through an unnamed third person narrator who can only bring forth the information he gleans through his investigation although he is a next kin to the deceased. The reader feels baffled, as even the journalistic style cannot kindle the past that transpired twenty-seven years ago, in this particular rigid Latin American society. Marquez’s style is unique in that although the narrator tells the story in the first person, yet he also relates everything everyone is thinking. As in his other novels Marquez explores the theme of amnesia, thereby obscuring the evidence and testimony for the murder that took place so long ago. Most of the people who witnessed the gory spectacle are either dead or are suffering from obliviousness. It is strange that the policeman, Leandro Pornoy, shows no interest in the activities of the two drunken brothers. The Colonel, Lazaro Aponte, says “No one is arrested just on suspicion,”(Marquez 57) although he himself confiscated the knives from the Vicario brothers. Apart from the strange characters, the title of the novel is itself an oxymoron for the reader, as death can never be foretold. Ironically in the words of the translator, Gregory Rabassa, “The title is quite fitting, therefore, in that the death in question has been announced and is foretold, and through it Marquez has managed to keep the shock and horror of surprise.”[3]

    Marquez’s style is immaculate when the narrator talks about the murder in the opening sentence of the novel; “On the day they were going to kill him”. With the technique of flashback he foreshadows the death of the protagonist with the very beginning of the novel. The reader is all the more terse and tense to know of the death but no reasons behind its justification.

    The author employs various techniques to create an element of tension and suspense in the mind of the reader. The identities of the murderers, Pedro and Pablo Vicario, are given but the author screens the details of the gruesome murder until the very end. The journalistic style adopted by the author serves as another impediment in the mind of the reader. Jeffry Lilburn says “what begins as an attempt to fill the gaps, to find out once and for all what really happened that dark and drizzly morning becomes instead a parody of any attempt to recapture and reconstruct the past”[4]. Furthermore no doubt the mind of the reader oscillates between the past and the present.

    The writer shows the superficial nature of the townsfolk, a closely-­â knit group of people who suffer from inertia and laxity when it comes to honour code. The reader does not understand the double standards of the society where women must have their hymen intact while men are allowed to relish the delinquent lives fornicating, “in the apostolic lap of Maria Alejandrina Cervantes”(Marquez 3). There seems to be too much hue and cry on virginity with reference to Angela in the novel. The reader does not reconcile himself as to what is responsible behind such canons: is it the influence of the Spanish culture on the Latin American one or the primal instincts of ancient people. However, it appears that the society is firm on the issues of honour and virginity.

    The reader is further confused when Angela is convinced that she has slept with Bayardo and lost her virginity for the first time. “No one would have thought, nor did anyone say, that Angela Vicario wasn’t a virgin”. How does she cross the physical and metaphorical barriers and lose her honour? It is the irony of human kind that the fickle minded society takes Santiago Nasar as the perpetrator although they had never been seen together. The reader cannot also understand why Placida Linero, renowned as a great interpreter of dreams fails to interpret the dream of her only son. By blending his journalistic style with the artistic aspect of literature, Marquez confuses the reader as to what he is reading: an account of history, fantasy or a murder mystery.

    While the narrative moves speedily the reader is left ruminating as to what must have happened between Bayardo and Angela on their connubial night. The reader is tensed when it comes to whether her family will accept Angela or not. It is here that Marquez creates foremost tension in the mind of the reader who is impelled to question the honour codes indoctrinated in the minds of the townsfolk. And the reader questions himself if Angela is not as sinful as her perpetrator is? And when she blames Santiago to be the violator of her honour, the reader is as tensed as a wire. Is Santiago really the seducer? Why does the society sympathize with a woman who has broken the unwritten laws of virginity, by sleeping with ‘many’ and even with the others who are in the other world? Another fact that confuses the reader is the lack of enough details of a character as important as Angela. Marquez moves ahead without providing any such explanations.

    Marquez presents such twists in the novel that the reader sometimes blames Santiago of seducing Angela, given Santiago’s character as a philanderer. But at the same time the reader exonerates him of this act when his character is compared to a Christ like figure. Marquez paints Santiago, “a stigma of a crucified Christ” a scapegoat for the sins and the ignorance of society. But can there be a parallel between a man who grabbed Divina’s “whole pussy”(Marquez 12) and Christ? It is here that Marquez creates a labyrinth through his laconic writing. At the end of the novel, far away from the poetic justice, the reader stands on slippery grounds as to decide who Santiago is: a Biblical figure or Satanic one. In the words of his mother, Santiago was a man whose “skin was so delicate that it couldn’t stand the noise of starch”(Marquez 5). And the biggest suspense, which bewilders the reader, is the big question, why nobody stops Santiago’s murder?

    The translator Gregory Rabassa builds up the tension in the very first scene. He uses short sentences to create a powerful flow of emotions in the reader’s mind. For instance through the alliteration in the line “hallucination, holding his hanging intestines in his hands”(Marquez 121) the reader is confused to decipher the implication of this poetic technique incorporated into prose. Further his words, constituting a hyperbole, “all his intestines exploded out”(Marquez 121) petrify the reader. The metaphor of “mirror of memory”(Marquez 5) suggests that the truth will never be uncovered and the importance of the event has faded. The phrase “scattered shards”(Marquez 5) infers there is danger in the search. Overall, it looks that the narrator’s quest for the truth will be hindered by the lapse in time. And this is the dexterity of the Marquez that even now the reader cannot decide who to blame for the murder of Santiago: the honour code, the collective society, the Spanish culture or man’s protective and possessive attitude toward women.

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    Chronicle of a Death Foretold: A Greek Tragedy in Magic Realism. (2017, Dec 08). Retrieved from

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