Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Welcome to our discussion of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The novel was first published in the Spanish-speaking world in 1981 under the title Cronica de una muerte anunciada. The U.S. edition appeared in 1983. Between those two dates, Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the most prestigious literary award in the world. Marquez's reputation at that time rested chiefly upon One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English translation 1970), a sprawling family saga spanning seven or eight generations, which tells the entire history of a small town and seems to contain stories within stories. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, on the other hand, is a remarkably controlled, taut, tense little book, concentrating on one event that takes place in the course of a few hours.

The story is a murder mystery of sorts, and yet we find out very early who committed the crime, and we even know the motive: Pedro and Pablo Vicario kill Santiago Nasar to avenge the honor of their sister Angela when her husband returns her to her family the night of their wedding because he learns that Angela was not a virgin. What, then, is the mystery of this story? What is it that we really crave to understand as we watch Santiago Nasar's final hours and the brutal killing at the end? How does the author create such suspense when we already know what is going to happen?

Chronicle of a Death Foretold: A culture of contradictions?

The novel portrays a town full of contradictions: It is a religious community that flocks to see the bishop, but the bishop sails by indifferently. Santiago Nasar's mother is famous as an interpreter of dreams, but she fails to interpret Santiago's dream correctly in the hours before he is murdered. Virginity is such a sacred value in this culture that it is worth murdering over, and yet a house of prostitution (Maria Alejandrina Cervantes' House of Mercies) is open day and night, even during the wedding, and many of the main characters go there. What other contradictions and ironies are there in the book? What do they suggest about this community?

The Women in Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The brutal crime is committed by men, but some of the key women in the story actually encourage the reluctant murderers. Which women do this, and how? What motive might they have?

Angela and Santiago (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)

Did Angela really lose her virginity before the wedding? If so, was Santiago Nasar really the one who deflowered her? If it wasn't him, why might Angela have named Santiago? Is the family satisfied with her answer?

Based on a True Story

The story in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is based on actual incidents that occurred in Sucre, Colombia, where Gabriel Garcia Marquez lived. On January 22, 1951, the brothers Victor and Joaquin Chica Sales murdered Cayetano Gentile Chimento, a 22-year-old medical student, son of the richest family in town. The brothers murdered him because he allegedly deflowered their sister, who was returned to her family on her wedding night. As in the novel, the rejected bride continued to live alone for years after the murder. These events occurred while Gabriel Garcia Marquez was in college studying journalism (like the narrator of the novel) and he knew some of the people involved.

Did you know beforehand that the novel was based on true events? How does it affect your reaction to the book? Does this suggest anything about Garcia Marquez's motives for writing it, or the tone or technique he chose? What, finally, is the point of the novel? What is Gabriel Garcia Marquez saying about his culture?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner

The influence of William Faulkner upon Latin American writers is widely acknowledged, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called the Mississippian author, with some exaggeration of the geographical facts, "my fellow Caribbean writer." This is most evident in Garcia Marquez's most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, but we can also see traces of Faulkner's influence here as well. Which themes in Chronicle of a Death Foretold are similar to Faulkner's themes? How about the narrative technique and point of view? Which characters seem particularly Faulknerian? Compare Chronicle of a Death Foretold with, say, Absalom Absalom?

Some recommended resources for Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Random House Academic Resources
Plot summary and introduction, from the publisher of the U.S. edition.

nobelprize.org
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Nobel Prize acceptance speeches in English and Spanish (with a recording in Spanish only).

There are plenty of biographies of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but if you don't want to know every detail of his life and just want to read something short, I highly recommend Sean Dolan's richly-illustrated book, simply titled Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It has dozens of photos of the author, his hometown, and the one-room shack he grew up in, all of which help the reader to visualize the settings of his novels.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cast of Characters in Chronicle of a Death Foretold

THE NARRATOR:
We are not told his name. He is a longtime friend of Santiago Nasar and Pedro and Pablo Vicario. He was a college student at the time of the murder, but a journalist years later when narrating the story. (Gabriel García Márquez also began his career as a journalist.)

SANTIAGO NASAR:
Age 21. Only child of Ibrahim Nasar, an immigrant from Syria. Family owns a cattle ranch and is wealthy. His father taught him about guns, horses, falconry, and prostitutes. His parents have arranged for him to be married to Flora Miguel. He is fascinated by church rituals. The night before he is murdered he dreams of walking through a grove of pine trees in light rain.

PLÁCIDA LINERO NASAR:
Mother of Santiago Nasar. Interpreter of dreams and omens. Cynical about religion. Her marriage to Ibrahim was arranged and she never loved him.

BAYARDO SAN ROMÁN:

A very wealthy young man who moves into town suddenly and mysteriously, marries Angela Vicario, and buys the house of the widower Xius. His father, General Petronio San Román, fought in 19th century civil war and was an enemy of the Buendía family (from One Hundred Years of Solitude). His mother was a mulata from Curaçao.

VICTORIA GUZMÁN:

The cook in Santiago Nasar’s house. She was raped by Santiago’s father when younger; now she hates Santiago as well, fearing he will do the same to her daughter, Divina Flor. Denies knowing about the planned murder, but years later Divina Flor admits that they both knew.

ÁNGELA VICARIO:
Youngest, and last unmarried, daughter in a large family. Beautiful but weak-spirited. Her parents force her to marry Bayardo San Román, whom she finds arrogant. After being rejected by her husband on her wedding night, she remains single the rest of her life, but comes to love Bayardo San Román retrospectively, and writes him hundreds of love letters which he never answers. She never wavers from her allegation that it was Santiago Nasar who deflowered her. “He is my perpetrator.” ["Fue mi autor."]

PEDRO and PABLO VICARIO:
Twins, brothers of Angela, 24 years old at time of murder. Butchers by profession. Friends of the narrator since childhood. Pedro was in the military and is more decisive. He suffers from blennorrhea, which he caught in the military. After their three years in jail, Pablo gets married, and Pedro rejoins the military, and his entire troop disappears one day. Their father, Poncio, was a goldsmith but is now blind and cannot work.

PURÍSIMA DEL CARMEN VICARIO:
Mother of Angela Vicario, very religious and traditional. Taught all her daughters sewing and calligraphy. She was a schoolteacher before marrying. She beats Angela when she is returned by her husband, and she orders her sons to redeem the family honor by killing Santiago Nasar.

MINOR CHARACTERS:

CLOTILDE ARMENTA:
Owner of a dairy shop / bar across the street from the Nasar house. She tried to get the mayor to stop the Vicario brothers, and exhorts Cristo to warn him.

MARÍA ALEJANDRINA CERVANTES:
Owner of a brothel, “The House of Mercies”, where many men went on the night of the wedding. She relieved a generation of young men of their virginity. Her doors are always open.

FATHER CARMEN AMADOR:
The town priest. He was busy preparing for the bishop on the morning of the murder and so did nothing to prevent it. He performed the autopsy.

CORONEL LÁZARO APONTE:
Mayor of the town, and unenthusiastic about his position. He takes away Pedro and Pablo’s knives but does not arrest them, and does nothing when he learns that they acquired a second pair of knives.

CRISTO BEDOYA:
A friend of Santiago Nasar and the narrator. Medical student. He was one of the last people to see Santiago, since he was taking a walk with him that morning. He is the only one who tries to do something to help Santiago.

DIONISIO IGUARÁN:
Doctor and man of letters. Witnessed Bayardo trying to buy a house from the widower Xius He was out of town at the time of the murder, so he could not perform the autopsy.