Chronicle of A Death Foretold As A Critique Of Archaic Values
The concept and belief of honour within Columbian society within the novella is a critical focal point in the decision making, actions and motives of the characters. So entrenched is this belief that nobody questions the actions taken to preserve one’s honour as it is regarded as such an important moral trait that one must hold dear. In this patriarchal society a man or woman that does not display honour is considered an outcast to the community and the culture. Within the novella the two twin brothers are burdened with defending this tradition of honour. The two brothers discover that their sister has lost her virginity before marriage (a huge taboo for the time) and is forced to slander an individual’s name and the most believable candidate was Santiago Nasar. Therefore, to regain the honour of their sister, and their family the brothers believe it is their fate and duty to kill Santiago Nasar. Forcing the twins down a path they reluctantly and begrudgingly follow tragically resulting in the premature end of Santiago Nasar.
This feeling of upholding the traditional honour system is fuelled as well as supported by the community who work as the foundations of this archaic value. Pablo’s wife, Prudencia Cotes justifies and values that the boys followed through with the murder by saying, “I never would have married him if he hadn’t done what a man should do”, when she was referring to Santiago Nasar’s death. A rampant problem within the novella that resulted in Santiago’s death was that many characters prove the pressure honour must be sustained within a family. However there a few beacons of catenation within the town, one such being Clotilide Armenta, who tried to directly warn Santiago, but most fail to involve themselves in any way. A very reprobate of a case was in fact such a case that involve Santiago’s own fiancée, instead of warning her soon to be husband, she only thinks about herself and her own honour; “She went through a crisis of humiliation”, ashamed due to the status quo dictating that Santiago must marry Angela to uphold Angela’s and the Vicario family’s honour which he had so “maliciously” took away. The town shows further support of these values by the fact that the Vicario twins only spend three years in prison. These values are so entrenched in the psyche of the denizens of the town that it even transcends the law of the land itself, as the twins go to speak to the priest, they say the that they had committed murder, but there is no crime. Here the narrator explains that, in the days following the murder, Santiago’s burial, the arrest of the Vicario twins, and the flight of the Vicario family, the townspeople reserve all their pity for Bayardo, who is left the most unscathed by the tragedy. Their concern for him illustrates their bizarre, backwards value system, and their obsession with honour and dignity at the expense of common humanity. To the townspeople, Angela, Santiago, and the Vicario twins are actors, and they are to be congratulated for how well they played their roles-never mind if the performance cost all of them their lives. “For the immense majority of people even in the courthouse this disease of a mindset had percolated even into the lawyer himself as “the lawyer stood by the thesis of homicide in legitimate defence of honour.” Even the church does nothing to prevent the crime, the narrator presses Father Amador to explain why he did nothing to prevent this crime when it was completely in his power to do so, and this is the answer Father Amador offers. His complacence in the face of impending violence is shocking, especially given that he is the spiritual leader of the town. Unfortunately, it is also typical-his feeling that the murder “wasn’t any business” of his is common among the townspeople who did not prevent the crime. Further, by using the Bishop’s arrival to arrival to explain his distractedness, Amador adds a layer of irony to his excuse: he was so caught up in organising a grand display of sacredness that he did not prevent something evil and profane from occurring right under his nose.
“For years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits…” In this paragraph, which opens the concluding chapter, the Narrator explains the lasting effects of Santiago’s murder, and the community’s methods of confronting their own complicity in it. While their lives before the murder had been driven by daily rituals, “linear habits,” now their lives are dominated by a single, cyclical ritual: trying to make sense of the senseless and highly preventable crime. The townsfolk’s anxiety over the murder is existential: everyone feels they were “assigned” a role in the tragedy by fate, and yet they are also forced to reckon with their own choices that, in total, resulted in Santiago’s death. The honour system is intertwined with this tradition of ritual as the murder of Santiago Nasar is an extension-and a perversion- of this culture of ritual. Pedro and Pablo Vicario’s vow to kill Santiago is an empty gesture that suddenly becomes all too real. It seems that no one, not even the brothers themselves, believe they will follow through their plan—until, of course, it is too late. The Vicario brothers’ pronouncements and showy knife-sharpening have the quality of performance. They are, in a sense, “faking it”—but somehow, in faking it, they find it within themselves to kill, or, to put it another way, they find themselves forced to follow through with the role they have taken on. At last, there is something ritualistic about the Narrator’s engagement with his story. His efforts to find the facts of the murder so many years after it happened have a mournful and obsessive character, in what can be described as an obsession of honour. This can be viewed as the narrator trying to regain the honour of Santiago Nasar long after his death. Falling unintentionally into the value he so condemned. However, Chronicle of a Death foretold can be seen as a critique of archaic values as a whole such as the concept of fate is embedded in the very title of the novel, and introduced again in its first sentence: “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.” Santiago Nasar’s death is “foretold” in two senses. First, Pablo and Pedro Vicario announce their intentions —literally “foretelling” the death— to anyone who will listen, and soon nearly everyone in the village knows that Santiago is doomed. Second, in another, more cosmic sense, Santiago’s death seems predestined from the start, the result of a tragic alignment of chance occurrences. Looked at one way, Santiago’s murder is a clearly intentional act, committed (and enabled) by people in the world. Certainly, the Vicario twins choose to kill him, one can argue. Further, many characters—such as Victoria Guzmán, Santiago’s cook, and her daughter, Divina Flor—have the chance to warn Santiago but choose not to, either not understanding the seriousness of the threat or actively wanting Santiago dead. To put it simply: the Vicario twins and their enablers act with free will.
Indeed, some of the Narrator’s language supports this interpretation of the tragedy, notably his insistence on calling the murder a “crime.” At other points he even suggests that the entire community, not just the Vicario twins, is culpable. This is in conjunction with the theme of the sacred and the profane. As eluded to earlier this theme works in close conjunction with honour. Chronicle of a Death foretold is impressive for the way it depicts a world in which religious seriousness commingles with out-and-out debauchery. Nearly every character in the novel moves freely between these two opposite poles of experience, poles that might be labelled as the “sacred” and the “profane.” God seems to have left the village in which the novel takes place. The Bishop, whom everyone is eager to see on the morning of the murder, will not set foot in the town, choosing instead to pass by on his boat and deliver his blessing from afar. Everyone takes part in the wedding festivities; even the Narrator’s sister, a nun, gets drunk. The Narrator has been frequenting a local brothel for his entire adult life. Santiago Nasar, though described as “peaceful” by the Narrator, gropes the teenaged Divina Flor whenever he gets the chance. Pedro Vicario returns from the military sporting a nasty case of gonorrhoea. And yet, most members of the community are deeply Catholic—as proved by their enthusiasm over the Bishop’s visit—and cling dearly to traditional ideals of purity and honour. As soon as Angela Vicario accuses Santiago Nasar of deflowering her, her brothers Pablo and Pedro Vicario set out to murder him as a matter of course: by their logic, he has stolen the honour of their sister, of their whole family, and so must repay them in blood. By that same token, a fair number of the townspeople accept Santiago’s doom as a foregone conclusion: nothing can or should be done to save him. Angela Vicario’s purity is seen by everyone—including Angela herself—as a matter of life and death. The community’s draconian values find fullest expression in the verdict delivered three years after the murder. Despite the gruesome and public nature of their crime, and despite the clear innocence of their victim, the Vicario brothers are found innocent “by the thesis of homicide in legitimate defence of honour.”
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