The Theme of Religion as Depicted in Chronicle of a Death Foretold
The novel “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” takes place in the 1950s in a small Colombian village near the sea. The narrator is investigating the murder of Santiago Nasar, a rich Arab. He was murdered by the Vicario brothers, who believed took away the virginity of their sister, however there is not enough evidence of this. The book is written in journalistic style, as the narrator always mentions the full name of each person he is interviewing and always offers as many points of view as possible. An emerging theme in the novel is the theme of religion and specifically the Catholic religion.
The first encounter the reader has with religion is in the first chapter, where the villagers are awaiting for the bishop’s arrival. They made numerous preparations to honor the bishop, hoping he would get off the boat this year. Their hopes were crushed, as once again he did not get off to greet them and appreciate the gifts. The bishop’s moves while on the boat are described as “mechanic”, showing his indifference towards the small town. This goes against the beliefs of love and forgiveness of the Catholic religion. Moreover, Marquez foreshadows the fate of Santiago, as he mentions, “the people were too excited with the bishop’s visit to worry about any other news”, meaning that even though most of the villagers knew about the Vicario brother’s intentions, they were too busy preparing for the bishop’s arrival, hoping that he would prevent this murder from happening. The second religious figure in the novel is Father Carmen Amador, whose role is very ironic. He choses not to intervene and stop the two brothers, even though he was aware of the entire plan. Later on, he even forgets to warn Santiago, because he was distracted by the bishop’s arrival. Father Amador even says that the Vicario brothers are “innocent…before God”. His name is ironic, as in Spanish it means lover, however his name is very contradictory, as when he is performing the autopsy on Santiago’s dead body, he does it with no love at all, in a very violent way. Since his name means lover, he could have been the one who took Angela’s virginity. This could be why he welcomed the Vicario brothers and forgave them in the name of God after the murder. Moreover, being Angela’s lover could have been the reason why he did not warn Santiago or why he performed such a violent autopsy on his body.
One of the most striking portrayals of religion in the novel is the similarity of Santiago to Jesus Christ. Firstly, Marquez has chosen Santiago’s name very thoughtfully, as in Spanish Santo can be translated to “Saint”, immediately making the first connection of his death to Christ. Moreover, Nasar sounds similar to Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus. Santiago being an Arab was seen as an outsider to the Colombian society around him, like Jesus. Some parts of the novel seem similar to Christ’s story according to the Bible, for example, the cocks that began to crow in their baskets. This is similar to the cocks that crowed three times before Jesus death. According to the title, Santiago’s death was foretold, which is similar to Jesus’ prediction of his own death. Another way that makes Santiago comparable to Jesus, is through his death, as it resembles the crucifixion of Christ. Pedro Vicario mentions “we killed him openly”, this is a similarity between the two, as Jesus was also killed openly. Even though Santiago’s murder did not take place in front of everyone, it can still correspond to Jesus, as the whole town was aware of the murder, they were all spectators, but nobody was willing to act to defend Santiago. The most direct connection to Jesus is where it is mentioned that “He had a deep stab in the right hand, it looked like a stigma of the crucified Christ”. Another similarity between Christ’s crucifixion and Nasar’s death is where Marquez mentions: “the knife went through the palm of his right hand and then sank into his side up to the hilt. Everybody heard his cry of pain”, this is very similar to the moment where the Roman soldiers are nailing Jesus on the cross. Moreover, when the two brothers were attacking Santiago, it is mentioned that the knife he was being attacked with kept coming out clean, which is an example of magic realism that shows Santiago’s magical talents. Santiago was “mortally wounded three times”, the number three can be linked to religion as it could symbolize the three times Jesus was denied by Saint Peter. In this case, Saint Peter would be the people who refused to stop the Vicario brothers. Another interpretation of the symbolism behind the number three and religion is that the devil tempted Jesus three times. Angela could be the devil, as she might have tempted Santiago to take away her virginity, indicating that maybe he is guilty in the end. During the murder, Santiago seemed like he was being nailed to the wooden door, this relates closely to Christ’s nailing on the wooden cross. Many people heard Jesus’ last words on the cross, and realized their wrong doings, similarly many people heard Santiago’s screams and realized their mistake of being impassive. Moreover, both Christ and Santiago showed no resistance during their death. Pedro Vicario also mentions that Santiago knew why they were going to kill him, which makes his death parallel to Jesus, as He also knew why He was going to be killed. Additionally, Marquez points out that Santiago had a magical talent, which is similar to Jesus’ talents. Another similarity of the two is that they both wore white at the day of their death. This symbolizes purity and may suggest that Santiago, similar to Jesus, was not guilty in the end and was simply paying for other people’s sins. Santiago died for Angela’s sin and Christ for the people’s sins. This is a criticism for the decision of the two brothers, as they refused to investigate Angela’s claim further and only cared about the honor carried by their family’s name.
In the novel it is ironic how all the townspeople are very respectful towards religion and that it plays a big role in their lives. Firstly, Angela’s name means angelic, which is ironic as she was no angel. She was the reason for Santiago’s murder. Most of her qualities, mainly the fact that she had pre-marital sex, show that she was the opposite. This links to the Bible’s interpretation for the creation of the world, where Eve gets tempted by the snake, in this case Angela may have been tempted by Santiago to have pre-marital sex. Moreover, it is ironic how the Vicario brothers’ way of restoring their honor is through murder, as they are breaking one of The Ten Commandments that states, “Thou shalt not murder.” Right after the murder the two brothers run to the church to confess, justifying their act as a matter of honor and the Church accepts this, thus it fails to see that one of the Ten Commandments that they live by is broken. This shows that honor is so important in their society that they fail to act morally and according to God.
To conclude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez uses various examples of religion throughout the novel, to criticize the society’s acts. In the novel Santiago Nasar is seen as a figure with characteristics similar to Jesus. This indicates that maybe he was innocent in the end and he had to die for Angela’s sins, just like Jesus died for the people’s sins. Moreover, the fact that the Catholic Church may pardon murder if it is a matter of honor is very ironic and judgmental, as it is a breakage of the Ten Commandments, thus it should not be justified. The bishop acts as a symbol showing how biased the church is and that it does not want to concern itself with unimportant matters, like the small Colombian town, even though it accepts all the gifts and preparations. Lastly, similar to the bishop, Father Amador could be a biased religious figure, as he could potentially be Angela’s lover and he was the one to justify and accept a murder as a matter of honor.
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