The guilt of the townspeople can be seen blatantly in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. They become obsessed with the death of Santiago Nasar and their role in the tragedy. "For years we couldn't talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a single common anxiety" (96) Everyone in the town knows of the plot to kill Nasar, but very few attempt to warn him before it is too late. The townspeople's guilt leads them to commit odd acts; for instance, Hortensia Baute, "whose only participation was having seen two bloody knives that weren't bloody yet, felt so affected by the hallucination that she fell into a penitential crisis, and one day, unable to stand it any longer, she ran out naked into the street" (97). Yet there are also those who seem to feel no emotional guilt concerning the crime, yet are the catalysts. Angela Vicario, the woman who causes Nasar to be killed, seems to feel no remorse. It is never clear in the novel whether she is telling the truth when she states Nasar had taken her virginity, even from her own statement of "He was my perpetrator" (100). It is also never clear whether her account of events is correct, including her decision to not fake her virginity, the resulting beating by her mother, and her life after the murder.
The desire for understanding in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not the initial desire one may have to uncover the unknowns in Santiago Nasar's death; the characters wish to understand their personal contributions and roles in his death. The narrator remarks that the townspeople desired to know "the place and mission assigned to us by fate" (96). Even the narrator, a journalist desiring to tell of Nasar's death, does not truly attempt to shed light on the murder. He tries only to place the townspeople and himself in the places that "fate" wanted them to be during the murder. Very little, if anything, is revealed about the murder that was not already stated in the official report made by the investigating magistrate.
The confession and absolution aspect of this story comes mainly in the form of the many testimonies of the characters. Each character's statement of their location and actions is an attempt to absolve them of guilt, which is the main reason for any confession. In striving to understand their place in the murder, they attempt to rid themselves of guilt by maintaining an attitude that any action to prevent Nasar's murder would have been futile. The narrator states "But most of those who could have done something to prevent the crime and did not consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honour are sacred monopolies, giving access only to those who are part of the drama" (97).
It seems that for most of the townspeople, absolution is unattainable. This may be why they obsess about the past-because it contains the events they feel guilty about and is thus the only place they think there may be absolution, if only they could sort out the truth of their roles. Nasar's mother's endless guilt leads here to spend her last days in the same
hammock from which she saw him last, "trying to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many shattered shards" (6).
It is possible; however, that Pedro and Pablo Vicario, Nasar's killers, receive absolution while in jail just after Nasar's death. They refuse to give confession to a priest, but both become quite ill while in jail, sometime after which they are pardoned. From one perspective, their illnesses are symbolic of their sins and absolutions. The brother who is the most reluctant to kill Nasar develops acute diarrhoea, resulting in a constant releasing of his wastes, like a releasing of his sins, until an herbal remedy is applied by a local matriarch. He later marries and becomes a goldsmith. The brother that is initially the most forceful about killing Nasar becomes unable to release his wastes until the same remedy or granting of absolution, is applied, and later dies after having run off to join the army, "without love or job" (83). It seems that the people who commit the sins of commission in the novel are the ones finally absolved, while the townspeople, who are guilty of sins of omission, remain in limbo with their guilt.
The Vicario twins are also guilty because they are the ones who performed the actual act of murdering Santiago. The town bears the most guilt for Santiago Nasar death. Santiago was murdered by his own town following the silence of its members on that dreadful day. The main reason why Santiago died in the hands of the Vicario twins is the fact that everyone believed he was responsible for sexually assaulting Angela Vicario. Bayardo, her husband returns her to the house after realizing that she had already lost her virginity prior to their marriage. "He does so without speaking a word "(46). When Angela is questioned, she accuses Santiago Nasar as being responsible for the loss of her virginity.
The narrator however, claims that "not even single evidence was presented to confirm Angela's claim" (47) despite the townspeople having doubts on whether Nasar was guilty or innocent, they remain silent and reluctant to stop the killing. The setting of the story is a small town where everyone is well known by each other. It is a town that profoundly upheld religion, tradition and morality. One of the key traditions that were held was that of the essence of preserving virginity till marriage. Angela marries Bayardo Sam Roman and is then returned to her home because she was not a virgin at the time of marriage.
Angela's twin brothers are determined to maintain their sister's honour and resort to retaliate by murdering her probable violator. According to Angela, though unconfirmed by other sources, the violator happened to be Santiago Nasar. The town seems to regard Angela's violation a more enormous tragedy compared to a loss of a life, which may be innocent after all. Many people have been presented as the perpetrators of the murder by the narrator. Marquez uses the phrase "on the day that they were going to kill him" (3). This implies that probably the entire town residents, comprising of more than two people, was responsible for killing Santiago Nasar. The entire town knows that the Vicario twins are set to kill Santiago Nasar and no one dares to stop them.
The brothers clearly made their intentions known to the entire town. They made it much easier for the town to stop them by telling Clothide Armenta that "They were looking for Santiago so that they could kill him" (54). Despite making their plans known to everyone in the entire town, no one makes an attempt to stop them. It seems the Vicario twins had an obligation to kill Nasar because Angela's honour was at stake (Marquez, 2003).Some residents of the town thought that Pablo and Pedro Vicario were incapable of killing someone and hence failed to take the action of stopping them. The town seems to easily let go of life so long as the societal expectations were upheld.
The town people failed to warn Santiago about his murder till a much later time shortly prior to the killing. Some seemed to show less care and concern. Generally, the town just stood back and watched as the abominable murder took place. To make matters worse, the town people went to the extent of gathering around Santiago's home to witness the crime, as if they cared less about the loss of life. Despite having doubts as to whether Santiago was the actual person responsible for defiling Angela, the town showed no concern (Marquez, 2003).A literary critic known as Carlos Alonso also acknowledges the town's silence as the reason behind Santiago's killing.
According to Alonso, the role of the chronicle is to relieve Santiago's murder in attempting to relieve the narrator's and the town's guilt and tension. The town's determination to stick to hypocritical honour codes results to dire consequences such as the loss of innocent lives. The twin brothers had to kill Santiago Nasser in order to conform to the societal expectations and norms. By killing Santiago, they proved that they were real men. The guilt of the town residents drives them to commit odd acts for instance Hortensia Baute, who runs out in the street naked following hallucinations associated with guilt" (Marquez, 97).
There are however some townspeople who seem to feel no regret and remorse in regard to the crime. A good example is Angela Vicario, who does not seem to care despite the fact that she is the one who causes her twin brothers to kill Santiago. The novel does not clarify whether Angela is telling the truth, when she blatantly states that "Santiago was her perpetrator" (Marquez, 100).The statements presented by each character regarding the roles they play in the murder of Santiago is an attempt to relieve their guilt. Everyone seems to relieve their guilt by maintaining an attitude that implies that, an action to stop the killing would have been pointless.
Majority of the townspeople tends to think that disagreements arising over honor need to be left to the parties involved. This is the main reason why no one takes the initiative of warning Santiago about his murder before it is too late. The town becomes so engrossed in upholding its traditions at the expense of losing a possible innocent life. Instead of taking responsibility for the actions and accepting the guilt, everyone seems to run away from it. Even the Vicario twins who actually murdered Santiago refuse to make a confession to the priest (Marquez, 82). Eventually it seems the two brothers are relived of their guilt because one of them develops acute diarrhea, until the application of a herbal remedy. The other brother is unable to release his waste till a local matriarch applies a herbal remedy. He dies in the end following his joining the army (Marquez, 83).
The townspeople remain with the guilt since it virtually impossible for most of the residents to attain absolution. Instead of accepting and confession their mistakes, everyone makes an attempt to avoid and run away from it. The guilt of the town is also evidenced by the fact that the entire town becomes so much obsessed with Santiago's death. The narrator states that "For many years, they could not talk about anything else but Santiago Nasar's death" (Marquez, 96).
Their guilt was that of failing to warn Santiago about his death despite the fact that everyone had knowledge of the plot to kill him. The essence of honor to the culture is so much that even the jury presiding over the case of Vicario brothers finds them not guilty with the reason that their intention for killing was to regain Angela's honor (Marquez, 2003).In conclusion, it is clear that though Santiago Nasar is killed in the hands of Pablo and Pedro Vicario, the entire town is most guilty for the crime. The town's silence and reluctance to warn Santiago about his death lead to a loss of a possibly innocent life.