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A Chronicle of a Town’s Envy
In the book “The Chronicles of a Death Foretold”, an unidentified narrator recounts the murder of a man name Santiago in front of his doorstep. The two perpetrators serve just three years for their crime because jurors determined they acted in order to restore honor their family after their sister’s virginity is claimed to be taken by the murdered man. Gabriel Marquez’s novel is more than just a story, it is a true event. The morning of January 22, 1951 in Sucre, Columbia, 22-year-old Cayetano Chimento was killed by twin brothers, Victor and Joaquin Salas after being confused with someone else in a duel of honor. Unfortunately, Marquez’s story isn’t as straight to the point. The full details of the events that occur in his novel are never disclosed. The gaps he leaves in the telling of Santiago’s murder is left for readers to fill. The story opens with: “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” (Marquez 2). The opening lines tell the inevitable death of Santiago Nasar, a man who trusted the very community that enabled his fate. Very few details are provided on why his townspeople never warned him. But based on the deafening silence of his community, Santiago was a hated man amongst many of them because of his wealth, race, and womanizing tendencies. This gave ample reason to kill him, despite how their male-dominant Latin American social order tolerated such philandering dishonorable behavior by men, and how the community over inflated and romanticized the old Spanish colonial values of honor so much that it excused dishonorable or even unlawful behavior among its residents.
Before giving supported evidence on this theory, Santiago as a character must be analyzed first. The narrator describes him of having curly hair, light skin, slim build and, like his father, Arabian eyes with long, dark eyelashes (Marquez 4). His father, Ibrahim Nasir, was of Arabic descent while his mother, Placida Linero, is of Colombian decent. His mixed ethnicity is the reason some townspeople call him a “Turk”, which a common derogatory term coming from the word Turkey. Many Latin Americans often made the lazy assumption Turkey was an Arab state when in fact they are completely separate states (Klich 3). Moreover, at a young age Santiago learned how to use firearms, ride horses, and master falconry. Santiago’s mastery of falconry implies that he is a very wealthy man, which is the case thanks to his father’s large fortune and farm. In addition to his wealth, ethnicity, and good looks, Santiago is sexually aggressive. His assertive masculinity is showed through his foul interactions and comments towards his cook’s daughter, Divine Flor, who has yet to reach full maturity. The narrator accounts a time when she tells him of Santiago’s actions: “‘He grabbed my whole pussy,’ Divina Flor told me. ‘It was what he always did when he caught me alone in some corner of the house’” (Marquez 8). Santiago Nasar was ultimately known as very wealthy bachelor in his community. Unfortunately, his desirable fortune, race and disgusting behavior towards woman made him a target in his town.
Given Santiago’s social status, the townspeople seem to resent him. The communities resentment towards individuals with wealth and privilege is best demonstrated when an outsider, Bayardo San Roman, arrives to town. Angela’s first impression are: “I detested conceited men, and I’d never seen one so stuck-up” as he attempts to buy her love (Marquez 17). Bayardo’s mere presence disturbs the social equilibrium in town. According to the narrator, Bayardo humiliates the towns best swimmer by leaving him “twenty strokes” in a race across the river. Additionally, he flexes his power by offering an incredible amount of money for a farmhouse, the owner being a widow whose home held lots of fond memories. Weeping, the widower accepts the money to only die of sadness months later. Throughout the exchange, Bayardo shows no care in the world for the old lady, he merely sees an object. Social status in Latin America, specifically in Columbia, defined a family:
Four classes and their relative proportions could be distinguished (in Columbia): upper class, 5 percent; middle class, 20 percent; lower class, 50 percent; and the masses, 25 percent. […] Classes were distinguished by occupation, life-style, income, family background, education, and power. Within each of the classes, there were numerous subtle in status. Colombians tended to be extremely status-conscious, and class membership was an important aspect of social life because it regulated the interaction of groups and individuals. (The Society, 84)
Presented the fact 75% of Columbian citizens were impoverished in the mid 1900’s, the townspeople are most likely envious of not only Bayardo’s prosperities, even though they are initially amazed and dazzled by his sweet charm and wealth, but Santiago’s as well. To the community, their presence is a constant reminder of the luxurious life style they could never have yet wish to live. For this reason, the townspeople are not fond of Santiago.
In order to get rid of Santiago and Bayardo permanently, Angela concocted a perfect plan. Angela Vicario was the lucky maiden that was selected by Bayardo to wed; she is the catalyst to the later events that will occur. On the night of her wedding she precariously tells Bayardo that she is not a virgin and that Santiago is the one who has taken her virginity. Not a lot of details are provide by the narrator on whether Angela had actually lost her virginity or not. Nevertheless, Angela accusation is pinpointed and premeditated. Even the narrator takes note at the quickness in which she gives Santiago’s name, “She only took the time necessary to say the name […] she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written”(Marquez 28). As if she rehearsed it a thousand times, she gives no hesitation because Santiago is the man she always meant to blame the sexual act on. Among the handful of facts supporting his innocence, Angelo and Santiago were never seen interacting together: “he considered her a ‘fool’ and they belonged to separate social classes in a town where social class determined identity” (Pelayo 119). Her deflowering is the perfect crime because Santiago is known for lusting after young girls and he is known to be sexually assertive. Angela, like many young girls in town, could have easily gotten tired of falling victim to men like Santiago. Presented with the opportunity to rid the community one less entitled male, she chooses the most powerful, Santiago. She knew no one would question his sexual relationship with Angela because it seems like something he would do. She acted as all towns people did, she based her actions off gossip and pinned the blame on a man with a reputation of being a rich playboy (Christie 27).
Angela’s dubious plan doesn’t end there. She manages to kill two birds with one stone. Bayardo is left humiliated and embarrassed after Angela informs him of her lost purity. Lost in his emotions, Bayard plans to kill himself. The narrator describes the moment they found him in the farmhouse he bought for Angela: “Bayardo San Roman was unconscious on the bed, still the way Pura Vicario had seen him early Tuesday morning […] ‘He was in the last stages of ethylic intoxication,’ I was told by Dr. Dionisio Iguaran, who had given him emergency treatment” (Marquez 119). How did Angela know the loss of her virginity would break Bayardo? She must have known he was a devote catholic. In Catholicism it is the norm to insist on virginity for woman at marriage but this exact rule loosely applies for men. The Church influences society to lower the moral status of woman who don’t maintain their virginity and define them as “profane and impure” (Gonzalez-Lopez 38). Knowing the severity of her proclamation in eyes of the Catholic Church, Angela knew she could run-off Bayardo if she were to bring shame upon herself. Someone of his class would not dear be associated with someone as adulterated as her. One thing Angela did not account for was Bayardo’s reactions. She may never have intended to hurt him physically but to merely run him off. She also never took into account her mother’s reactions at the thought of her daughter being impure and potentially missing her shot to move up economically.
The plan continues after Angela has done her part. She merely passes her lead role to her brother, Pedro and Pablo Vicario. However, the twins seem reluctant to follow throw with their sister’s plan. “The narrator states that the twins did more than could be imagined to get someone to stop them, yet no one did so. From the very start of the ordeal, they publicly announced that they were going to kill Santiago Nasar. They tell the priest, the police, and every passerby” (Pelayo 121). Their reluctancy to kill Santiago reinforces the point Santiago is an innocent man all along. If they truly believed Santiago took the virginity of their young sister, he would be dead within the hour in order to restore their Vicario family honor. Honor in Columbia is an important part of their culture:
Honor was a constellation of virtue ideals […] Males embodied when they acted on hombria (in a manly fashion), exercised authority over family and subordinates, and esteemed honesty and loyalty. Females possessed the moral and ethical equivalent of honor, vergiuenza (shame), if they were timid, shy, feminine, virginal before marriage and afterwards faithful to their husbands, discreet in the presence of men, and concerned for their reputations. Infractions of the rules of conduct dishonored men and were a sign of shamelessness in women. Shamelessness accumulated around the male head of house- hold and dishonored both the family as a corporate group and all its members. (Gutierrez 86)
If the Vicario brothers believed what their sister told them, they would have to act to not only salvage their family honor but to salvage each of their own honor. But the fact they risked being shamed and defiled by waited for others to step in and stop them proves Angela accusations are false. Reluctantly, Pedro and Pablo had to go along with their sister’s plan. Pedro, being the one twin who enlisted in the military, would never risk such dishonor upon himself which is why he is the most assertive twin, at first, when they proclaim to kill Santiago.
Angela Vicario does not carry the only fault in the killing of Santiago. The handful of townspeople who allow the Vicario brothers to continue with their deed are just as guilty. They too must have felt it was necessary to get rid of Santiago but not just because of his wealth and womanizing tendencies. Throughout the story, a handful of townspeople make racial slurs against Jews and people of Arab descent. Santiago’s father is one of many Arab people who settled in Columbia. Due to the pale skin of these individuals, Arabs were implicitly place in the “white” or “Caucasian” category, thus many Latin Americans assumed they were apart of the privileged elite (Klich 2). Many in Latin America did not like the fact Arabs were coming to their country because of this perceived privileged status associated with their race. Even though Santiago was born and raised in Columbia, people still treat him like he doesn’t belong. While some try to stop the Vicario brothers, others don’t seem too upset that an Arab person is about to be killed. This explains some townspeople’s half-assed attempt to stop his murder. The most damning evidence comes from Pollo Carillo. He says to the narrator that Santiago “thought that his money made him untouchable” while his wife quickly added, “Just like all Turks” (Marquez 60). The quietness of such a people can barely be called anything other than racist.
Truth be told the motive behind not effectively stopped the murder, particularly those of the two male authoritative figures, Father Amador and Colonel Aponte, manifests as a lack of desire to protect an Arab. Father Amador is supposed to be a represented of God. Yet upon hearing of the impending crime he states, “It wasn’t any business of mine but something for the civil authorities” (Marquez 42). He then ponders telling Placida Linero but forgets. Instead of saving a life, Father Amador would rather watch the bishop from affair. He decided that the life of Santiago wasn’t worth remembering. Like Father Amador, Colonel Aponte is directly informed of the plot by Leandro Pornoy, the officer who sees Pedro and Pablo with knives yet nonchalantly delivers the news of their plan. Although Colonel Aponte took small steps to confiscate the first pair of knives, he gave priority to a game of dominos over Nasar’s life when he made the conscious decision not to confiscate the second pair of knives. Clearly the Colonel isn’t interested in helping protect the Arab community in his town. This only demonstrates the severe ethnic divided seen between Arabs and the rest of the community and further explains the reason behind Santiago’s murder.
It is hard to understand the magnitude and depth of one man’s murder. Envy was the ultimate killer in “The Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. His wealth and race made him an outlier in his community which ultimately signed his death warrant. Santiago was an innocent man slain by those he trusted the must and forgotten by those who could have saved him Perhaps “The chronicle of a Death Foretold” isn’t a story about a murder but more about the power of a town’s hatred.
- Christie, John S. “Fathers and Virgins: Garcia Marquez’s Faulknerian ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’.” Latin American Literary Review. 21.41 (Jan. – Hun., 1993): 21-29. JSTOR. 8 Aug 2019.
- “The Society and Its Environment: Social Class”. Columbia: A Country Study. Ed. Hanratty, Dennis M., and Sandra W. Meditz, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1999, pp. 84-93.
- Pelayo, Ruben. “Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981).” Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press, 2001, pp. 111-133. Print.
- Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, and Gregory Rabassa. “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” 1st Vintage International ed. New York: Vintage International, 2003. Print.
- Gonzalez-Lopez, Gloria. “Beyond the Hymen: Woman, Virginity, and Sex” Erotic Journey: Mexican Immigrants and Their Sex Lives. University of California Press. (2005): 37-61. JSTOR. 8 Aug 2019
- Gutierrez, Ramon A. “Honor Ideology, Marriage Negotiation, and Class-Gender Domination in New Mexixo, 1690-1846.” Latin American Perspectives. 12.1 (Winter, 1985): 81-104. JSTOR. 8 Aug 2019
- Klich, Ignacio and Jeffrey Lesser. “‘Turco’ Immigrants in Latin America.” The Americas. 53.1 (Jul. 1996): 1-14. Cambridge University Press. JSTOR. 13 Aug 2019.
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