Harry McKenzie, Year 12, Eton College
Crónica de una muerte anunciada, a novella written by Gabriel García Márquez and published in 1981, tells the story of the murder of Santiago Nasar. Márquez uses a non-linear narrative to create a sense of foreboding throughout. We learnt that Santiago Nasar will be murdered in the first line of the book, however, before Márquez presents a graphic murder scene to us, he first recounts the events that preceded Santiago’s death. A rich but mysterious bachelor named Bayardo San Román comes to the town in search of a wife. He sets his sights on Angela Vicario and attempts to win her love through extravagant displays of his affection such as buying the most desirable house in the village for a large sum of money. She is pressured by her poor family to marry him and thus a lavish wedding takes place. The whole town attends and naturally, mass intoxication ensues. Amidst the revelry, Bayardo secretly returns Angela Vicario to her parents as he finds out that she is not a virgin and no longer wishes to marry her. Angela’s mother beats her and demands the name of the man who took her virginity. Angela tells her family that it was Santiago Nasar. To restore their family’s honour, Angela’s brothers, Pedro and Pablo Vicario take butchers knives and set out to kill Santiago. They make no secret of their plans, and soon the whole town is aware of the forthcoming murder, except Santiago. Although many people try to warn Santiago, he only finds out that he is in danger at the last minute, and the twin brothers murder him in a barbaric way, stabbing him over twenty times in front of his house.
Márquez details the idea of collective responsibility in Crónica de una muerte anunciada. Although Pedro and Pablo Vicario were the ones who stabbed Santiago Nasar, the whole town was responsible for his murder. Through cruel twists of fate, confusion and irresponsibility, not one of the hundreds of people who knew of the Vicarios’ intent to assassinate Santiago prevented the crime from taking place. Even the town’s policeman, Colonel Lázaro Aponte, made little attempt to prevent the killing and claimed that the twins were merely “puras bravuconadas”. Most of the townspeople neither wanted to see Santiago dead nor cared enough about him to prevent the murder. It seems to me that Márquez is highlighting their complicit nature and telling us that even people who might be perceived as ‘good’ for warning a policeman, or passing on the message to someone who may encounter Santiago, are equally guilty.
Márquez questions our sense of morality by contrasting our understanding that murder is wrong with the town’s acceptance that the only way to restore honour is to avenge a wrongdoing with murder. We might think that few people would question that murder is wrong, however, the town in which the story takes place is eerily reminiscent of those in Lorca’s Rural Tragedies in the sense that honour must be maintained, no matter the cost. In Bodas de sangre, the Novio sets out to kill Leonardo after he is humiliated by his fiancée abandoning him, whilst in Crónica de una muerte anunciada the Vicarios are compelled to kill Santiago even though they don’t want to. Clotilde Armenta senses this and notes that “los hermanos Vicario no estaban tan ansiosos por cumplir la sentencia como por encontrar a alguien que les hiciera el favor de impedírselo.” Therefore, the maintenance of honour isn’t an individual choice, it’s a duty bestowed on all the characters by the society that they live in.
Even the many people not involved in the crime uphold the importance of honour, with the pretext that “los asuntos de honor son estancos sagrados a los cuales sólo tienen acceso los dueños del drama.” This is shown in the town’s ignorant belief that “Sólo hubo una víctima: Bayardo San Román.” By ignoring the trauma that Angela Vicario faced and the death of Santiago, the town directs all its sympathy to Bayardo San Román as the victim of Angela’s dishonour.
Perhaps most importantly, the maintenance of honour is conjoined with the image of masculinity. Prudencia Cotes, Pablo Vicario’s fiancée, tells the narrator “Yo sabía en qué andaba, y no sólo estaba de acuerdo, sino que nunca me hubiera casado con él si no cumplía como hombre.” Consequently, the Vicarios believe that they would be emasculated if they did not kill Santiago, and there is no greater punishment than that. They are intoxicated, trapped in a tunnel that only opens up when they avenge their sister’s humiliation. They are so immersed in their crime that they fail to hear “los gritos del pueblo entero espantado de su propio crimen.”
Interestingly, Márquez creates dissonance within our feelings towards Santiago Nasar. Although the narrator often speaks positively of Santiago and we naturally pity his early death, we learn of Santiago’s flaws as a character. Primarily, we find cause to dislike him for his sense of entitlement and sexual assault of Divina Flor, his young maid. Santiago gropes her and tells her that “Ya estás en tiempo de desbravar.” This perhaps encourages the audience to empathise with the town’s values and believe that Santiago was at least somewhat deserving of his death. Furthermore, Polo Carrillo, the owner of the electric plant, highlights Santiago’s arrogance: “Creía que su plata lo hacía intocable”.
This begs the question: did Santiago’s wrongdoings justify his murder? Perhaps his death prevented the future rape of Divina Flor, and rid the town of a malicious and cruel man. However, ultimately Márquez reveals that Santiago did not deserve to die. Although the Vicarios stabbed him more than twenty times, “No había una gota de sangre”. This highlights the unjust nature of the crime and shows an almost unbelievable purity to Nasar. It symbolically demonstrates his innocence, leading us to believe that he never slept with Angela Vicario.
Márquez drew inspiration for Crónica de una muerte anunciada from a real crime that took place in Sucre, Colombia, in 1951. A man named Cayetano Gentile was killed by the brothers of Margarita Chica, who was returned on her wedding night by her husband as she was not a virgin and thus, in his eyes, damaged goods. Gentile, her lover, was murdered in the main square of Sucre with the whole town looking on.
Márquez made key changes to the Gentile story. Firstly, his narrator is haunted by the injustice of Nasar’s death, given that, unlike the Gentile case, the evidence that Nasar was truly responsible for deflowering Angela is tenuous. Further, in Márquez’s version, Bayardo San Román eventually returns to Angela, who has since fallen in love with him. Their reconciliation may be taken as a comment on the absurdity of the honour code that led to his initial rejection of her. By changing these crucial elements of the Gentile story, Márquez is showing his disdain for a moral code that treats “los asuntos de honor” as “estancos sagrados”.