A Short comentary I had to write for my highschool World Literature class:

As Guilty As The Rest of Us

“The people had stationed themselves on the square the way they did on parade days. They all saw him come out, and they all understood that now he knew they were going to kill him...”(Marquez 136). This scene is the culmination of the odd events leading up to Santiago Nasar's death being common knowledge. All the townspeople knew he was going to die, and yet for the most part they did nothing but watch it happen. Murders happening without witness intervention in large cities are often explained by anonymity, so Marquez writes instead of murder in a tight-knit small town.

It was not that they disliked him. While watching him before his death one of the villagers, trying to keep him him away from his foretold death, is said to have yelled, “Not that way, Turk; by the old dock” (136). Some people even tried to prevent the murder. “He (the mayor) promised to take care of it at once,” after he discovered the Vicario brothers had re-armed themselves, “but he went into the social club... and when he came back out again the crime had already been committed”(130). This short novel commented on human nature, and the tendency to leave difficult tasks to others, even if there aren’t any others. It shows how we are all guilty whenever we ignore responsibility, and the narrative style of the novel allows even the reader to feel guilty about Santiago’s Murder.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a novella by Gabriel García Márquez which was published in 1981 and seems to be set sometime in the twentieth century. Unlike many epic pieces by García Márquez, the bulk of the story unfolds over a short period, in this case the 24 hours in which a wedding party ends and the hangovers begin; and its subject, as you might be able to tell from the title, is a death. Spoilers follow.

The novella tells the story of a wedding between Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman, a wealthy suitor who she does not love. On their wedding night, Bayardo discovers to his consternation that Angela is not a virgin, and returns her to the house of her family. In shame, her family beat her until she gives the name of the man who "took her flower": it was, she says - although whether this is true is never established - Santiago Nasar, who is a well-known womanizer. Her two brothers then track Nasar down and kill him to avenge their family's honour, but not before making nearly the entire town aware of their plan through either carelessness or boasting which seems designed to draw attention to themselves.

Throughout the novella, which is told from the perspective of a narrator who lives in the village and is reconstructing events from memory and interviews, we are given the impression that the boasting of the Vicario brothers to anyone who would listen about the murder they were about to commit was designed to cause the people of the village to intervene and stop them, like a guy who starts a bar fight in the hope that his friends will hold him back and allow him to look tough but not actually have to do any fighting. But tragically - in the true sense of the word - they are left to pursue the ruinous social role they have assigned themselves because everyone else in the village who they encounter refuses to believe they are serious, or has other concerns which distract them, or thinks it will be too difficult to intervene, and leaves them to it.

The message of the novella is hence one about responsibility: in the supposedly Christian (many of the residents are distracted from the events unfolding around them by the visit of a bishop) and respectable village, everyone is too imprisoned in their own small worlds, their own beliefs, and their own business to stop a tragedy from unfolding. Some indeed encourage the Vicario brothers when they hear of their plans to murder Santiago, although it is notable that these tend to be people who do not know him well but are only aware of events in vague generalities (honour must be restored: isn't that always the way it has been?). The second message is about chance: only an unlikely sequence of events leads Santiago into the path of the Vicario brothers, who are on the verge of collapsing from drink or calling off their task altogether.

What emerges is a forceful dissection of the various pathologies, social conventions and chance occurrences that allow evil to happen, and the social strictures and conventions which stop it from being prevented. In everyday life the evil in question is usually much less than a murder, but the message is clear enough. That being said, I find the readability of García Márquez to be highly variable and frankly found Chronicle of a Death Foretold to be one of his more tedious pieces. The point was made early on, and never really developed. For my money, Of Love and Other Demons is a much better dissection of a similar issue. Don't take my word for it though: García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature only one year after publishing Chronicle of a Death Foretold, so he must have been doing something right.

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