Chronicle of a Death Foretold: a Crime Novel? sample essay

DECLARATION I, the undersigned, hereby declare that this is my own and personal work, except where the work(s) or publications of others have been acknowledged by means of reference techniques. I have read and understood Tutorial Letter CMNALLE/301/2011 regarding technical and presentation requirements, referencing techniques and plagiarism. EA Swanepoel 48170399 26 March 2012

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a narration spoken from the different viewpoints of the residents of a river town in Colombia. The novel embarks on an exploration into an unsettling crime to arrive at a solution in order to explain a murder. Many years after the death of protagonist, Santiago Nasar, his close friend returns “twentyseven years later” (Marquez 1981:1) to question the residents present on the day of the murder. Through analysing into the past, the story turns investigative and portrays elements of a detective novel. A typical crime novel usually portrays the author opening the story with a problem (Sansalvador, G. 2010. Film, Literature and Society. Only study guide for WLL2602. Pretoria: University of South Africa), such as the need to solve a crime and discover the perpetrators, the victim or motives behind the crime.

The reader is not kept in suspense to be headed to the crime, but is instead made aware of the crime from the beginning. The rest of the novel usually details the crime, obtains clues and solves the problem. The problem is known to the reader beforehand; it is the development of the problem that the reader is oblivious to therefore, the solving plays a crucial part in a detective novel. Such can be found in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, when the first paragraph sets the crime for the reader.

The opening statement, “On the day they were going to kill him” (1981:1), portrays the crime. The reader realises the offense before discovering how it happened. Thus, it is the duty of the narrator, acting as detective, to examine facts and study reports. The narrator does indeed act as detective. He comes “back to search out the last pieces of testimony” (1981:87) and tries “to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards” (1981:5). According to Hannah Wallace and W.C. Miller (2006) the narrator continues to give a journalistic explanation of an actual murder.

More details are given in the first line of the book. Perhaps like a true detective, the narrator provides little details which otherwise would be forgotten or deemed irrelevant. We learn that the victim is Santiago Nasar; that he “got up at five-thirty in the morning” and that he had waited “for the boat the bishop was coming on” (1981:1). As is seen throughout the novel, the narrator often states the time in which certain affairs take place, in order to give the reader a timeline of events. The first line refers to “they”; the perpetrators of the crime, indicating that the narrator already knows who “they” are (later to be confirmed on page 14). As an investigative narrative unfolds, the detective finds and reveals clues along the investigative journey.

The detective goes forth undertaking various methods of investigation, such as questioning and reading reports. In doing so, he finds evidence that would allow for the consummation of the solution. The detective in Chronicle of a Death Foretold questions numerous people in order to hear their side of the story. It is here where the novel adopts many narrators, each recalling events from his or her point of view. “All the many people he ran into after leaving his house… remembered him…” (1981:2) and gave accounts of that day. The detective has to sift through the various interpretations in order to find similarities and discover any falsehoods.

The narrator interviews Santiago Nasar’s mother, Placida Linero, where she explains that “the front door, except for festive occasions, remained closed and barred” (1981:10). This is one clue where the narrator slips into the story. It is only later that the reader realises why it was mentioned at all. The narrator continues on suspicions such as Angela Vicario’s purity because “no one would have thought nor did anyone say that Angela Vicario wasn’t a virgin” (1981:37). Elaine Swanepoel Student Number: 48170399 WLL2602 Assignment 02 Unique Number: 756601

The reader discovers that Santiago Nasar was remembered with mixed reactions by the people in his community. Some thought well of him while others “recalled [him] without affection” (1981:7). It is also noteworthy that the narrator, although acting detective, relays to the reader his own perspective of Santiago Nasar. Therefore, while the reader hears accounts from various witnesses, the ultimate perception of Santiago Nasar is that of the narrator. As a result, it could be said that the narrator loses the professionalism of a detective.

Furthermore, the imaginative detail given by the narrator works against the journalistic style found in a detective novel, and “sends the reader into several different conceptual areas between reality and fiction that he then has to disentangle” (SparkNote Editors). Another point is brought to attention. “There is no mystery surrounding the death of Santiago Nasar” (Wallace, Hannah. Miller, W.C. 2006) therefore, the reader questions the intention of the detective.

The detective eventually arrives at a solution and thus, completes the investigation. It could possibly be said that the narrator in Chronicle of a Death Foretold wishes to find the reason why no one bothered to stop the Vicario brothers from murdering Santiago Nasar because “many of those who were on the docks knew they were going to kill Santiago Nasar.” (1081:18). It is also discussed, although chance events proved wrong, that “no one even wondered whether Santiago Nasar [had] been warned, because it seemed impossible to all that he hadn’t.” (1981:19).

As the detective realises that someone did try warning Santiago Nasar by slipping a note under his doorway before the murder (1981:13), he learns and reveals to the reader that it was not found until after the chaos surrounding the murder. The narrator never truly finds out if Angela Vicario was telling the truth about Santiago Nasar, and many doubted because “no one had ever seen them together, much less alone together” (1981:90). She swore to the judge it was him “but with no further precision of either how or where” (1981:101).

The narrator argues with the validity of the arrest (or the non-arrest) of the Vicario brothers. Nevertheless Colonel Aponte asserts that “no one is arrested just on suspicion” (1981:57). Whether this was true of the law, it may very well be that Gabriel Garcia Marquez inserted this line to show how Colonel Aponte, and others, tries justifying his actions. The narrator reveals why the Vicario brothers never saw the light in Santiago Nasar’s bedroom go on. “He didn’t have to turn on any light to reach his bedroom because the bulb on the stairway stayed lit through the night” (1981:64). After finding the solution, typically the detective will give explanations of the murder.

Why did no one warn Santiago Nasar? People thought he already knew (1981:19) and “the people were too excited with the bishop’s visit to worry about any other news” (1981:20). The narrator provides a list of events for the reader (1981:48-69; 10304) along with a summary (1981:84). While explaining the solution though, the reader is taken back and forth to interviews with residents. Therefore the narrator is still in the phase of discovering truths, while explaining solutions already found.

This is perhaps not so typical of a detective novel. On the other hand, the “back and forth” eventually allows for the narrator to bring the information together so that the reader can perceive how events have turned out. He continues to explain other questions such as why Placida Linero locked the door (1981:119). The uncertainty the crime Santiago Nasar committed is never solved but the narrator provides a reason why it was uncertain. It was because the judge did not find “a single indication, not even the most unlikely one, that Santiago Nasar had been the cause of the wrong” (1981:100).

An explanation of the aftermath of the murder is given (1981:84-99); the narrator adding that “most of those who could have done something to prevent the crime and still didn’t do it consoled themselves” (1981:98), which further proves the residents trying to justify their actions. In essence, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote Chronicle of a Death Foretold as an inspired novel (based on true events, Sansalvador, G. 2010) providing a description (or chronicle) of the crime. The narrator and his personal relationship with the victim and the residents, tells the story from his point of view, although he allows others chance to tell theirs.

He has read the autopsy report (1981:75) and has scavenged “some 322 pages filched from the more than 500 that the brief must have had.” (1981:100) Chronicle of a Death Foretold, although not a detective novel, uses elements thereof and turns journalistic as the narrator “recovered numerous marginal experiences” (1981:43) in order to write up a chronicle based on the “last pieces of testimony” (1981:87

SOURCES CONSULTED [O] Available: Accessed on 19 March 2012 Marquez, G. 1981. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Spain: Penguin Books. Sansalvador, G. 2010. Film, Literature and Society. Only study guide for WLL2602. Pretoria:
University of South Africa

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” [O] Available: Accessed on 19 March 2012 Wallace, Hannah. Miller, W.C. ed. *Chronicle of a Death Foretold Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2*. [O] Available: Accessed on 19 March 2012

Elaine Swanepoel Student Number: 48170399 WLL2602 Assignment 02 Unique Number: 756601