Reflective Statement: Translated from the Spanish masterpiece first published in 1981, ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ is a tale embossed with irony and political authority. Inspired by a true story, Marquez eloquently critiques the collective psychology of the small Columbian coastal town’s residents, whose response to the murder is portrayed through a powerfully orchestrated framework of poetic beauty and literary phenomenon that preserves a chapter of history in a portrait of the 1950s community. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Marquez’s work and hope my enthusiasm was conveyed to the group.
Discussion focussed on how contextual factors shaped the novella. Plagued by corruption stemming from Catholicism, full appreciation of Marquez’s work is dependent upon understanding of religious contexts. Ironically, blatant disregard for religious scriptures implies a superficial nature to religious devotion. I communicated how, despite claiming to be devout Catholics, the neighbourhood undermine religious attitudes by lying to avoid culpability and killing to preserve honour. The insightfully articulated point explaining how forgiveness is the main teaching in Catholicism reinforced how religion can’t be used to justify honour killings since they are contradictory to Biblical teachings. We concluded that religion was being used to veil corrupt traditions and anachronistic sentiments.
Marquez criticises male obligation to defend family honour. Reminiscent of a motto, there is conviction in the expression “honour doesn’t wait”. Although women are objectified throughout, Angela’s accusation that Santiago was her perpetrator remains unquestioned, perhaps because, where preservation of honour is concerned, the sentiment supersedes the action itself. Someone said that possibility of the victim’s innocence was irrelevant; Santiago’s life compensated for the shame brought on the family. The ambiguity of biblical teachings invites misinterpretation. Wiping dirt off his guts, ironically Santiago is the only one with honour.
Someone thought cultural differences made relating to characters difficult, reducing overall reading pleasure; I argued, however, time has enriched the story. Influenced by changing attitudes; when the narrator returns 27 years later to piece together the events of the murder, details are confused, suggesting that the townsfolk have altered their memories to absolve themselves of guilt and shared responsibility.
Magical realism is a recurring motif. Implications of shared responsibility are shown through the enchanting way everything smells of Santiago Nasar; suggestive of the guilt that haunts the community. Poignant fantastical imagery confuses the distinction between reality and fiction and, like the investigation that inspired his work, there are many unanswered questions.
Aspect: How does narrative perspective influence the reader’s understanding of the events?
Title: Why does Marquez allow the selection of evidence to be influenced by a subjective narrator and to what extent does this complicate the reader’s investigation into the question “who or what is responsible for the death of Santiago Nasar”?
Translated from the 1981 Spanish text, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a tale embossed with irony and riddled with mystery. Inspired by a real event, Marquez critiques the collective psychology of the town’s residents and their response to a cold-blooded murder. The distinction between fact and fiction is blurred by discrepancies presented within a complex narrative framework as our unnamed narrator investigates the murder. Although the journalistic style is convincing, like everything in this novel, the various accounts are not as they seem. Compounded by the absence of potentially enlightening documents, the investigation presents nothing more than a subjective compilation of inconsistencies. As the narrator rummages through a ‘lagoon of lost causes’ (100) attempting to recover partial records from the original investigation, we too must piece together an impossible puzzle of narrative ambiguities. No more reliable than the members of the community desperately trying to evade responsibility, our detective narrator filters and manipulates the evidence, imparting a fragmented report plagued with unsolved mysteries. Thus, when approaching the underlying question “who or what is responsible for the death of Santiago Nasar” consideration of narrative perspective is essential to see through the misleading facade worn by the community.
Narrative subjectivity is shrouded by a deceptive journalistic style. His unique position as a member of the community has decisive influence on the investigation proceedings, making it difficult to establish a trusting relationship with the narrator. We learn of neither his character nor his motivations for trying after so many years to disinter the horrific events, although hopes to unearth a forgotten secret that could restore coherence to the investigation are frequently implied. Despite his meticulous research, our narrator is unable to provide any persuasive evidence; merely a subjective compilation of contradictory accounts, procured largely from sources confounded with bias. What’s more, the traditions and cultural values of the community have had subtle influences on the narrator’s work. Expressing an intrinsic belief in his mother’s ability ‘she had a well-earned reputation as an accurate interpreter of other people’s dreams'(2), the narrator places great value on mythical allusions; the hyphenated adjective ‘well-earned’ implying a level of respect and perhaps even admiration for her ability. Although our narrator’s roots and his relationships with the central protagonists add a new dimension to the investigation, ultimately, like the smell of Santiago Nasar in the memories of the characters, uncertainty lingers in the mind of the reader as a consequence of his subjectivity.
One of the major challenges the narrator encounters is the limited availability of evidence; failure to procure key details left many questions unanswered during the original investigation and continues to riddle the chronicle for readers today. Responsible for the selection of evidence, the narrator controls what information is available to the reader; it is plausible that certain details remain undisclosed to protect his integrity. This is compounded by the fact only ‘some 322 from the more than 500’ (100) pages of an already deficient collection of documents were rescued by the narrator, implying the absence of details perhaps critical to the understanding of existing evidence and success of the investigation. In compensation for the lack of original evidence he interviews members of the community, but even these accounts are nebulous. Angela’s mother, for example, refuses to speak of past events ‘she went to her grave with her secret’ (46); her memories may have been critical in advancing the investigation, hence the denied information incites unwelcome feelings of missed opportunity. Such feelings of despair are reflected in this poignant image that reinforces how the secrets are concealed and out of reach, with a metaphorical evocation that the truth is inaccessible. One can only imagine a grave to be a lonely place for a secret; buried deep in the ground and in total darkness, if light represents truth and understanding, this image may be symbolic of the unknown. There is also a suggestion that the community doesn’t want the truth exposed as it would mean accepting a degree of culpability. More so than the reservations of key characters, it is the impossibility of retrieving certain memories that troubles the narrator. Officer Leandro Pornoy ‘died the following year, gored in the jugular vein by a bull’ (53) before the narrator had the opportunity to talk to him. Here the graphic imagery is shocking and resembles something of a newspaper headline. Moreover, inclusion of gory details is consistent with the honest reporting style that veils the narrator’s subjectivity. Thus, the limited availability of information serves to divert the reader’s already gruelling journey in search of the truth; our confusion parallels that of our narrator.
Used throughout the chronicle as a motif to reflect the emotional position of its characters, the weather is a topic of inconsistency, casting an element of mystery over the novel which is never explicitly addressed. Throughout, Marquez uses pathetic fallacy to convey characters’ attitudes. Victoria Guzman openly expressed an ardent dislike for Santiago Nasar and her lack of remorse for failing to prevent his murder is metaphorically implied in her statement, claiming ‘It hadn’t rained that day, or during the whole month of February’ (7); her conscience as clear as the sky in her testimony, she will continue to stand by her judgement. Reported to have been ‘a radiant morning with a sea breeze coming in through the banana groves’ (2), similar values are shared by other members of the community. The positive connotations associated with this image of pastoral harmony suggest a relatively content state of mind and lack of concern. Conversely, the narrator may have been motivated by a desire to absolve himself from the guilt haunting his conscience. Uncovering the truth would give the investigation a sense of closure, allowing Santiago’s memory be left to rest in peace. Where light represents truth and knowledge, it seems apposite that ‘the weather was funereal, with a cloudy, low sky’ (2). Blocking the sun in the same way answers have been concealed for 27 years, the clouds carry therefore symbolic importance. Hence, provided that questions remain unanswered, the narrator will never truly be able to rid himself of the guilt; perhaps Marquez is presenting a subtle criticism of society’s values in that murder should never be justified or accepted on the grounds of honour or personal aversion.
The chronicle doesn’t follow the typical narrative structure. Instead, intrinsic of the investigation itself, the reader first learns of the murder in the opening sentence before journeying alongside the narrator in an attempt to discover the truth behind the tragedy; the reconstructed past fragmented as proceedings are recounted from various perspectives. Metaphorically, each shard of ‘the broken mirror of memory’ (5) is a fragment of the truth that only when united can reveal the underlying truth. Meticulous investigation presents a limited picture; like a mirror, the closer the narrator scrutinises individual testimonies and solitary evidence, the more his desired answers elude him and multiple inconsistencies reveal a level of subjectivity. The narrator advocates the conviction of a foretold death ‘because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and mission assigned to us by fate.’ (97), hoping like the rest of the community, to detach himself from the situation, alleviating the burden of personal responsibility. The extent to which the death of Santiago Nasar can be attributed to fate, is, however, largely ambiguous. It is Marquez’s use of magical realism that alludes to the number of obscure coincidences for which the only logical explanation is fate, sending the reader into a blurred conceptual zone somewhere between fact and fiction.
Thus, subjectivity of our unnamed narrator in Chronicle of a Death Foretold can be seen to compromise the credibility of the narrative. The selection of already limited evidence, influenced by the narrator’s obligation to protect his community, further complicates the underlying investigation into the question: “who or what is responsible for the death of Santiago Nasar?” His motivation may have been to answer this question; however, it is difficult to identify a single offender given that the entire community is culpable to some degree. Many of the characters insist that fate is responsible for Santiago’s death – the narrator included, but this is merely a facade, burying the shame that would inevitably be cast upon them should they reveal the truth of how they tolerated such a brutal murder. Ultimately there is not one culprit, nor was the death of Santiago Nasar down to fate, rather it is the anachronistic traditions of the Roman Catholic community that should be criticised. Following social progression, it is difficult for the ashamed community to dwell on events of the past as no justification seems logical or indeed adequate to defend such an unthinkable murder. The collective group overshadowed and plagued the thoughts of the individual; but clearly what is popular is not always moral. His role is not to expose the truth; as a member of that community, inability to accept responsibility will prevent the narrator from ever solving the mystery surrounding the death of Santiago Nasar. Ultimately, Marquez uses the narrator as a device to question the unreliability of the community’s collective voice.
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