Morality versus Honor in Chronicle of a Death Foretold

[In this essay A.M.L will examine the themes of morality versus honor in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold. A common morality is what places more than two murderers on trial in the novel, and honor is what causes the murder in the first place. Is honor, which is a very strong theme in the novel, a viable reason for murder?]

A central theme in Marquez’s novel is honor. The primary reason for Santiago Nasar’s murder is based upon the dishonor he caused Angela Vicario by sleeping with her before her marriage to another man. This dishonor is what drives both Pablo and Pedro Vicario to kill Santiago. In the investigation that the narrator of the story has he places not only the Vicario brothers on trial, but also the rest of the town. This is because the town knew that Santiago would be killed. Despite some thoughts that the murder would never take place, most people in the tiny village, save Santiago’s mother, knew that something was going to happen, yet no one said anything to Santiago.

Honor is a repeating theme in the novel and this comes with tradition. Tradition in the town is that of arranged marriages and honorable behavior. Women are not to be violated by anyone except their husbands, and men are to wait for their wife. In such a tiny town so based upon tradition and this defined image of honor it is very possible to common morals to be overlooked by such highly held past beliefs. If murder is essentially wrong, then there is no excuse for the town to sit idly by while Santiago lives out his last moments.

In the final chapter of the novel the narrator, a man who lived in the town, spoke of how the murder affected daily life. “For years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a single common anxiety” (96). The murder of Santiago Nasar did not come as a shock to the town. However, due to the reaction felt by everyone, the village’s ethics are not skewed as much as they are so built upon tradition and honor that things like murder seem justified in some way. “But most of those who could have done something to prevent the crime and did not consoled themselves with the pretext that affairs of honor are sacred monopolies…” (97). This quote basically outlines the town’s philosophy. Honor is something that tied to fate, in their eyes. To them the murder is justified by the thought that honor is something that cannot be disrupted.

Another thing that must be discussed is guilt. If people in the town used honor as an excuse to evade the guilt of knowing someone is going to die and not warn them, then they should feel no guilt. The death is justified and therefore no one but Santiago is to blame. However in the last chapter it becomes evident that Santiago’s murder cannot just be forgotten. People in the town are constantly thinking about this.
“Hortensia Baute, whose only participation was having seen two bloody knives that weren’t bloody yet, felt so affected by the hallucination that she fell into a penitential crisis, and one day, unable to stand it any longer, she ran out naked into the street… Aura Villeros… suffered a spasm of the bladder when she heard the news… Don Rogelio de la Flor…who was a marvel of vitality at the age of eighty-six, got up for the last time to see how they had hewn Santiago Nasar to bits against the locked door of his own house, and he didn’t survive the shock.” (97)

Because members of the town are suffering from the shock of the murder, as well as having it constantly nag at them, there is more to this than just honor and tradition. If Pablo and Pedro Vicario were justified for brutally murdering Santiago Nasar then the
guilt felt by the rest of the town would not be so prevalent.

This novel is more than just the investigation of a murder, it evaluates the morality of a town’s society. If the murder had taken place, and there was no reaction to it, then the ethics of the town would certainly be different than our own accepted morals. However, the town knows of the murder, does nothing to stop it, and afterward feel the guilt that comes with this. Clearly this shows that the town does not approve of murder, so the question truly is, what then caused them to allow this heinous crime? Although maintaining tradition and fighting to preserve one’s honor and dignity can be right, those reasons should justify the crime as a whole and therefore no guilt should be felt.

Because Marquez chooses to discuss the reaction to the people of the town after the murder it is evident that this is more than a novel about a murder; the book discusses human nature and morality. In reading the conclusion of the book, honor is not a viable reason for murder. Although it seems justified, and although the villagers use it for justification, the fact that the narrator comes back to the town twenty-seven years later and the murder is still clear in everyone’s eyes is proof that this wasn’t a crime easily forgotten. In the novel Marquez not only puts two men on trial, but the entire town. Through the story the reader not only questions the motive behind the murder, but also the town’s choice to keep it a secret. Due to the small, enclosed society of the town it makes sense that things such as tradition and the tradition to defend one’s honor are placed at such high levels, however as the novel progresses it is evident that these things, although having importance, cannot justify a crime like murder.

(A.M.L; 2008)

The Line between Reality and Dreams

[ In this essay A.M.L. will discuss the writing technique used by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. This unique way of writing the story, which is sometimes labeled as magical realism, combines reality and memory and convolutes the two so that they become one element.]

Magical realism is not specific to Marquez however it does seem to take form in many of his works, in particular One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel is written much like the story itself, to appear like a dream or at least a fabrication of reality. The truth of the story, which chronicles six generations of the Buendía family, becomes so laced with memory that reality is eventually lost.

Due to the nature of how the story is written it is initially confusing to the reader. The story starts with Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s reminiscence on Macondo, the village where he grew up. Although the memory is of Macondo, the story of the town is not told from the memories Aureliano has, but from the beginning of the town as a whole. The story begins with Aureliano flashing back to the moment when his father took him to discover ice. However, after that, the story of Macondo is told from the perspective of José Arcadio Buendía, Aureliano’s father. From this point the story moves forward seemingly according to the direct lineage of history. But after José Arcadio dies the story continues; and after Colonel Aureliano dies, the story continues. This makes the point of view of the book difficult to grasp. One would think that the story would end as Aureliano dies, therefore ending the flashback. However, because the story continues it adds another level of strange reality to the novel. The story appears to be told by some omniscient being, however the story is tied to Macondo and the Buendía family giving it a relative closeness and telling reality as it appears to the town and to the family. This distorts the truth in some instances because the perception of events is seen only through the small scope of one family and one village.

Another aspect of magical realism in the novel comes from Marquez’s description of emotional and physical reactions, and how they correlate and intertwine with one another. In One Hundred Years of Solitude Marquez’s use of these sort of descriptions is very prevalent and help create the dreamlike state of the book. As a reader, you are presented with something physical, like a feeling of pain or pleasure, but also something emotional something that you can’t quite pinpoint. “Then she touched him with such freedom that he suffered a delusion after the initial shudder, and he felt more fear than pleasure” (26). Here Marquez combines the physical, the “initial shudder” with the emotional that is the fear and pleasure he is feeling.
“…he did not know where his feet were or where his head was, or whose feet or whose head, and feeling that he could no longer resist the glacial rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestine, and fear, and the bewildered anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever in that exasperated silence and that fearful solitude.” (27)
Again Marquez combines the physical with the emotional. Here the “rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestines” describe the physical aspect of the man’s experience all in the same long sentence as his emotional state of fear and bewildered anxiety. Because Marquez ties physical feelings with emotional states of mind the reality of a situation is depicted not only through description of the scene but through a description of emotion as well. This only enhances the connection between reality and a perception of that reality in the novel.

One recurring motif in the novel is the gypsies, who seem to show up from the beginning of the book through the end. At the beginning of the story José Arcadio Buendía is completely captivated by the gypsies that enter Macondo and their leader, Melquíades. The gypsies are important because of what they bring to Macondo. Their very presence is mystical in their nomadic, wandering way however what they bring to the tiny village of Macondo is specifically important. Macondo is distant from industrialized civilization. This is one of the things that add to the dreamlike quality of the town itself. They know only themselves, so when the gypsies bring in inventions, like a telescope, from the outside world they are transfixed. The gypsies are surreal on some level especially Melquíades who is said to have died, and then returns to Macondo from the grave. It is Melquíades’s writings that eventually cause the town’s destruction in the end.

One of the most horrifying moments in the book comes from the banana plantation massacre where more than three thousand of the men working there are methodically gunned down. Although all are presumed dead one survivor, José Arcadio II, manages to escape. The so-called “accident” was such a tragic and horrendous blow to the town’s population that they simply erase it from memory. This is possibly the most definable moment in the novel in relation to reality and actual history being dissolved through memory. A long rainstorm washed away all physical evidence of the crime, and due to the traumatic mental pressure it placed on the citizens they chose to erase it from memory to make it more bearable. Here the village of Macondo completely rewrites history. Even when José Arcadio II returns to the town, none will believe the true story. Their own fabrication of the truth has become a reality to them.

Finally the book’s closing truly concludes the story with the same theme of reality versus memory. “Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane… the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men…” (416-417). In this closing scene Macondo is simply erased from the face of the earth. All that was known of Macondo, all the history there, is now gone. What the people of the town did to the plantation workers has now happened to Macondo as a whole. Macondo is no longer a piece of history. It was all a dream, some fake reality. This cements Marquez’s style throughout the novel. The ending corresponds with the line between reality and dreams. Macondo, which was a real town, with real people, ceases to be something of factual merit and becomes an illusion, a dream, a distant memory.

(A.M.L; 2008)