Firstly, Gabriel is not related to Gerry. I’m sorry to all the hippies out there, but this is just not the case. That said, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a well established author (he also penned Love In A Time Of Cholera and One-Hundred Years Of Solitude, neither of which I have read, but both of which have worked their way into the our collective conscious. Chronicle Of A Death Foretold is a return to roots of sorts for Marquez, who started his writing career as a journalist and then worked his way into fiction, winning him the Nobel Prize for literature because of works like those aforementioned. Chronicle Of A Death Foretold though is not entirely a work of fiction. For this piece Marquez returned to his native town to investigate the death of a friend from his youth. It is told in a pseudo-journalistic style in which Marquez is both the investigator and a peripheral character within the narrative. It seems like a subtle example of Gonzo journalism, but unlike Hunter S. Thompson, who takes a very active part in his own journalistic narratives, Marquez makes an effort to stay at a distance, whenever he offers an opinion it is not suggested that his own opinion has any more integrity than any of the other opinions offered, illustrating the type of journalistic integrity Marquez possesses.
One of the major themes within the narrative is of the traditional roles of women in contemporary societies where antiquated ideas of honour and the perpetual value of tradition are held onto with blind religious fervour. Angela, a young bride who is returned to her family on her wedding night when her suitor, Bayardo discovers that her ‘honour’ has not been preserved. Her family immediately demands who it is that has taken her honour and she names Santiago, the protagonist of sorts of the narrative. Of Angela, her mother said: “Any man will be happy with them because they’ve been raised to suffer.” A pessimistic idea indeed of a woman’s destiny, but Angela’s mother, like Angela, had been betrothed to a man whom she didn’t love, and the sentiments seem to suggest that in this particular social context it is expected of a woman to live a life of perpetual and loveless suffering and take no sexual pleasure as men do. There is an interesting element though, in a world where it seems like men aren’t held accountable, it turns out that they are not only held accountable, but must suffer a higher degree of punishment. When Angela names Santiago as the one who took her honour, it is decided immediately that he must pay with his life. They only woman who was free in the context of the town, was the one who embraced her dishonour, and, as Marquez, writes, took the virginity of a generation of men in town and believed the saddest thing in the world was an empty bed. It was women like these, like the black slave women of the south, like the prostitutes which higher society refers to as whores, that allowed the rest of the women to keep their honour, for men cared not enough for either their own, or a woman’s.
That decision is accepted by a jury that consists of the entire town, a jury that is not selected in the traditional way, but rather through word of mouth. Nearly everybody in the town is aware that Santiago is going to be murdered, and all that is required is that one member of a town full of jurors warn Santiago. But by remaining mute, the town’s people have voted guilty. It is reminiscent of the murder of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was stabbed to death in Queens New York, and though the assault was heard by many, it was interrupted by none and reported to the police by as many. The people who were witness to Genovese’s murder were passive participants, much like the town’s folk in Marquez’s narrative. It is an existential argument that involved one’s own recognition of their ability to choose a course of action. In Marquez’s narrative, most brush off the claim of Angela’s brothers that they will kill Santiago as drunkards talk, and thus convince themselves that they are absolved of the crime, much in the same way that the witnesses to Genovese’s death likely told themselves that the incident was not their business or that they couldn’t change the outcome. But brushing those choices off as moot does not absolve one of the guilt, it merely means that they have renounced the choice and allowed another, the perpetrator of the crime, to make the choice for them, which makes those who rescinded the personal freedom and autonomy over the situation share in the guilt. The tragedy is that most of the town’s people feel they were justified in their response, claiming that Santiago got what he deserved, that Angela’s brothers performed the duty expected of them, that Angela’s honour was restored by the murder and that the only sympathetic character in the play is Bayardo who sought to take possession of a woman without her consent by convincing her family. The only man who is truly guilty of rape by the evidence presented is the only man who is see by the people of the town as a victim. And when the trial did reach the courts, the brothers were exonerated. Perhaps, as Marquez writes, “fatality makes us invisible.”
There is also a suggestion that Santigo perhaps knew about the potential danger and that “the murdered man’s refusal to worry could have been suicide.” Such a suggest feeds into the existentialist argument, that by his own inaction, not necessarily in this instance, but in general (considering his innumerable conquests), was guilty of his own murder. Early in the narrative for example he attempts to force himself, in a way, upon a servant girl and soon finds a knife covered in blood before him, encouraging to release the servant, but he himself merely sees this sot of behaviour as a game. Had Santiago behaved in a manner that offered respect to the antiquated customs of his town, rather than his callousness, he could have saved himself such trouble, but as it stood he did not care enough for his own wellbeing to respect the wellbeing of others.
Santiago is a wealthy person, one who certainly did take liberties with women, and this may be one of the reasons why Angela’s brothers and the town was reluctant to stop the unfolding and foretold events, because even if Santiago wasn’t guilty of taking Angela’s honour, he had taken the honour of others. But Marquez also suggests that the reason Angela named Santiago as the one who took her honour was because she believed, according to the supposition of others, that her brothers would not do harm to Santiago because of his great wealth and standing in town, and that she aimed to protect her true lover, though this is not confirmed by Angela when Marquez puts the question to her towards the narrative’s conclusion. As another member of the town’s populace put it: “Those two aren’t about to kill anybody, much less someone rich.” The implication of course that the ruling class is not held to the same level of accountability as the working class.
If you like this:
One-hundred Years of Solitude and Love In A Time Of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have not read these two novels, but if they are regarded by most as Marquez’s finest work, and if this narrative offers any insight to Marquez’s ability as a story teller, then these two books would no doubt be worth reading.
Fear And Loathing In Los Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson: This novel, and Marquez’s Chronicle Of A Death Foretold couldn’t be any further apart stylistically, yet they share one common thread: the presence of a journalistic narrator within the story he is reporting. The two offer a stark contrast into the possible approach taken by the writer, and it would be interesting for most to see how such different approaches can be taken by authors who write in the same genre of writing.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathanial Hawthorne: It has been over 15 years since I read this novel, and though I don’t remember enjoying it much, I do remember that the two share similar themes in respect to men and women and their expected gender assignments in the Judaeo-Christian world, and the excessive response that can be the response to those who seek comfort outside conformity.
Up next…. If I Were You, but L. Ron Hubbard (yes, that L. Ron Hubbard).
Words I thought I would look up:
Capons: A castrated chicken? Really? They have a word for that?
Rancor: A monster employed by Jabba the Hunt. It eats many of his unwelcome guests and is eventually killed by Luke Skywalker. Or to hold ill will or malice toward somebody. I’m not sure which definition is meant in the context of this story.
Cynicism: Distrusting human nature, named after the Greek philosopher Cynic who was…. Drum roll please… distrustful of human nature!
Boobish: To be crazy or wild, to act based on thought without care for what people think. Look up images for boobish and have a great time!
Partridge: A medium sized game bird. Use in a sentence? A partridge in a pare tree!
Galleon: A large ship, from galley, which is the kitchen within a ship. Used in a sentence; He came dancing across the water, with his galleons and guns.
Ephemeral: Short lived (like the whale in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy).
St, Elmo’s Fire: An electrical light in the sky which helps to guide sailors, named after St. Elmo who is the patron saint of sailors. Has no fucking meaning whatsoever in the context of the movie by the same name!
Blennorrhoea: An excessive discharge or watery mucus, often from the urethra. Ewww…. GROSS!!!
Ominous: Threatening, from the Latin for “Omen”
Augury: A divination, portent/omen.
Revel: To take pleasure in, usually in an excessive and disruptive manner, from the French for rebel.
Falconry: the training of falcons, often for the purpose of hunting or show.
Apostolic: Relating to apostles/followers of Christ.
Bazaar: From the Turkish for market, it is a sale or sorts, often for charity.
Pontifical: Like or of the pontiff/pope.
Pomp: Self-important, or ceremonial.
Furtive: Secretive or shift, from the Latin for hidden/theft.
Estuary: A section of the rive which enters the sea. From the Latin for great tide.
Jubilation: To celebrate, from the Latin to shout out for joy.
Manioc: Edible part of a plant.
Geld: To castrate an animal or to remove one’s strength.
Condolence: The offering of sympathy. No interesting origin offered.
Organdy: A sheer cotton cloth.
Penury: Extreme poverty.
Demented: Entirely irrational, from the root word metal, the suffix added to denote the qualities associated with normal mental capacities.
Cordovan: a soft leather.
Pommel: The front of a saddle, from the Latin for apple, named so because it resembles the shape of an apple?
Anemone: A flowering plant.
Lignum Vitae” The tree of life, Latin.
Scapular: Shoulder blade, often related to a bird’s wing.
Parquetry: Decorative flooring, like on the Celtics home court. From the Latin for small enclosed space, the same origin as the word park.
Scimitar: An Arab or Turkish sabre.
Rudimentary: Basic or undeveloped. From the Latin for raw or rough.
Permanganate: A chemical compound which contain magnesium.
Seton: Having bristles.
Tamarind: A fruit containing many seeds and a acidic pulp.
Rotgut: An inferior liquor, so named because it makes your guy feel rotten!
Machismo: Exaggerated masculinity, from the Spanish.
Unsated: Impossible to satisfy.
Precipice: A high cliff or a dangerous state.
Episcopal: Of bishops.
Acolyte: An assistant, often to a cleric, from the Greek meaning follower.
Magistrate: a lower court judge, from the Latin for master.
Throes: Pang, origin unknown?
Encephalic: Relating to the brain, from the Greek for brain.
Hypertrophy: An enlargement in cell growth, or unnecessary complexity.
Trepanation: A large, tropical sea cucumber?
Prodigious: Sizable or marvellous, from the Latin meaning prophetic sign.
Absinthe: A type of drink banned in many places because of it toxicity.
Guerrilla: An irregular solider, often motivated by politics. From the Spanish for war.
Expiated: To atone for wrong doing, from the Latin for atonement of past wrongs.
Retinue: Follower, from the Old French for retained, in terms of service.
Idolaters: Worshippers of idols. From the Greek for image worshipper.
Arnica: Treatments for bruises.
Missive: A letter, or written form of communication.
Delirium: Great excitement, or a temporary mental disturbance. From the Latin “to be out of your track”.
Penitential: Feeling regret, penance.
Cress: A pungent tasting plant.
Pernicious: Malicious, causing harm.
Enigma: A mystery, from the Greek for fable.
Serenity: Calm, from the Latin for clear.
Caftan: Turkish for a man’s tunic, often spelt with a “K” instead of a “C”.
Viscera: Internal organs, from the Latin for entrails.