Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Narrator begins the chapter by explaining that when Pablo and Pedro Vicario were eventually tried for the murder, the court upheld their lawyer’s “thesis of homicide in legitimate defense of honor.” In fact, the twins justified their crime in the same exact way when they turned themselves in to Father Carmen Amador, the local priest, telling him that they “killed him openly, but we’re innocent.”
The verdict reveals just how embedded the religiously-inflected concept of honor is in the community—it’s written into the very law of the place! The lawyer’s argument contains the premise that a person might be legitimately killed in defense of an abstract concept—something that might seem absurd, but that is also inherent in the very concept of war or capital punishment.
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While Pedro and Pablo have never demonstrated any remorse for the murder, the Narrator explains that, in reconstructing the facts of the case, it has become clear to him that the twins did everything in their power to have someone stop them. The twins claimed to have first searched for Santiago at Maria Alejandrina Cervantes’ house, but Maria claims she never saw them. Next, they went to Clotilde Amante’s store, across the square from Santiago’s front door, but they must have known—as everyone in town knew—that Santiago never used his front door.
The revelation that Pedro and Pablo are reluctant killers introduces a new layer of tragedy to the murder: it’s not just that the town fails to prevent the murder, its that they fail to prevent the murder despite the many opportunities they have to do so, and despite the fundamental reluctance of the killers. Furthermore, Pedro and Pablo aren’t exactly villains: it seems they are more interested in creating the impression that they’re defending their sister’s honor than in actually going through with the murder.
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The Narrator now picks up where he left off at the last chapter. “There had never been a death more foretold,” he says. Upon hearing Santiago Nasar’s name, the twins take two of their best knives to the meat market, where they proceed to sharpen them. There they encounter Faustino Santos, a butcher, who is confused to find them at the market on a Monday morning—and still wearing their wedding suits, at that. The twins calmly explain to him and the other butchers present that they’re going to kill Santiago Nasar. Most of the butchers think the twins are simply drunk and babbling, but Faustino is a little worried. He notifies a police officer, Leandro Pornoy.
The Narrator’s assertion that “there had never been a death more foretold” introduces a pun on which the entire novel hinges. In one sense, Santiago’s murder seems somehow predestined, as the Narrator has already made clear. At the same time, Santiago’s murder is widely announced—literally “foretold.” Faustino and the butchers are the first to learn of the twins’ plan, as the brothers publicly sharpen their knives in a ritualistic performance. The butchers’ incredulity and lack of concern will prove typical of the townspeople.
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As an aside, the Narrator explains that, in trying to reconstruct the events of that night, he ended up asking a number of butchers if their job perhaps predisposes one to violence. All of them denied this, reminding the Narrator that they never look a steer in the eye when they kill it, avoid eating animals they themselves have butchered, and try not to name their livestock. The Narrator points out that the Vicario twins named their pigs, but one butcher counters by saying that the twins gave their pigs only the names of flowers.
This somewhat strange digression serves to emphasize how singularthe violence of murder is. Murder exists in a category of its own, apart from the everyday forms of violence with which the townspeople are familiar. The butchers’ discomfort with looking a steer in the eye as they kill it conveys just how traumatic the act of killing can be. The flower names that the twins give their victims further complicates the symbolic image of flowers in the novella.
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The twins wrap their now sharpened knives in rags and continue on to Clotilde Amante’s store, where they plan to sit and keep watch over Santiago Nasar’s front door. Clotilde serves them two bottles of cane liquor, and they tell her that they’re going to kill Santiago Nasar. Clotilde later tells the Narrator that they looked like children. This worries her: children are capable of anything. More than a dozen customers come through the store while the twins are there, and the twins tell every one of them their plan. Eventually Officer Leandro Pornoy stops by. He is there to get milk for the mayor, Colonel Lázaro Aponte, but naturally he chats with the twins, who confirm their plan.
Once again, the twins display an extraordinary openness that suggests a certain reluctance. And yet, ironically, their openness is what keeps anyone from taking their threats seriously. Clotilde is one of the few to see through to the truth of the matter. Her assertion that Pablo and Pedro looked like children suggests once again that the brothers are not quite the ruthless killers one would expect—rather, they are two individuals caught up in a situation they don’t fully understand.
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Leandro Pornoy informs Colonel Lázaro Aponte that the Vicario brothers have been talking about killing Santiago Nasar. Aponte doesn’t make much of this news, and doesn’t plan to do anything about it. It isn’t until his wife tells him that Angela Vicario has been returned to her mother that Aponte starts to think the twins might be serious. He goes over to Clotilde Armante’s store, confiscates the twins’ knives, and instructs them to go home. Clotilde is disappointed that he doesn’t detain him, but more for their sake than for Santiago’s. In her view, a horrible duty has fallen to them, a duty from which they must be spared.
The Colonel is the first (and more or less the only) bystander to actively intervene, and yet he does so half-heartedly, without any real sense of urgency. By framing the twins as the true victims of the coming crime, Clotilde seems to suggest that the murder is more a product of social forces than individual malice. The tragedy involves not just its victim but its perpetrators as well.
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Pablo and Pedro Vicario leave Clotilde’s store. Clotilde sends the beggar woman to warn Victoria Gúzman, and another customer to warn Father Amador. The news is spreading very quickly. Suddenly, the Vicario brothers return to Clotilde’s store, wielding knives once again.
There is something mechanical and darkly humorous about the way in which Pablo and Pedro return to Clotilde’s store with new knives in hand—as if they are following a track from which they cannot veer.
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The Narrator explains that, back at their home, Pedro and Pablo Vicario had their first disagreement of the morning. Pedro, who had served in the military and was naturally more authoritarian than Pablo, had been the first to suggest that they kill Santiago. But now that their knives had been confiscated, Pedro considered their duty fulfilled and in any case didn’t feel fit to continue: his gonorrhea was acting up, causing him immense pain. However, Pablo was determined to try again, and managed to convince his brother to go through with the murder. They sharpened a new pair of knives, stopped for coffee with Prudencia Cotes, Pablo’s fiancée (sympathetic to the twins’ cause), and returned to Clotilde’s store.
This is the first time in the novel that the twins receive any sort of characterization. As it turns out, their personalities are distinct and fatefully complementary. While from Clotilde’s perspective their persistence appeared mechanical, their decision to continue was in fact complex, and had more to do with a sort of sibling rivalry than any sort of personal conviction. Separately, Pedro’s venereal disease is a stark reminder of the community’s differing expectations for male and female sexuality.
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At Clotilde’s store, the Vicario twins borrow Don Rogelio de la Flor’s shaving instruments. Pedro shaves with his knife, while Pablo uses Don Rogelio’s safety razor. The sun hasn’t risen yet. They wait for the light to come on in Santiago’s bedroom, but it never does.
This highly ritualized display of machismo is as laughable as it is terrifying. The twins seem almost to be play-acting.
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The Narrator explains that Santiago didn’t turn his light on when he eventually came home, at four in the morning. Before that he had been at María Alejandrina Cervantes’s brothel with the Narrator, Cristo Bedoya, and Luis Enrique. Later, the four of them had gone out serenading people. They even dropped by the widower Xius’s house and sang beneath the window of the newlywed couple, not knowing that by then Angela had already been returned to her mother.
The Narrator and Santiago’s drunken antics stand in stark contrast to the twins’ grave preparations. The ease with which Santiago travels to Xius’ house and performs a serenade for the newlyweds seems to further corroborate his innocence: would he have ever taunted Angela and Bayardo in such a way if he had actually been the one to take Angela’s virginity?
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Afterwards, the four friends part ways. Santiago Nasar returns home and immediately falls asleep, just before the beggar woman comes to warn Victoria Guzmán of the impending murder. The Narrator returns to María Alejandrina Cervantes’ bed. Luis Enrique goes to Clotilde Amarante’s store. There the twins tell him their plan, but he later claims not to remember this. He goes home, falls asleep on the toilet, and doesn’t wake up again until Santiago is already dead.
The four friends are blissfully unaware of the impending tragedy. Luis Enrique’s inability to remember his interaction with the twins serves as yet another example of the fallibility of memory.
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