Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Themes and Colors
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Memory Theme Icon
The Sacred and the Profane Theme Icon
Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions Theme Icon
Violence, Trauma, and Community Theme Icon
Ritual Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fact, Fiction, and Memory Theme Icon

If the primary drama of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the murder of Santiago Nasar, the secondary drama is the Narrator’s work of researching, recollecting, and representing the murder. His narrative style is journalistic: after many years, the narrator is attempting to put together a comprehensive account of Santiago Nasar’s murder. Structurally the novel resembles a documentary film: a dramatization or reconstruction of the murder is framed and informed by a huge number of witness testimonials, which are presented to the reader as direct quotes, or “talking heads.”

Though the narrator casts a wide net of discovery, he struggles at times to pin down the facts of the case—no two witnesses can agree on every single detail. A haze hovers over the events of the murder, partly because so many years have passed, and partly because everyone in town was exceedingly drunk on the night of the wedding. Instead of representing only those facts that strike him as true, the Narrator presents as many accounts of the fateful morning as he can, and refuses to polish over the contradictions they pose. Through these many contradicting accounts—one notable example being the widespread uncertainty about the weather on the day of the murder—the narrative demonstrates that memory is fallible, and that sometimes remembering is more like fiction-making than fact-finding. Most facts are lost to the past, and memory is just a story we tell ourselves.

Furthermore, while memory can make fiction out of facts, sometimes the facts themselves can seem stranger than fiction. The uncertain border between fact and fiction is explicitly remarked upon by the Narrator and a number of the characters, most notably in the final third of the novel, when the Magistrate investigating the case becomes increasingly perplexed by the idea that “life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature.” This observation that life sometimes reads as bad fiction takes on a new complexity when one considers that a) the murder of Santiago Nasar is of course fictional—this is a novel!—and b) the novel is based loosely on true events.

Overall, Márquez seems to suggest throughout his novel that the border between fact and fiction cannot so easily be drawn—experience, especially traumatic experience, and especially traumatic experience seen through the lens of memory, is as much experienced as it is constructed.

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Fact, Fiction, and Memory ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fact, Fiction, and Memory appears in each Chapter of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fact, Fiction, and Memory Quotes in Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Below you will find the important quotes in Chronicle of a Death Foretold related to the theme of Fact, Fiction, and Memory.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She had watched him from the same hammock and in the same position in which I found her prostrated by the last lights of old age when I returned to this forgotten village, trying to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards. She could barely make out shapes in full light and had some medicinal leaves on her temples for the eternal headache that her son had left her the last time he went through the bedroom. She was on her side, clutching the cords at the head of the hammock as she tried to get up, and there in the half shadows was the baptistry smell that had startled me on the morning of the crime.
No sooner had I appeared on the threshold than she confused me with the memory of Santiago Nasar.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Santiago Nasar, Plácida Linero
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

In this paragraph, which appears early in the first chapter, the Narrator reveals just how much time has elapsed since Santiago’s murder. And yet for the Narrator and the inhabitants of the “forgotten village,” the crime is at once lost to the past and ever present: it cannot be returned to, but neither can it be left behind. The Narrator finds Plácida, Santiago’s mother, in the same exact position she was when she last saw her son, as if his death left her frozen in place. Her memory of Santiago is so intense that it imprints itself on reality, and she confuses the Narrator for her late son.

For the Narrator, memory is more often a communal experience than a private one. His lyrical statement of purpose—“to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards”—is in fact an apt description of his project. He has returned to the village to collect testimonials from the many witnesses to the crime. There is no one singular, definitive account of Santiago’s death; instead, it has been scattered and refracted through the lives of the townspeople.

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No one could understand such fatal coincidences. The investigating judge who came from Riohacha must have sensed them without daring to admit it, for his impulse to give them a rational explanation was obvious in his report. The door to the square was cited several times with a dime-novel title: “The Fatal Door.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Visiting Magistrate
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

The Narrator is referring here to Santiago’s unusual decision, on the morning of his death, to exit his house through the front door, thus inviting the attention of the Vicario twins (who are waiting across the street) and thereby sealing his fate. It is one of the many “fatal coincidences” that lends the murder a sense of cosmic inevitability. The whole universe, it seems, conspires to kill Santiago.

Those same fatal coincidences are particularly troubling to the Narrator and the investigating judge, both of whom want to understand the murder in rational terms. Searching for a single, clear cause, they find instead a mess of circumstances that, working in perfect concert, result in the death of Santiago Nasar. To the investigating judge, the death seems to have come straight out of a bad piece of pulp fiction (or a “dime-novel”), a suspicion he gives voice to when he melodramatically refers to Santiago’s door as “The Fatal Door.” This insistence on the weirdly fictional quality of Santiago’s death is, at last, a kind of literary “wink.” Of course, Santiago’s death is fictional—it happens within the confines of a novel, Márquez’s novel. Furthermore, the title “The Fatal Door” is not that much more melodramatic or pulpy than the title “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” In winking at the reader in this way, Márquez blurs the line between fact and fiction. Not only does fiction imitate life, life can sometimes imitate fiction.

Chapter 2 Quotes

I met him a short while after she did, when I came home for Christmas vacation, and I found him just as strange as they had said. He seemed attractive, certainly, but far from Magdalena Oliver's idyllic vision. He seemed more serious to me than his antics would have led one to believe, and with a hidden tension that was barely concealed by his excessive good manners.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Bayardo San Román
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Narrator remembers meeting the outsider Bayardo San Román for the first time, after hearing his mother sing the man’s praises for months. The Narrator has already heard how impressive Bayardo is to the townspeople—how wealthy and charming and ostentatious. For the Narrator, however, Bayardo leaves a different, quite darker impression. The disconnect between Bayardo’s theatrical “antics” and his profound seriousness, his “hidden tension,” makes Bayardo seem unpredictable to the Narrator, perhaps dangerous. When someone’s public self does not match up with his private self—his secret prejudices and convictions—there’s no telling what he may do. Of course, Bayardo is not the only one in the community who suffers from such a disconnect. In a town so caught up on ritual and custom, nearly everyone experiences a gap between their internal life and the social role they are expected to fulfill.

She only took the time necessary to say the name. She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Santiago Nasar, Angela Vicario
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Narrator attempts to imagine how Angela Vicario came up with Santiago’s name when her brothers asked her who deflowered her. The Narrator’s description betrays his suspicion that Santiago had nothing to do with Angela, and that she offered his name at random, perhaps to protect the true culprit. Angela later denies this accusation, so what the Narrator writes here is pure speculation. His final, lyrical words, “she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written,” convey quite clearly his deterministic view of the crime. To him it seems that Santiago is simply the victim of fate, innocent and yet destined to be murdered. His use of the word “sentence” is another one of Márquez’s sly winks to the reader: Santiago seems to be living out a sentence—a punishment—but he is also living in sentences, as he is ultimately the fictional subject of a novel.

Chapter 4 Quotes

For the immense majority of people there was only one victim: Bayardo San Román. They took it for granted that the other actors in the tragedy had been fulfilling with dignity, and even with a certain grandeur, their part of the destiny that life had assigned them.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Bayardo San Román
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Narrator explains that, in the days following the murder, Santiago’s burial, the arrest of the Vicario twins, and the flight of the Vicario family, the townspeople reserve all of their pity for Bayardo, who is arguably left the most unscathed by the tragedy. Their concern for him illustrates their bizarre, arguably backwards value system, and their obsession with honor and dignity at the expense of common humanity. To the townspeople, Angela, Santiago, and the Vicario twins are actors, and they are to be congratulated for how well they played their roles—never mind if the performance essentially cost all of them their lives.

Chapter 5 Quotes

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. The cocks of dawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren't doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this paragraph, which opens the final chapter, the Narrator explains the lasting effects of Santiago’s murder, and the community’s methods of confronting their own complicity in it. While their lives before the murder had been driven by daily rituals, “linear habits,” now their lives are dominated by a single, cyclical ritual: attempting to make sense of the senseless and apparently highly preventable crime. The townsfolk’s anxiety over the murder is essentially existential: everyone feels they were “assigned” a role in the tragedy by fate, and yet they are also forced to reckon with their own choices that, in total, resulted in Santiago’s death.

He was so perplexed by the enigma that fate had touched him with, that he kept falling into lyrical distractions that ran contrary to the rigor of his profession. Most of all, he never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature, so that there should be the untrammeled fulfillment of a death so clearly foretold.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Visiting Magistrate
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Narrator describes the young, exuberant Magistrate who comes to investigate the murder. The Magistrate’s tendency toward “lyrical distraction” and his habit of interpreting the murder through the lens of literature is another one of Márquez’s winks at the reader. Of course, in one sense it is not really life that “makes use of so many coincidences forbidden literature,” it is Márquez’s novel that does so. (But it’s also worth noting that the novel is loosely based on a true story.) This self-conscious joke simultaneously highlights the tragic nature of fate in the novel, makes light of the sheer improbability of the novel’s events, and also preempts any accusations of improbability that a reader might make.

They were sitting down to breakfast when they saw Santiago Nasar enter, soaked in blood and carrying the roots of his entrails in his hands. Poncho Lanao told me: “What I'll never forget was the terrible smell of shit.” But Argénida Lanao, the oldest daughter, said that Santiago Nasar walked with his usual good bearing, measuring his steps well, and that his Saracen face with its dashing ringlets was handsomer than ever. As he passed by the table he smiled at them and continued through the bedrooms to the rear door of the house.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Poncho Lanao (speaker), Santiago Nasar, Argénida Lanao
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

After he is brutally stabbed by the Vicario twins, Santiago passes through his neighbor’s house in order to reach his own back door. He does this automatically, as it is a kind of ritual he performed often. However, this iteration of the ritual is grotesque, perverse—an otherwise neighborly exchange transformed into a violent and traumatic disruption. Poncho Lanao’s remark on “the terrible smell of shit” underlines just how profane this kind of death is, despite the supposedly “honorable” reasons that inspired it. At the same time, Argénida Lanao’s contradictory memory of Santiago’s passing again highlights how fictionalized this act has become in the town’s collective memory.