Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Fate vs. Free Will Theme Analysis

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.
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon

The concept of fate is embedded in the very title of the novel, and introduced again in its first sentence: “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.” Santiago Nasar’s death is “foretold” in two senses. First, Pablo and Pedro Vicario announce their intentions —literally “foretelling” the death— to anyone who will listen, and soon nearly everyone in the village knows that Santiago is doomed. Second, in another, more cosmic sense, Santiago’s death seems predestined from the start, the result of a tragic alignment of chance occurrences.

Looked at one way, Santiago’s murder is a clearly intentional act, committed (and enabled) by people in the world. Certainly the Vicario twins choose to kill him, one can argue. Further, many characters—such as Victoria Guzmán, Santiago’s cook, and her daughter, Divina Flor—have the chance to warn Santiago but choose not to, either not understanding the seriousness of the threat or actively wanting Santiago dead. To put it simply: the Vicario twins and their enablers act with free will. Indeed, some of the Narrator’s language supports this interpretation of the tragedy, notably his insistence on calling the murder a “crime.” At other points he even suggests that the entire community, not just the Vicario twins, is culpable.

However, looked at another way, Santiago’s death can be explained only if it is understood as predestined. As the narrator collects the testimonies of the townspeople, he perpetually is mystified by the incredible number of chance occurrences that, in total, created the perfect conditions for Santiago’s murder. The examples are nearly countless, but some of the most prominent include the anonymous note of warning that Santiago fails to notice, Cristo Bedoya’s difficulty finding Santiago, and Plácida Linero’s locking the front door of her house in fright. Further, it becomes clear that the Vicario twins, while acting of their own free will, were also not entirely enthusiastic about killing Santiago, and in some ways tried to be stopped. Then there’s the ultimate mystery: why Angela Vicario offered up Santiago’s name, when all of the available evidence suggests she had nothing to do with him. Some of the narration supports this interpretation of the tragedy as predestined, such as the narrator’s interest in establishing possible portents of the crime—the weather, or Santiago’s dream the night of the wedding. (Perhaps tellingly, these attempts fail.) More explicitly, the narrator throws around words like “destiny,” “fate,” and “sentence,” just about as much as he does “crime.” Finally, the structure of the novel, which announces the death of the main character in its very first sentence, does not allow the reader to imagine any outcome other than the one described at the start.

This coexistence of divine fate and earthly free will is an ancient paradox, central both to Greek tragedy and, more recently and relevantly, the Catholic faith. Is free will just an illusion? If one’s fate is sealed from birth, how is it that a person can act with free will? How can one be held morally accountable for her actions if her future is always already determined? Márquez—operating very much within Catholic modes of thought—seems to answer that fate and free will are somehow, mysteriously, not mutually exclusive. So long as we feel that we have free will, we must bring ourselves to act morally.

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Fate vs. Free Will ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fate vs. Free Will 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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Fate vs. Free Will 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 Fate vs. Free Will.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

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 3 Quotes

So he put the knife in his hand and dragged him off almost by force in search of their sister’s lost honor.
“There's no way out of this,” he told him. “It's as if it had already happened.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Pablo Vicario
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

After their knives are confiscated and their plans foiled by Colonel Lázaro Aponte, the Vicario twins have a disagreement over whether to get new knives and continue on. Pablo, otherwise the more passive of the two, manages to convince Pedro to try again with these words and actions. His assertion that the murder has “already happened” speaks to his worldview, in which he sees the murder as a terrible duty that has befallen him, a duty he has no choice but to fulfill. It also speaks to the larger theme of fate and free will in the novel: from a certain angle, it seems as though Santiago is destined to die, and, consequently, that Pablo and Pedro are destined to kill him. In this sense, Pablo’s claim that he and his brother must kill Santiago because it is destined to happen is a thorny paradox.

In addition, the Narrator’s use of the phrase “in search of their sister’s lost honor” serves to illustrate the futility and the uselessness of the twins’ mission. Angela’s “honor”—whatever that may mean—cannot really be found, and killing Santiago certainly does nothing to find it.

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.

She became lucid, overbearing, mistress of her own free will, and she became a virgin again just for him, and she recognized no other authority than her own nor any other service than that of her obsession.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Angela Vicario
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

After Santiago’s murder, Angela Vicario falls mysteriously in love with Bayardo, and she begins writing to him every day. Here the narrator explains that her obsession allows her to transcend, in a certain sense, the social restrictions that had determined the course of her life up until her disastrous marriage. The Narrator’s claim that Angela succeeds in “becoming a virgin again” emphasizes that virginity is more of an imaginary social construct than a physiological fact. Furthermore, Angela’s obsessive letter writing is a kind of ritual for her; however, unlike most rituals in the novel, it is highly personal, emerging from a private conviction rather than some kind of external pressure or need to perform.

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.