Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions 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.
Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions Theme Icon

Throughout Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Márquez subtly scrutinizes the underlying rules of social relations, questioning how the circumstances of one’s birth structures and determines the course of one’s life. Márquez is especially interested in the ways in which widely held notions of gender might govern one’s position in society. In the Narrator’s hometown, one’s gender sharply delineates the borders of his or her experience. To put it bluntly, the community is inherently sexist. If you are born with male features, you are educated and grow up to work. The question of your virginity has no moral bearing on your character—in fact, you are more or less expected to be having sex from a young age. On the other hand, if you’re born with female features, your virginity is of the utmost importance. You grow up cloistered and are taught only to be a good wife. Angela Vicario and her sisters are raised this way, as is Flora Miguel. Most of the female characters—Plácida Linero, Victoria Guzmán, and the Narrator’s Mother—while powerful in their own, private ways, exert very little control over their station in life.

Of course, gender is not the only social determinant in this community. Not unrelatedly, wealth and social class are additional factors that structure and determine the lives of the characters. This is most apparent in Angela’s engagement to Bayardo San Román. Bayardo, an outsider who is “swimming in gold,” is betrothed to Angela against her will. The marriage is arranged by Angela’s parents, who come from a more modest background than Bayardo. Such an arrangement is seen as normal in the town, where social class is extremely important and “marrying up” is common practice. Further, ethnicity plays a less prominent but still important social role: the minority group of Arabs—to which Santiago Nasar belongs—are relegated to a kind of community within the community, one that is looked on with some suspicion by the non-Arab majority.

For Márquez, character is not necessarily destiny. However, the accidents of one’s character—one’s gender, one’s social class, one’s race—can have a tremendous, often oppressive effect on one’s life. One could even argue that, more than destiny or the perverse will of a few criminals and their enablers, it is the overarching structure of society that kills Santiago Nasar. After all, Pablo and Pedro Vicario are in some ways moved to murder by social forces beyond their control. They understand their crime as duty, one foisted upon them by their religion and the culture in which they live, and they in some ways do their best to escape it, but to no avail.

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Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions 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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Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions 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 Gender, Class, and Social Restrictions.
Chapter 1 Quotes

But she couldn't avoid a wave of fright as she remembered Santiago Nasar's horror when she pulled out the insides of a rabbit by the roots and threw the steaming guts to the dogs.
“Don't be a savage,” he told her. “Make believe it was a human being.”
Victoria Guzmán needed almost twenty years to understand that a man accustomed to killing defenseless animals could suddenly express such horror.

Related Characters: Santiago Nasar (speaker), The Narrator (speaker), Victoria Guzmán
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

On the morning of his murder, Santiago enters his kitchen to find the cook, Victoria Guzmán, disemboweling rabbits. The image, with a kind of brute force, grimly foreshadows the violence that will befall Santiago. As the reader later learns, Santiago is disemboweled by the Vicario twins, and after the autopsy his intestines end up in the trash. Victoria’s ritualistic, mechanical dismemberment of the rabbits mirrors the twins’ ritualistic, mechanical fulfillment of their “duty.”

But this passage isn’t just a shocking preview of the violence to come. On a subtler level, Victoria’s befuddlement over Santiago’s disgust raises a important question, one that vexes the entire novel: can violence ever be dignified? What might it look like to disembowel a rabbit as if it were a human being? When they kill Santiago, the twins will claim to have done so in defense of their family’s honor and dignity. And yet the reality of Santiago’s death, which is appalling and brutal, seems to overwhelm any claim to moral purity that the twins can make.

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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.

The parents' decisive argument was that a family dignified by modest means had no right to disdain that prize of destiny. Angela Vicario only dared hint at the inconvenience of a lack of love, but her mother demolished it with a single phrase:
“Love can be learned too.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Purísima del Carmen Vicario (Pura Vicario) (speaker), Angela Vicario
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Bayardo has sprung a marriage proposal on Angela Vicario. Actually, to be more precise, he has sprung the proposal on her parents. Angela barely knows the strange, rich man, and certainly doesn’t love him. Her parents, however, insist that she accept. Their reasoning reveals two important aspects of the conservative, class-conscious culture in which they live. Firstly and most obviously, Angela’s lot at birth—her gender and her social status—have determined the path that her life will follow. When her parents assert that she has no choice in the matter, they aren’t exactly saying that they themselves are forcing her; instead, they’re saying that, in the society in which they live, a poor family like theirs has “no right” to turn away a rich man like Bayardo. Secondly, Angela’s mother’s assertion that “love can be learned too” gives voice to the belief that passion is not a prerequisite for ritual—in this case, marriage—that ritual is valuable for its own sake, and that ritual can in fact produce passion in its participants. To put it simply: you can fake it until you make it. It is this assumption that “demolishes” Angela’s protests once and for all. And, finally, it is the same assumption that brings Pedro and Pablo to kill Santiago, an act they commit not out of any apparent passion, but out of a sense of duty.

They insisted that even the most difficult of husbands resigned themselves to anything as long as nobody knew about it. They convinced her, finally, that most men came to their wedding night so frightened that they were incapable of doing anything without the woman's help, and at the moment of truth they couldn't answer for their own acts. “The only thing they believe is what they see on the sheet,” they told her. And they taught her old wives’ tricks to feign her lost possession, so that on her first morning as a newlywed she could display open under the sun in the courtyard of her house the linen sheet with the stain of honor.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Angela Vicario, Bayardo San Román
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Angela Vicario’s closest confidants try to coach her on how to conceal her lack of virginity from Bayardo, and reassure her in no uncertain terms that the town’s obsession with virginity is merely a performance. According to Angela’s friends, just keeping up the appearance of virginity is really all that is expected of a new bride. Even in the unlikely event that her husband is perceptive enough to notice her lack of virginity, he won’t say anything for fear of public embarrassment. In fact, it seems that public opinion is far more important than the private truth in this town, as illustrated by the custom of hanging the bloody wedding sheets outside in the sun, for all to see. The Narrator’s reference to “the stain of honor” also draws an intimate connection between Angela’s virginity (or lack thereof) and the violence that eventually befalls Santiago. Santiago’s bloody, public demise is in some ways a substitute for the bloody sheet, which, of course, Angela never puts on display.

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.

Santiago Nasar had an almost magical talent for disguises, and his favorite sport was to confuse the identities of the mulatto girls. He would rifle the wardrobe of some to disguise the others, so that they all ended up feeling different from themselves and like the ones they weren't. On a certain occasion, one of them found herself repeated in another with such exactness that she had an attack of tears. “I felt like I'd stepped out of the mirror,” she said.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Santiago Nasar
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

The Narrator presents this mysterious description of Santiago’s wily antics when he is recounting their time at María Alejandrina Cervantes’ brothel. It is one of the few direct descriptions of Santiago’s character—his hobbies and his sensibilities—that appears in the novel. There is something ominous, almost menacing about Santiago’s habit of confusing the identities of brothel girls. But it also establishes the brothel as a space that is somehow safe from the restrictions of society, a place where one’s carefully constructed social identity might entirely dissolve. With this brief, cryptic passage, Márquez seems to suggest that one’s identity is not in any way innate or essential—it can be easily erased, confused.

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.