So much of daily life in the Narrator’s community is governed by ritual and routine. In a simple sense, the population consists mostly of tradespeople, whose lives consist of repetitious tasks: Clotilde Armante sells milk to the same people every morning; Pablo and Pedro Vicario raise and slaughter their pigs. Time has a cyclical, repetitive quality in the town: every day, the same steamboats pass on their way upriver.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the townsfolk depend on ritualized behavior to express their hopes and despairs, to make their private lives visible to the wider community: feelings of love, spiritual devotion, and anger are all mediated through public ritual. In many cases, it is not the sincerity of the ritual that matters to the townspeople, it is the ritual itself—its mere gesture. In the years before Angela Vicario’s engagement to Bayardo San Román, the Vicario women dress only in black, “observing a mourning that was relaxed inside the house but rigorous on the street” (the middle daughter has died). Santiago Nasar wakes up early for the Bishop not out of any spiritual conviction but because he enjoys the “pomp” of Catholic ritual. Indeed, there is something clearly detached about the Bishop’s visit—he never sets foot in the town. Angela Vicario’s friends reassure her that the expectation that she’ll still be a virgin on her wedding night is mostly empty talk, and that the common ritual of publically displaying the newlyweds’ bloodied sheets is often faked.
The murder of Santiago Nasar is an extension—and a perversion—of this culture of ritual. Pedro and Pablo Vicario’s vow to kill Santiago is an empty gesture that suddenly becomes all too real. It seems that no one, not even the brothers themselves, believe they will actually follow through their plan—until, of course, it is too late. The Vicario brothers’ pronouncements and showy knife-sharpening have the quality of performance. They are, in a sense, “faking it”—but somehow, in faking it, they find it within themselves to kill, or, to put it another way, they find themselves forced to follow through with the role they’ve taken on.
At last, there is something ritualistic about the Narrator’s engagement with his story. His efforts to ascertain the facts of the murder so many years after it transpired have a mournful and obsessive character: it seems his determination to tell the story is above all an act of remembrance, of devotion. His nonlinear account of the murder make it so events play and replay before the reader, as if in an endless loop. Ritual, then, serves as both a protection and a trap, as something comfortable that structures daily life, bit also as something that has more power than those acting it out perhaps realize, until they find themselves within a ritual they can’t escape.
Ritual Quotes in Chronicle of a Death Foretold
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.
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.
What happened, according to her, was that the boat whistle let off a shower of compressed steam as it passed by the docks, and it soaked those who were closest to the edge. It was a fleeting illusion: the bishop began to make the sign of the cross in the air opposite the crowd on the pier, and he kept on doing it mechanically afterwards, without malice or inspiration, until the boat was lost from view and all that remained was the uproar of the roosters.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“The truth is I didn't know what to do,” he told me. “My first thought was that it wasn't any business of mine but something for the civil authorities, but then I made up my mind to say something in passing to Plácida Linero.” Yet when he crossed the square, he’d forgotten completely. “You have to understand,” he told me, “that the bishop was coming on that unfortunate day.” At the moment of the crime he felt such despair and was so disgusted with himself that the only thing he could think of was to ring the fire alarm.
They gave us back a completely different body. Half of the cranium had been destroyed by the trepanation, and the lady-killer face that death had preserved ended up having lost its identity. Furthermore, the priest had pulled out the sliced-up intestines by the roots, but in the end he didn't know what to do with them, and he gave them an angry blessing and threw them into the garbage pail.
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.
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.
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.
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.