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.
Ritual Theme Icon

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.

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Ritual ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Ritual 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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Ritual 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 Ritual.
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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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.

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.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Margot
Related Symbols: The Bishop, Birds
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Just moments before Santiago Nasar is murdered, the Bishop, whose arrival the whole town—including Santiago—has been eagerly awaiting, passes by on his boat without stopping. Here the narrator recounts what he heard of the snub from his sister Margot, who was there to witness it. The symbolism of the scene is hard to escape: it is as if God, as represented by the Bishop, has determined that the town is not worth his attention, is not worth saving. The Bishop’s blessing is a gesture without any substance, an empty ritual—it is “without malice or inspiration” and continues on mechanically even after he passes the crowd. It can do nothing to rescue the town from its impending trauma.

Tellingly, as soon as the Bishop disappears upriver, all the townsfolk who had gathered for his arrival begin to gossip about the scandalous news: Angela Vicario has been returned to her parents, and her brothers are out to kill Santiago Nasar. It is as if the Bishop’s indifference permits them, and, furthermore, condones the violent spectacle that is about to unfold.

Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

“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.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Father Carmen Amador (speaker), Plácida Linero
Related Symbols: The Bishop
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

The Narrator presses Father Amador to explain why he did nothing to prevent the crime when it was completely in his power to do so, and this is the answer Father Amador offers. His complacence in the face of impending violence is shocking, especially given that he is the supposed spiritual leader of the town. Unfortunately, it is also typical—his feeling that the murder “wasn’t any business” of his is common among the townspeople who failed to prevent the crime. Further, by using the Bishop’s arrival to explain his distractedness, Amador adds a layer of irony to his excuse: he was so caught up in organizing a grand display of sacredness that he failed to prevent something evil and profane from occurring right under his nose.

Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Santiago Nasar, Father Carmen Amador
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

The Narrator offers this description of Santiago’s body after Father Amador has completed his clumsy autopsy. The passage shows in gruesome detail the transformative quality of violence—how it reduces Santiago to a mere thing, or collection of things, and entirely erases his identity as a human being. Father Amador’s exasperated decision to toss Santiago’s intestines in the trash is a kind of perverted ritual, a clash of solemn, Catholic sensibilities and the absolutely profane reality of violence. This also echoes the earlier scene of Victoria Guzmán disemboweling the rabbits, where Santiago urged her to not be a “savage,” but to pretend that the rabbits were human. Here we see that indeed such violence is inherently savage and profane, whether it is a cook gutting rabbits or a priest “blessing” a murder victim’s organs.

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.

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.