Chronicle of a Death Foretold is impressive for the way it depicts a world in which religious seriousness commingles with out-and-out debauchery. Nearly every character in the novel moves freely between these two opposite poles of experience, poles that might be labeled as the “sacred” and the “profane.”
God seems to have left the village in which the novel takes place. The Bishop, whom everyone is eager to see on the morning of the murder, won’t set foot in the town, choosing instead to pass by on his boat and deliver his blessing from afar. Everyone takes part in the wedding festivities; even the Narrator’s sister, a nun, gets drunk. The Narrator has been frequenting a local brothel for his entire adult life. Santiago Nasar, though described as “peaceful” by the Narrator, gropes the teenaged Divina Flor whenever he gets the chance. Pedro Vicario returns from the military sporting a nasty case of gonorrhea.
And yet, most members of the community are deeply Catholic—as demonstrated by their enthusiasm over the Bishop’s visit—and cling dearly to traditional ideals of purity and honor. As soon as Angela Vicario accuses Santiago Nasar of deflowering her, her brothers Pablo and Pedro Vicario set out to murder him as a matter of course: by their logic, he has stolen the honor of their sister, of their whole family, and so must repay them in blood. By that same token, a fair number of the townspeople accept Santiago’s doom as a foregone conclusion: nothing can or should be done to save him. Angela Vicario’s purity is seen by nearly everyone—including Angela herself—as a matter of life and death. The community’s draconian values find fullest expression in the verdict delivered three years after the murder. Despite the gruesome and public nature of their crime, and despite the apparent innocence of their victim, the Vicario brothers are found innocent “by the thesis of homicide in legitimate defense of honor.”
It would seem, then, that the town is filled with hypocrites. Not one character in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is pure or particularly honorable—blood, sex, and excrement abound—and yet so many of the characters see purity and honor as akin to godliness. Of course, Márquez is up to something a bit more complicated than simply exposing the hypocrisy of his characters. More nearly he seems to suggest that the townspeople’s devotion to sacred ideals is full of impossible hope, and is all the more tragic for that reason. Pedro and Pablo Vicario, hoping to abide by some abstract code of honor, end up committing murder—which is, at last, the most profane act of all.
The Sacred and the Profane ThemeTracker
The Sacred and the Profane 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.