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.
The Sacred and the Profane Theme Icon

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.

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The Sacred and the Profane ThemeTracker

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

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

“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.

Chapter 5 Quotes

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.