Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Violence, Trauma, and Community 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.
Violence, Trauma, and Community Theme Icon

Violence, of course, is a persistent theme throughout this crime story. The violence that Santiago Nasar suffers is—for Márquez and his characters—both familiar and entirely alien. The Narrator, and through him Márquez, asks dogged questions pertaining to violence: What does violence do to its victim? What does violence do to its perpetrator? More pressingly, what is the place of violence within a community? How can a community knowingly allow violence to occur, and, further, treat it as a public spectacle?

The apparent incompetence and, worse, the complacency of his community in the face of impending violence haunts the Narrator throughout his investigation of the crime. By the time Santiago Nasar is pinned to his own front door and stabbed before a crowd of spectators, nearly the entire town knows what’s coming. Pablo and Pedro Vicario have announced their plans to all who will listen. Some people, like Cristo Bedoya and Clotilde Armante, try but fail to warn Santiago. Others, like Divina Flor and Indalecio Pardo, have the opportunity but are too frightened to do so. Others still, like Victoria Guzmán, refuse to warn him out of spite. However, the vast majority of the townsfolk—including Colonel Lázaro Aponte, who of all people wields the authority to prevent the murder—simply don’t take seriously the Vicario twins’ threat, chalking it up to hyperbole, or just the ravings of a couple of drunks. Márquez thus demonstrates that violence, even while it is considered by most to be beyond the pale, is never very far off. The barrier between everyday life and the most unimaginable bloodshed is delicate, and in fact easily overcome. Chronicle of a Death Foretold thus demonstrates how the possibility of violence can become—suddenly, shockingly—permissible.

And despite the ease with which violence is committed, violence is also utterly transformative, for all parties involved. Márquez lingers gruesomely on the transformation of Santiago Nasar from a walking, talking, smiling citizen to a confused, helpless animal, and finally to a piece of dead meat indistinguishable from the rabbits that Victoria Guzmán spends the morning disemboweling. The violence is also transformative for its perpetrators, Pablo and Pedro Vicario, who are in some ways left traumatized by their own crime. This trauma manifests itself physically: in jail they both become entirely sleepless, Pedro’s venereal disease worsens, and Pablo falls deathly ill. After Santiago’s death, Angela Vicario finds herself mysteriously falling in love with Bayardo San Román, whom she had all but hated before. Santiago’s death is transformative, at last, for the community at large, which is left frozen and traumatized after witnessing their collective crime.

Chronicle of Death Foretold demonstrates that the conditions within a community that allow violence to occur are not so difficult to meet—they arise almost spontaneously—and yet the fallout following a public murder is immense. Violence is easily committed and its effects are irreversible. Only vigilance and moral courage can prevent it.

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Violence, Trauma, and Community ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Violence, Trauma, and Community 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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Violence, Trauma, and Community 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 Violence, Trauma, and Community.
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.

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.

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.

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.