On the morning of his murder, Santiago Nasar wakes up at 5:30 AM, hungover from the wedding the night before and apparently unaware of the danger he is in. He is excited to see the Bishop, who is supposed to visit the town that morning on his riverboat. Santiago has had a pleasant dream about walking through a grove of trees, but upon waking he feels “spattered with bird shit.” His mother, Plácida Linero, a skilled interpreter of dreams, later recalls to the Narrator that she saw nothing ominous about the dream. The Narrator adds that the people who saw Santiago that morning remember finding him in a cheerful mood, telling those he met that it was a beautiful day. Despite this detail, however, not everyone can agree on what the weather was like on the fateful morning. Some think it was radiant day, while others remember it as overcast and funereal.
A lot is happening in this first paragraph. The Narrator seems to seal Santiago’s fate in the first sentence, immediately imparting the coming events with gravity and a sense of predestination. The subsequent speculation about Santiago’s dream—whether or not it contained an omen—further emphasizes the seemingly fated nature of his murder. Santiago is fighting through a hangover in order to see the Bishop, an irony that will prove important, taking different forms throughout the novel. Finally, the uncertainty regarding the weather, and the chorus of voices that generate that uncertainty, establishes two important details: one, Santiago’s murder happened long ago, and memories of it are almost absurdly conflicting; and two, it left an entire community reeling.
Santiago rises and dresses in a formal outfit of white linen. When Santiago is working in the country, the narrator informs us, he carries a gun, but he leaves it behind today. In fact, his house is filled with guns, but he keeps them under lock and key, a safety precaution his late father, Ibrahim Nasar, taught him. He goes searching for aspirin and wakens Plácida Linero in the process. He tells her about his dream, and she informs him that anything involving birds is a good omen. He waves goodbye to her casually and heads to the kitchen. It’s the last time Plácida Linero sees her son alive.
Santiago’s bright white outfit seems to mark his fate—it is almost destined to be stained by blood. The Narrator’s exhaustive description of Santiago’s arsenal underscores, mournfully, what might have been. Plácida’s failure to detect an omen in Santiago’s dream has the same effect—the Narrator seems to linger on all the many things that could have prevented Santiago’s murder.
In recounting Santiago’s final encounter with Plácida Linero, the Narrator tells of his own encounter with her, decades after Santiago’s murder, when he decides to interview her about the incident. The Narrator finds her in the exact same spot Santiago found her on that fateful morning. Now, the Narrator explains, she is alone, deeply aggrieved, and suffering from an “eternal headache.” She mistakes the Narrator for Santiago as he walks through the door.
The Narrator returns to the day of Santiago’s death. In the kitchen, Victoria Guzmán, the cook, and her teenaged daughter, Divina Flor, are hard at work. Victoria is gutting rabbits. Divina Flor serves Santiago coffee with a shot of cane liquor. When she comes to collect the empty mug he grabs her by the wrist and tells her she must be tamed. Victoria Guzmán, waving a bloody kitchen knife, tells Santiago to keep his hands off her daughter. The narrator explains that Ibrahim Nasar seduced Victoria when she was younger, and that Santiago has plans to do the same to Divina Flor. Victoria, now angry, proceeds to gut the rabbits with ferocity, which she knows disgusts Santiago.
In a basic, brutal way, Victoria’s butchering of the rabbits foreshadows the violence that will later befall Santiago. When she proceeds to brandish a bloody knife at Santiago, the gesture reads as an omen or a curse, as if fate is taunting the doomed man.Further, the exchange reveals that Santiago is not exactly a saint, despite his name: he has often abused impressionable Divina Flor. His abuse of her is oddly ritualistic, in the sense that repeats a pattern established by his father.
Santiago, having finished his breakfast, walks to the front door of the house, accompanied by Divina Flor. The Narrator describes the house: it is a huge, converted warehouse, originally bought by Santiago’s father, Ibrahim Nasar. The front door of the house opens onto the town square, while the back door opens onto the docks, where the Bishop is meant to arrive. Santiago exits through the front door. Given that he is going to see the Bishop, this is unusual and, as the Narrator explains, later causes the Visiting Magistrate to give the door the pulpy title “The Fatal Door.” There is a simple explanation for his action, though: Santiago always exited through the front door when he was dressed up. Before he exits, he grabs Divina Flor’s “whole pussy,” something he does often. Against her mother’s instructions, Divina leaves the door unlocked “in case of emergency.”
The narrator’s obsession over minor but apparently crucial details—Santiago’s use of the front door is one example of many—is something of a detective-novel trope, and works to underline the strange inevitability of the murder. Márquez is self-aware when it comes to his use of trope, though, and inserts a kind of joke with the Magistrate character: “The Fatal Door” is no more dramatic or pulpy a title than “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”! Separately, Santiago’s habit of sexually assaulting Divina Flor, seen here in graphic detail, further establishes him as a depraved character.
As it turns out, the Narrator explains, both Victoria Guzmán and Divina Flor know that Santiago Nasar is about to die—earlier, a beggar had stopped by and told them the news. Victoria later explains that she didn’t warn Santiago because she thought the threats were just drunkard’s talk. Divina Flor, however, confesses that her mother wanted Santiago to die. For her part, Divina explains, she was too terrified to say anything. When Santiago grabbed her wrist, she says, his hand felt “frozen and stony, like the hand of a dead man.”
Victoria and Divina are the first characters with the opportunity to warn Santiago, and the first to declinethat opportunity. Their reasons for doing so, which include fear, incredulity, and hatred, present the reader with our first insights into the greater community’s complicity in the crime. Divina’s eerie feeling that Santiago is already dead further emphasizes the inevitability of his murder.
Across the square, in Clotilde Armante’s milk shop, Pedro and Pablo Vicario, twin brothers, lie in wait. They are the men who are going to kill Santiago Nasar. Each clutches a knife wrapped in newspaper. Seeing Santiago leave his house, they begin to get up, but Clotilde, who knows their plan, begs them to leave him for later, out of respect for the Bishop. Miraculously, they listen, and sit back down.
This first introduction to the killers portrays them not as particularly scheming or bloodthirsty, but as oddly casual, open, and even vulnerable. They are waiting for Santiago in a public setting, and the fact that they obey Clotilde’s plea suggests they are not as enthusiastic about killing Santiago as one might expect.
The docks are crowded with people waiting for the Bishop. Many have brought gifts: roosters, because the Bishop loves cockscomb soup, and loads of wood. Despite the excitement, the Bishop passes by on his steamboat without stopping, delivering a blessing from afar. Santiago, who is at the docks, feels a little cheated, because he contributed to the loads of wood and helped pick out the best roosters. However, Margot, the Narrator’s sister, recalls finding Santiago in a good mood when she ran into him at the docks. She finds him walking arm in arm with his friend, Cristo Bedoya, with whom he had been carousing at the wedding the night before. They are speculating about the costs of the wedding, which they agree must have been astronomical.
The Bishop’s refusal to set foot in the town is farcical, especially given the townsfolk’s high expectations and elaborate offerings. The snub is over the top in its symbolism: it seems that God has left the town behind. Santiago’s good mood suggests his obliviousness and in turn his innocence, which the Narrator will later insist on.
Margot, who has a slight crush on Santiago Nasar, invites him to breakfast. Santiago agrees but says he must go home first, to change clothes. Margot insists that he must come at once, without returning home first. Santiago waves her off. Cristo Bedoya remembers Margot’s insistence as strange, and later wonders if she knew he was in danger. Margot tells the Narrator she had no idea, however.
A tragedy makes seemingly insignificant details take on new significance, and memory offers a warped representation of reality. Cristo likely took note of Margot’s insistence only after Santiago had been killed.
The Narrator admits it strange that Margot didn’t knowSantiago was in danger, as so many townspeople knew by then. The Narrator finds it even stranger that his mother didn’t know. Though she is a homebody, the Narrator’s mother always seems to maintain secret threads of communication with the other townspeople.
The people closest to Santiago, the people most likely to warn him, are somehow the only ones unaware of the danger he is in. His murder seems fated indeed.
Margotheads home by walking along the riverbank, where crowds of people have brought out food to offer up to the Bishop—in vain, however, as the Bishop passed by without stopping. Now no longer distracted by the bishop’s arrival, the townspeople begin to discuss the other great news of the hour: Angela Vicario, the bride who was married the night before, has been returned to her parents by her husband, the dashing Bayardo San Román, after he discovered that she was not a virgin. Now Pablo and Pedro Vicarioare out to kill Santiago Nasar, who they allege is responsible for deflowering their sister. Margot overhears their conversations and rushes home.
As soon as the Bishop passes, all the pomp and piety mustered in his honor utterly dissolves. The townsfolk fall back to gossiping openly about the latest scandal: the implosion of Bayardo and Angela’s not-so-holy matrimony, and the threats to Santiago’s life. Margot, it seems, is the only one at all concerned about warning Santiago.
Back home, Margot sees that the Narrator’s Mother has set an extra place at the breakfast table for Santiago Nasar. Margot, confused and distraught, tells her to take it away, and then begins to explain the terrible news she’s heard. Her mother seems to know what Margot is saying before she’s even said it, and flies into a panic. Hoping to warn Plácida Linero, she rushes out into the street, trailing Jaime the toddler and cursing under her breath about “lowlifes.” She hears a great commotion coming from the direction of the square. A passerby tells her that it’s too late: Santiago is dead.
The Narrator’s mother’s nearly clairvoyant reaction to the news further characterizes Santiago’s death as somehow supernatural, or predestined.Her exasperation over the “lowlifes”—presumably the twins and their many enablers—paints a picture of a community that is both depraved and inflexible, incapable of preventing a widely announced murder.