The Narrator begins by recounting the arrival of Bayardo San Román, the man who marries Angela Vicario. Bayardo first appears, apparently at random, on a steamboat coming up the river. He is the richest, best-dressed, most dashing man the town has ever seen. He claims to be a track engineer, but remains fundamentally mysterious to the townsfolk. The Narrator, who is in college when Bayardo arrives, hears about him through his mother’s letters, which are filled with praise for the man. When the Narrator returns home for Christmas and finally meets Bayardo face to face, he finds him overly serious, not quite as charming as everyone claims, and fundamentally sad.
In this provincial town, Bayardo may as well be an alien arriving from outerspace. His fancy dress, while certainly impressive, strikes the Narrator as somewhat laughable. Also of note is the fact that the Narrator first encounters Bayardo through a kind of “literature”—his mother’s letters—and that when he meets him in person, he is struck by the gap between the reality he sees and the reality that was originally represented to him.
There is some confusion in the public memory about how and when Bayardo San Román decided he wanted to marry Angela Vicario. Some claim that Bayardo, sitting on the porch of the boarding house where he was staying, saw Angela Vicario with her mother across the square, and declared right then and there that he was going to marry her.
We immediately learn that Bayardo is impulsive, almost reckless. His attraction to Angela seems inexplicable, utterly arbitrary—a fact that heightens the tragedy of their marriage and the ensuing murder.
Others say that Bayardo San Román first sawAngela Vicario at a charity bazaar. A music box was being raffled off. Bayardo bought all of the raffle tickets, won the music box by default, and later snuck into Angela’s bedroom to leave the music box for her as a gift. Thinking this indecent, Angela’s mother, Purísima del Carmen, sent her sons Pedro and Pablo to return the gift to Bayardo. The twins returned later that night, however, drunk, with Bayardo in tow, and still carrying the music box they were supposed to get rid of.
That no one can agree on how Bayardo and Angela met emphasizes the fallibility of memory. This alternative anecdote further characterizes Bayardo as impulsive and reckless with his money. Purísima’s extreme conservatism is on full display here, and gets a hilarious rebuttal in Pedro and Pablo’s botched and debauched mission to return the music box. Their failure poses an important question: if they couldn’t perform this simple duty, how is it that they succeeded in the much graver “honorable” duty of killing Santiago?
The Narrator describes the Vicario family. They are poor and extremely conservative—the matriarch Purísima del Carmen “looks like a nun.” Angela is the youngest of four daughters, one of whom is dead; when Bayardofirst arrives, the Vicario women are “still observing a mourning that [is] relaxed in the house but rigorous in the street.” While Pablo and Pedro Vicario are raised to be men, the daughters are taught to be good wives, trained to embroider, sew, and make paper flowers. Angela is the prettiest of the daughters, but she has a “poverty of spirit” that does not bode well for her eligibility. It thus strikes everyone as strange that Bayardo wants to marry her.
The Vicario family—especially Purísima—embodies the most morally stringent values of the community. Their profound attachment to ideals of honor, purity, and decency confine women of the family to live a cloistered life. Their “rigorous in the street” mourning suggests that they value ritual for the sheer sake of ritual. Indeed, their moral convictions seem to come merely from the sense that “this is the way things are, and this how things must be done.”
Still, the Vicario family is excited when Bayardo expresses interest. Pura Vicario(Purísima) is less excited, but agrees to arrange the marriage if Bayardo properly identifies himself. Bayardo does so by producing his entire family. His father, General Petronio San Román, is a war hero of note. The townspeople recognize him from pictures they’ve seen in the news. The whole family, of course, is filthy rich.
While the arrival of Bayardo’s family dispels some of the mystery that once surrounded him, it also confirms his status as a complete alien to the community. His family belongs to a powerful political regime that, while recognizable to the provincial townspeople, hails from a distant, menacing world.
After this revelation, it seems that Angela Vicario is the only one left who is apprehensive about the marriage. She doesn’t love Bayardo, and has had no say in the matter. It is a short engagement, however, due to Bayardo’s urgings.
Angela’s engagement to Bayardo is her social lot. It has everything to with her position in society, and nothing to do with her actual wishes.
Bayardo asks Angela which house in the town she likes best. She answers casually that the old widower Xius’ house is her favorite. Upon hearing this, Bayardo approaches the widower Xius and asks to buy the house along with all its furnishings. Xius says it isn’t for sale: he’s keeping it all if only for the memory of his beloved wife. But Bayardo is persistent, eventually offering him an incredible amount of money—in cash. Xius can’t refuse, and, with his eyes filled with tears of rage, he agrees to sell the house. Dr. Dionisio Iguarán tells the Narrator that the episode was so upsetting for poor Xius that it eventually killed him.
There is something monstrous, even violent about Bayardo’s insistence on buying Xius’ house, even though Bayardo frames the transaction as an act of charity. Bayardo’s carelessness with his money, and Xius’s stubbornness in refusing it, makes clear just how wide a gap there is between the Bayardo’s worldview and the worldview of the town. His arrival has certainly upset the usual order of things. (Note also that Xius wanted to keep the house for almost ritualistic reasons—to preserve it as a memorial of his wife.)
Meanwhile, Angela Vicario grows increasingly worried. She shares her secret—that she isn’t a virgin as everyone thinks—with her female friends. They reassure her that most women have had sex by the time they get married, and that their husbands are either too clueless or too mortified to put up a stink about it. In addition, they teach her a few tricks she can employ to fake her virginity, such as using mercurochrome to stain the conjugal sheets. Angela is heartened by their counsel, and calms down a bit about the coming wedding.
The friends’ words of encouragement give voice to a sentiment that seems to be widespread throughout the town: that following rituals and maintaining the appearance of purity is more important than purity itself—or, at least, it’s all that can be reasonably expected of you.
The wedding ends up being the largest the town has ever seen, thanks mostly to Bayardo’s extravagance. Still, Pura Vicario insists on hosting the reception on the terrace of her own modest house, right by the pigsty where Pablo and Pedro slaughter their hogs. Bayardo’s family, accompanied by many people of note, arrive by boat, bearing lavish gifts. The Narrator, Santiago Nasar, and Cristo Bedoya attend together. Santiago Nasar obsessively tries to calculate the cost of the wedding, and exchanges quips to that effect with Bayardo. Eventually Bayardo and Angela take their leave of the party and head to the widower Xius’ house, but before doing so Bayardo instructs the guests to keep on partying in his absence.
The wedding gives Bayardo the opportunity to put his wealth on full display, and he certainly does so. The sheer extravagance is hard for the most of the townspeople to believe. There’s something tragic about Pura’s insistence that her own house be used for the reception, as it highlights the mismatch between Angela and Bayardo’s social statuses—but it also again mingles the sacred with the profane, placing the “holy” wedding next to the pigsty. Santiago’s obsession over the price of the wedding might be read as antagonistic—he, like the narrator, wants to see through Bayardo’s lavish smokescreens.
Here things get hazy for the Narrator. He remembers only flashes: his sister the nun drunkenly dancing, Dr. Dionisio Iguarán escaping on a boat so as not to be seen by the Bishop the next morning, people tripping over poor old blind Poncio Vicario, the Narrator himself proposing to Mercedes Barcha, an offer she takes him up on fourteen years later. Eventually the Narrator, his brother Luis Enrique, Santiago Nasar, and Cristo Bedoya end up at María Alejandrina Cervantes’brothel. Pablo and Pedro Vicario are there as well, and all six of them drink and sing together.
Thanks both to the effects of alcohol and the passage of time, the narrator remembers the night as a kind of fever dream. Dr. Iguarán’s eagerness to escape the disapproving eye of the Bishop suggests just how debauched the festivities were (also the fact that the narrator’s sister, a nun, gets drunk and dances). Even though the party is ostensibly a wedding, the couple is oddly—one might say ominously—absent. But the drunken townsfolk are unworried. In fact, they seem consumed by fellow feeling. Their togetherness, which the reader knows will soon dissolve, only heightens the sense of impending tragedy.
Back at the Vicario household, things are much quieter. However, in the middle of the night, Pura Vicario is awakened by a knock on the door. It’s Bayardo San Román. Angela Vicario is standing beside him, her dress in tatters. To Pura they look like ghosts. Bayardo refuses to enter. He pushes Angela into the house, gives Pura a kiss on the cheek, and thanks her, calling her a “saint.” Surmising what has happened, Pura flies into a rage, and savagely beats Angela. She summons Pedro and Pablo back to the house. Pedro, ever the assertive one, asks Angela who took her virginity. She wastes no time in telling him: it was Santiago Nasar.
Pura’s violent outburst of rage and the evidence of Bayardo’s similar outburst (Angela’s dress is in tatters) suggest just how entrenched Pura and Bayardo are in their beliefs. But their devotion to purity is not itself all that pure: Bayardo’s insistence that Pura has been a “saint” is made brutally ironic when Pura, without hesitating, immediately subjects Angela to a terrible beating. When Angela offers Santiago’s name, her choice seems random, inexplicable.