For years, the murder is all anyone can talk about. Many feel guilty for not doing more to stop it, but most console themselves with the thought that affairs of honor are not to be interfered with. Still, the murder has a lasting effect on the town. Hortensia Baute, a local woman, goes crazy; Flora Miguel, Santiago’s fiancée, runs off; Don Rogelio de la Flor takes one look at Santiago’s door, which was chipped to pieces by the Vicario twins’ knives, and dies of shock. For her part, Plácida Linero is able to forgive herself for locking her front door, because Divina Flor swore to her that she had seen Santiago had come inside (he hadn’t). However, she can never forgive herself for mixing up the good omen of trees with the bad omen of birds in Santiago’s dream.
Here the Narrator details the full extent of the trauma caused by Santiago’s murder. It’s as if there isn’t a single witness who isn’t profoundly affected by the murder, physically or otherwise. Plácida Linero’s belief that she failed to recognize an omen that was nonetheless present in Santiago’s dream has the strange effect of mixing divine will with human error: Santiago’s fate is at once destined and preventable.
Twelve days after the crime, an investigating Magistrate comes to town to make sense of it all. He is young, recently graduated from law school, and perhaps a bit too enamored of literature. In his brief—part of which the Narrator is able to dig up, many years later—he is prone to “lyrical distractions,” and admits his bewilderment that the case seems to “make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature.” Most of all, though, he is vexed by the utter lack of evidence connecting Santiago Nasar to Angela Vicario. For the Magistrate—and for the narrator—Santiago’s behavior in the hours before his murder is overwhelming proof of his innocence.
The magistrate’s fixation on the lyrical and literary qualities of Santiago’s murder has a dizzying effect: of course, the murder isliterary—this is a novel, after all—and yet it’s also loosely based on real events. The magistrate’s character might be read as a kind of joke inserted by Márquez, a way for the author to acknowledge the improbability of the events of the novel while simultaneously lending them a certain credibility—“truth is stranger than fiction,” as they say.
The Narrator admits that it is his personal impression that Santiago died without understanding his own death. Of those who failed to warn Santiago that morning, many later claim that his apparent good spirits brought them to think the whole matter had been cleared up. Others, like Fausta López and Polo Carrillo, interpret his mood as arrogance. Indalecio Pardo, one of Santiago’s best friends, admits that when he had the chance to warn Santiago, he was simply too scared to say anything.
The Narrator here provides a more detailed picture of the community’s complicity in the murder. Strangely, it appears that everyone who fails to prevent the murder has a more or less unique reason for failing. The community’s complicity in the crime comes off as widespread incompetence more than malice.
Yamil Shaium, a old friend of Santiago’s father, Ibrahim, hears that Pedro and Pablo Vicario are plotting to kill Santiago. Of all people Yamil commands the most authority over Santiago, but he doesn’t want to alarm him unnecessarily, so he resolves to consult Cristo Bedoya first. When Cristo and Santiago are passing by Yamil’s shop, Yamil calls out to Cristo. Santiago takes his leave, and Yamil breaks the news to Cristo.
Yamil’s reticence—his chief concern seems to be maintaining a sense of propriety—proves fatal, and is in fact typical of the town at large. Everyday manners and rituals get in the way of moral courage.
Upon hearing the news, Cristo Bedoya is immediately distraught. He runs after Santiago, but finds that his friend has disappeared into the crowd. Thinking Santiago has gone home, he rushes to Plácida Linero’s house. There, Divina Flor and Victoria Guzmán tell Cristo that Santiago hasn’t returned. Cristo searches Santiago’s bedroom anyway, where he picks up a pistol, which he intends to bring to Santiago. He runs into Plácida Linero, which is cause for some confusion: he doesn’t have the heart to tell her that her son is in danger, and so can’t explain why he is in her house. He rushes out.
Cristo Bedoya is just about the only person who immediately recognizes the gravity of the situation, which emphasizes the closeness of his bond with Santiago. His desperate search for Santiago builds up tension as the novella comes to the close, even though we already know the inevitable outcome.
As Cristo is passing Clotilde’sstore, Pedro and Pablo Vicario emerge. Pedro looks haggard and unnaturally insolent, brandishing his knife, and Pablo is still wearing his wedding jacket. Pedro shouts at Cristo to tell Santiago he’s a dead man. Cristo, bluffing, warns them that Santiago is armed. The twins know better—Santiago never goes armed while wearing nice clothes. Clotilde appears behind the twins and shouts at Cristo to hurry up and warn Santiago, because it looks like no one else will.
Here, both the twins and Cristo are assuming roles that don’t come naturally to them—their threats to each other seem inauthentic, a kind of acting. All parties, it seems, have found themselves unwillingly thrust into a terrible, unfamiliar situation, in which they are expected to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t.
The twins’ shouts awaken interest, and people start convening in the square, waiting for something to happen. Cristo hurries off in search of Santiago. He asks everyone who passes, but no one has seen Santiago. He runs into Colonel Lázaro Aponte at the door of a social club and tells him that Pedro and Pablo are after Santiago. The Colonel, who confiscated the twins’ first pair of knives and sent them home, is confused at first, but eventually realizes that the two must have gotten new weapons. Cristo runs off. The Colonel resolves to do something to prevent the crime, but first goes into the social club to set a date for a game of dominoes. When he emerges again, the crime has been committed.
Colonel Aponte’s indifference and sluggishness is appalling, but like so many of the other townsfolk his complicity seems more a matter of incompetence and thick-headedness than outright malice. For the Colonel, it seems, the twins’ knife-brandishing was just a drunken display of machismo, so the thought that they went home to get new weapons is inconceivable.
Cristo, thinking that Santiago has perhaps gone to the Narrator’s house for breakfast, runs along the river bank. He is waylaid by Próspera Arango: she begs Cristo to help her with her father, who is dying on the stoop of the house. Cristo helps her carry her father inside, and when he emerges there are distant shouts coming from the square. He continues on to the Narrator’s house, running now, and when he approaches he runs into the Narrator’s Mother. She is weeping, and tells Cristo that she’s heard Santiago has been killed.
This entirely random obstacle is yet another example of a what the Magistrate might call a “coincidence typically forbidden literature.” And yet Cristo’s willingness to help the man further portrays him as a morally upstanding character—even if his commitment to kindness proves tragic in this case.
The Narrator explains that, while Cristo was looking for him, Santiago had gone into his fiancée Flora Miguel’s house. Cristo hadn’t thought to check there because he, like everyone else in the community, was under the impression that the Miguel family didn’t rise until noon. Flora had heard the news and was more mortified and angry than scared, thinking that the Vicario family would end up forcing Santiago to marry Angela as penance. When he enters Flora’s house, Santiago finds Flora in a rage. She shoves at him a chest full of letters he once sent her, and she tells him “I hope they kill you!” Santiago is so confused that he drops the chest of letters. Nahir Miguel enters the room. He explains to Santiago in Arabic that Pablo and Pedro are after him. Santiago becomes extremely confused and disoriented. Nahir offers to either hide him in his house or provide him with a rifle.
In a strange way, Flora Miguel’s chest of letters echoes Bayardo’s suitcase full of Angela’s letters. Flora and Angela, it turns out, occupy similar positions in society: both are kept cloistered in their house, and both are involved in engagements without having much choice in the matter. Santiago’s utter confusion upon hearing the news seems to corroborate the Narrator’s suspicions that Santiago had nothing to do with Angela, and had no idea what the twins had in store for him. Nahir’s willingness to help Santiago stands in stark contrast to the reactions of most townspeople.
Instead, Santiago stumbles outside, where a huge crowd has gathered. Santiago is so confused that he can’t remember which direction his house is in. Members of the crowd shout after him, telling him which way to run. Yamil Shaium shouts at Santiago to hide in Yamil’s store, then runs inside to retrieve his gun, but can’t find the cartridges. Santiago runs back and forth several times. He starts to run home as if to enter through the back, but then seems to remember that his front door, which is accessible through the square, is open, and starts off in that direction. Pedro and Pablo Vicario see him, stand up, and unsheathe their knives. Clotilde Armante grabs Pedro by the shirt and shouts at Santiago to run.
The shift from the intensely private Miguel household to the crowded, noisy public square is jarring—it’s almost as if Santiago has walked into a morbid surprise party. The shock reduces Santiago to something like a confused animal, and his scurrying around, egged on by shouts from the spectators, takes on the quality of a circus performance. In grabbing Pedro by the shirt, Clotilde is the first—and last—townsperson to physically intervene.
Back at Plácida Linero’s house, Victoria Guzmán finally tells Plácida that her son is in danger. Divina Flor is convinced that she saw Santiago Nasar, bearing flowers, come through the back door of the house and head up to his room, and she tells Victoria and Plácida as much. Plácida goes to the front door, through which she can see the Vicario twins running toward the house—but from her angle she can’t see Santiago, whom they’re pursuing. She closes and bolts the door just seconds before Santiago reaches it.
Divina’s vision is one of the few explicitly “magical” elements of the novel, and it is presented with little comment or explanation—such deadpan is typical of Márquez. Plácida’s failure to see Santiago running towards her is yet another fatal coincidence.
Pedro and Pablo Vicario catch up to Santiago at his door. Santiago turns to face them, and they begin stabbing him, first in the side, then everywhere. The twins later recall feeling surprised at how hard it is to kill a man, not realizing that it was their own knives holding Santiago up against the door, not letting him fall. Finally, Pablo Vicario gives Santiago a horizontal slash across the stomach, and his intestines spill out. The twins run off, pursued by Yamil Shaium and a group of Arabs.
In some ways, Pablo and Pedro seem every bit as bewildered by what they are doing as Santiago is. They deliver their brutal blows with a kind of detachment, surprised by their own actions. The violence is gratuitous, and Márquez doesn’t shy from describing it in extreme detail.
Plácida Linero, who this whole time thinks that Santiago is safe in his room, can’t find him in the house. She goes out on the second floor of the house and looks down into the square to see her son bleeding, trying to rise from the dirt. Santiago manages to stand and, cradling his intestines in his hands, passes through his neighbors’ house in order to get to his back door. The neighbors watch him pass through the kitchen and are petrified with fear. Santiago gets to his own back door, enters the house, and then falls on his face in the kitchen.
Santiago’s strange determination to reenter the privacy of his home tragically punctuates the intensely public nature of his murder. The death has been “foretold” from the start, but by ending the story with such a graphic description of the actual murder, Márquez delivers a powerful conclusion. Despite all the other forces of society, fate, memory, and ritual swirling around the act, at the center is nothing more nor less than a brutal murder.