If the primary drama of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the murder of Santiago Nasar, the secondary drama is the Narrator’s work of researching, recollecting, and representing the murder. His narrative style is journalistic: after many years, the narrator is attempting to put together a comprehensive account of Santiago Nasar’s murder. Structurally the novel resembles a documentary film: a dramatization or reconstruction of the murder is framed and informed by a huge number of witness testimonials, which are presented to the reader as direct quotes, or “talking heads.”
Though the narrator casts a wide net of discovery, he struggles at times to pin down the facts of the case—no two witnesses can agree on every single detail. A haze hovers over the events of the murder, partly because so many years have passed, and partly because everyone in town was exceedingly drunk on the night of the wedding. Instead of representing only those facts that strike him as true, the Narrator presents as many accounts of the fateful morning as he can, and refuses to polish over the contradictions they pose. Through these many contradicting accounts—one notable example being the widespread uncertainty about the weather on the day of the murder—the narrative demonstrates that memory is fallible, and that sometimes remembering is more like fiction-making than fact-finding. Most facts are lost to the past, and memory is just a story we tell ourselves.
Furthermore, while memory can make fiction out of facts, sometimes the facts themselves can seem stranger than fiction. The uncertain border between fact and fiction is explicitly remarked upon by the Narrator and a number of the characters, most notably in the final third of the novel, when the Magistrate investigating the case becomes increasingly perplexed by the idea that “life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature.” This observation that life sometimes reads as bad fiction takes on a new complexity when one considers that a) the murder of Santiago Nasar is of course fictional—this is a novel!—and b) the novel is based loosely on true events.
Overall, Márquez seems to suggest throughout his novel that the border between fact and fiction cannot so easily be drawn—experience, especially traumatic experience, and especially traumatic experience seen through the lens of memory, is as much experienced as it is constructed.
Fact, Fiction, and Memory ThemeTracker
Fact, Fiction, and Memory Quotes in Chronicle of a Death Foretold
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.
No one could understand such fatal coincidences. The investigating judge who came from Riohacha must have sensed them without daring to admit it, for his impulse to give them a rational explanation was obvious in his report. The door to the square was cited several times with a dime-novel title: “The Fatal Door.”
I met him a short while after she did, when I came home for Christmas vacation, and I found him just as strange as they had said. He seemed attractive, certainly, but far from Magdalena Oliver's idyllic vision. He seemed more serious to me than his antics would have led one to believe, and with a hidden tension that was barely concealed by his excessive good manners.
She only took the time necessary to say the name. She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written.
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.
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.
He was so perplexed by the enigma that fate had touched him with, that he kept falling into lyrical distractions that ran contrary to the rigor of his profession. Most of all, he never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature, so that there should be the untrammeled fulfillment of a death so clearly foretold.
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.