Manifestations of love in Chronicle of a Death Foretold are ritualistic, and the novel itself is a ritual which re-enacts Santiago Nasar's death. When Bayardo San Roman first comes to town, he decides to marry Angela Vicario, whom he has never met. His courtship of Angela demonstrates the rituals of Latin American marriage culture. He brings her a gift of a music box inlaid with mother-of-pearl for her birthday, and obtains everything his future bride asks for. The purpose of this courtship ritual is not to cause the lovers to fall deeper in love but rather to demonstrate the man's affluence and power. Personality does not determine worthiness; rather, their family and wealth do.
Angela Vicario's obsessive letter writing is another example of ritual. Angela does not care what she says in her letters; she is more concerned with the fact that Bayardo is receiving them. The ritual of writing brings her happiness. Similarly, Bayardo San Roman does not read her letters, but receiving two thousand letters over the course of seventeen years gives him the certainty that she is serious in her desire for him to return to her.
The novel's style is itself a ritual repetition of the events surrounding a crime. It does not follow a traditional narrative arc, but rather is told for the cathartic value of the act of telling. The only thing we gain from reading the story is the same limited knowledge of the occurrence that is available to the narrator. In this sense, the novel can be seen as a mere ritual of investigation as an end in itself with no other results or discoveries.
In the culture of the Colombian town in which the narrative takes place, honor is taken very seriously. Nobody in the novel ever questions any action that is taken to preserve someone's honor, since it is commonly believed to be a fundamental moral trait that is vital to keep intact. A person without honor is an outcast in the community.
All of the characters in the novel are influenced by this powerful construction of honor. The defense of this ideal is directly responsible for Santiago Nasar's murder. The Vicario brothers kill Santiago in order to restore the honor of their sister. She dishonors her family by marrying another man when she had already slept with someone else. In order for this wrong to be righted, her brothers must kill Santiago, the man who supposedly took her virginity, in order to clear her name. Though a few people in the community, like Clothilde Armenta and Yamil Shaium, try to prevent the death from occurring, most people turned the other cheek, because they believed that the severity of the crime deserved a cruel punishment. The fact that death was considered a reasonable retribution for the crime of taking a girl's virginity indicates how awful it was to sleep with an unmarried woman; doing so ruined her chances of marrying well, and marriage was women's one way to advance in the world.
More main ideas from Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Discuss the structure of the novel. How is it laid out-linearly, cyclically, randomly, or in some other way? How does this structure inform the novel's themes?
Who are what is most to blame for Santiago Nasar's murder and why? Is any person or social institution more to blame for Santiago's murder than others?
The narrator states that most of the townspeople thought that the main victim of the tragedy was Bayardo San Roman. Do you agree with their conclusion? Why or why not?
How important is the setting of the novel (in a small Colombian town)? In what ways does Colombian culture find expression in the people and events of the novel?
Discuss gender relations in the novel. How are men and women treated differently? Does this different treatment affect the novel's development? What do you believe to be Garcia Marquez' position with regard to this different treatment of men and women?
Look for evidence as to whether or not Santiago was really Angela's lover. Argue for or against this possibility.
Why do you think that Angela chose Santiago Nasar as her scapegoat? Would the novel have been different if she had chosen another character? What does it mean for Angela to have chosen a scapegoat at all?
What role do coincidences play in the novel? What do these coincidences mean in terms of the narrative? Is fate solely-or at least largely-responsible for Santiago's death? How does narrative itself generally treat coincidences? Pay close attention to the judges remark that many of the coincidences in the event are not "allowed" to literature.
Garcia Marquez is a famous proponent of magical realism. Citing specific examples, discuss the existence or non-existence of this genre in Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Discuss animal imagery in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, concentrating on Santiago in particular. Note his dream of birds, the butterfly analogy in the discussion of Angela's accusation, and other instances in which Santiago is compared, expressly or obliquely, to an animal. Along these lines, what part do Santiago Nasar's dogs play in the novel?