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Literature / Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a 1981 novella written by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez (of One Hundred Years of Solitude fame) that tells the story of a man named Santiago Nasar who was brutally murdered by twin brothers named Pablo and Pedro Vicario the day after their sister Angela's wedding. The narrator tries to find out the reason behind the murder and the sequence of actions that lead to it.

Since the death itself is hinted in the title, there will be spoilers ahead.

This work shows examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The twins' knives, sharpened to the point Santiago gets gutted open in a single swipe. See The Butcher, below.
  • Ambiguous Situation: A lot of it, with several characters. The most obvious is probably whether or not Santiago took Angela's virginity or not. Everyone in town thinks that he didn't, though Angela never even hints about anyone else.
  • Arranged Marriage: Bayardo San Roman’s wedding with Angela Vicario was arranged by her family. Her opinion has no relevance here.
  • Asshole Victim: Santiago Nasar. The village is split between those who believe he deserved it for being a well-known (and highly annoying) ladies' man and those who at least believe he didn't deserve to be overkilled in the fashion the brothers gave him.
  • Because Destiny Says So: This is the argument the townspeople use to shake their guilt because of Santiago’s death off. The fact that a lot of Contrived Coincidences (acknowledged by the townspeople) allowed it to happen serves them as a good excuse.
  • Book Ends: The story begins and ends with narrations of Santiago's murder — the one at the beginning provides the more basic facts and the one at the end is much more descriptive (not to mention gory).
  • The Butcher: The twins are actual butchers. The relationship between their job and their murders is lampshaded upon. Interestingly, the other, less-murderous butchers, are somewhat personal and amiable towards their animals and do things like giving them human names and cannot bring themselves to sacrifice an animal they've interacted with (like drinking their milk).
  • Captain Obvious: Santiago’s last words: “They’ve killed me, Little Wene.” Consider that, at that point, his guts were hanging off his stomach.
  • The Casanova: Bayardo San Roman is a charming man who came to town seemingly with the sole purpose of finding a bride. Not much else is known about him.
  • The Cassandra: Clotilde keeps warning the other townspeople about the twins' murder plans, but barely anyone pays attention until it's too late.
  • Consummation Counterfeit: Part of the plan to keep rich suitor Bayardo San Román from finding out that Ángela Vicario (who he had just married) is not a virgin. Unfortunately, the plan needed him to fall asleep drunk for Ángela to perform the simulated motions... and his high tolerance to alcohol became a Spanner in the Works, and the ensuing panic over the loss of honor became the trigger for the titular murder.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Many of the events that ultimately led to Santiago's death are these.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: The town's reaction to Santiago Nasar's murder is mixed. On the one hand, it's generally agreed that the honor-based killing is justified, and his own crime would be posthumously forgiven as a result...but pretty much everyone agrees that he didn't really take Angela's virginity, even though she insists that he did.
  • The Ditz: The twins, and part of the reason almost nobody believes they'll end up killing Santiago.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The book starts with Santiago's ominous dream the morning before his murder. Through his mother who had an uncanny ability to interpret omens from dreams, he unsuccessfully tries to learn what it meant.
  • Double Standard: Angela losing her virginity before the wedding is reproachable, but the men going constantly to a brothel is completely acceptable.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Angela’s happy ending with Bayardo.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: After Santiago’s murder, the dogs start howling uncontrollably.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Please see the title. Also, the first line of the book tells us clearly that Santiago Nasar is going to be murdered.
  • Gorn: Santiago’s murder and autopsy.
  • Gossip Evolution: The tale has been debated by the townspeople for so long that, when the narrator tries to put the pieces back together, realizes that the people cannot agree what the weather was like, let alone the exact details of the murder.
  • Gossipy Hens: Men and women; this is how eventually the entire town (bar Santiago) knows what’s gonna happen.
  • High-Pressure Blood: One of Santiago's stabs results in this.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Vicario twins’ motive.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Angela Vicario's new husband rejects her and returns her to her mother upon finding that she isn't a virgin. Upon learning this, her mother flies into a rage and beats her.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Though that doesn’t stop Angela to keep writing to Bayardo.
  • Ineffectual Death Threats: Subverted. The twins tell everyone about their plan, but almost everyone thinks they’re just bluffing and don’t do anything to stop them (or can’t do it, the few who took them seriously). At the end, they seem to be almost forced to do it.
  • The Insomniac: Pedro Vicario suffers from this for eleven months after the murder.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The story says from the get-go some details about Santiago's death, and spends the rest going back and forth in time trying to put together the available details. The narrator makes clear, though, that after so much time all witnesses are highly unreliable.
  • Karma Houdini: The twins are let off after three years. Pedro leaves for the armed forces and his fate isn't certain, but Pablo goes on with his life as a husband.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The judge in charge of investigating the murder apparently "never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden in literature."
    • Similarly, the narrator compares Angela Vicario's happy advent with bad literature.
  • Magic Realism: The book has less and more subtle use of it than in other novels (like One Hundred Years of Solitude), but still it appear here and there, like for example the fact that the twins smell of Santiago during days after killing him.
    • In a plot-critical detail, Divina has some sort of vision of Santiago returning home just before the murder; as a result, she tells Placida that he's home, and Placida locks the door, trapping him outside. Divina's vision (assuming that she's telling the truth about it) is never explained.
  • Meaningful Name: Placida. There are also, a lot of people with purity-based titles, like Purisima, Divina, Cristo, Indalecio and Prudencia, playing with the theme that the entire town is guilty at some point.
  • My Beloved Smother: Pura Vicario is extremely strict and overbearing towards her daughters.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Angela Vicario turns out to not be a virgin after she marries Bayardo San Roman. Drama ensues: they divorce, her mother abuses her, and the twins set out to kill whoever took it.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: A lot of the townspeople don’t believe the twins at first, thinking it might be just drunkards’ boast, until later when they realize they’re serious.
  • Mythology Gag: Bayardo’s father, Petronio, met Colonel Aureliano Buendia. Also, the narrator's family are related with Gerineldo Marquez, who appeared in the same novel than Colonel Buendia.
  • Nausea Fuel: In-universe, Santiago's horribly botched autopsy leaves everyone present shocked and nauseated. One person faints, and Lázaro Aponte can't bring himself to eat meat anymore after the experience.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Subverted; Santiago ends up fighting the twins only with Good Old Fisticuffs, while they have Absurdly Sharp Blades. Guess who loses.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A lot of people end up contributing to the murder. The most notable, however, is Santiago’s mother, Placida, who, thinking Santiago had already taken refuge in the house, blocked the main door to stop the twins from entering. Unfortunately for her, Santiago not only was still outside, but he also was just a few steps from the main door.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted.
  • No Name Given: The narrator. However, by the end it can be deduced that the narrator is Marquez himself - he mentions that "his aunt, Wenefrida Marquez" saw Santiago moments before his death.
    • The narrator refers repeatedly to "my sister, the nun" without naming her.
  • Nuns Are Funny: The narrator's sister is a nun, but dances ecstatically at the wedding.
  • Odd Name Out: Angela is the only member of the Vicario family whose given name doesn't start with a P.
  • Oh, and X Dies: The very first sentence of the novel is this.
  • Parental Abandonment: Santiago's father died at an early age.
  • Police Are Useless: Lázaro Aponte (mayor and retired colonel) acts as one when he takes away the twins' knives and simply orders them home. This is as close as it gets to stopping the twins, but nonetheless is just a useless slap on the wrist.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Somewhat. The narrator is trying to reconstruct the weird circumstances surrounding the honor murder of a childhood friend, so he investigates the surviving witnesses and the court records. However, only the main facts remain with each retelling, as people can't even remember what weather was that day.
  • Rasputinian Death: Santiago's murder results in this, both in the sense that the twins hate him enough to do this and in the sense that it takes a lot for him to die.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: This is what the whole town supposedly thinks; the twins must kill Santiago to regain their honor. Prudencia, Pablo’s fiancée, even admits she wouldn’t have married him if he hadn't killed Santiago.
  • Recurring Dreams: The twins have dreams about the murder, preventing them from sleeping.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Though it’s possible that Santiago was indeed the one who took Angela’s virginity, especially considering his behavior, we never find out the truth. Angela insists it was him, but a lot of characters cast doubt on that, since they rarely saw each other, even less spoke.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Either the twins unwittingly announced their intentions to kill Santiago not expecting anybody to stop them, or they secretly hoped for somebody to stop them and used this trope to attain that. Either way, their confession comes out as this.
  • Small Town, Big Hell: In the story, all the crime and their related events occured in a small town where all the villagers know each other and the rumors and sayings are known for everyone.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: While Bayardo has Love at First Sight for Angela, their Arranged Marriage occurs despite her own feelings. After her rejection, however, she becomes obsessed with him, sending about 2,000 letters over the course of decades. He never read them, but eventually reciprocates.
  • Tag Team Twins: Pedro and Pablo Vicario.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Santiago is a lot like his father, Ibrahim, including some of his less likable attitudes.
  • Wife Husbandry: In one instance, the narrator affirms that during the wedding party he proposed marriage to a girl who was still in elementary school; he did not raise her, but they eventually married.
  • Work Hard, Play Hard: Santiago Nasar is a self-made man whose purpose in life is large parties.