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Un-Chronicling Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Contemporary Literature (ii)

Anvitii Rai

B.A (H) English Third Year

Roll no. 95

 

 

UN-CHRONICLING MARQUEZ’S CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD 

 

On the outset, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold appears to be a meticulously pieced together mosaic of memories. While revisiting an event which happened almost three decades before the present in the novel, the unnamed author reports the accounts of the various townsfolk, making it a redundant and somewhat self-contradictory sequence of events of a scandal which remains in the town’s memory, but only so. As is suggested by the title, the novel is a chronicle- its purpose being the historicizing of the murder of Santiago Nasar. But upon closer inspection, one finds that what appears to be a jumble of carefully collected memories is a complexly constructed narrative which isn’t only a chronicle, but also consists of elements from other genres as well.

 

In fact, one can argue that Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not a chronicle at all. While it does record the accounts of witnesses and the townsfolk, it does not, in fact, lead the reader to the actual conclusion of the events. Rather, the various accounts confuse and deceive the reader. It is important to note that the novel functions on deceptions- its primary premise is the turn of events after a sexual deception (by Angela), and the novel succeeds in distracting the reader from the real mystery of the novel, which is that of Santiago’s guilt or innocence, clearly making it not a systematic account of history. Another feature to be noted is the novel not actually following a chronological order. So, the question stands- what, then, is Chronicle of a Death Foretold?

 

It is not possible to sort Chronicle of a Death Foretold into a single genre. Rather, if analysed, the text consists of elements of various genres- tragedy, romance, magical realism, parody, and as Marquez himself said- detective fiction. This paper attempts to examine these elements of the text. Since the focus is on generic analysis, the text will not be analysed sociologically.

 

Not a Chronicle

Firstly, it is important to establish what the novel is not. As mentioned, it is arguable that Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not a chronicle at all, as the event of Santiago Nasar’s death never reaches its telos- which is the clear establishment of his guilt or innocence. The narrative is constructed out of memory-

I had a very confused memory of the festival before I decided to rescue it piece by piece from the memory of others…In the course of the investigations for this chronicle I recovered numerous marginal experiences. (Marquez, pp.43)

Of course, history is, to an extent, constituted of memories. Memories are subjective, and can be modified by the speaker- so as to conceal something, or change something entirely. Also, in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, memories are contradictory, and it makes it an unreliable narrative. The novel also doesn’t provide the main requirement of a chronicle- that of its events being arranged in a chronological order. It is almost as if the narrator is re-imagining, and not reconstructing the scandal- as the narrative jumps back and forth in time, it almost seems like the musings of the narrator written as a report. Jorge Olivares in his essay ‘Garcia Marquez’s “Cronica de una Muerta Anunciada” as Metafiction’ ‘un-chronicles’ the novel:

Even as Cronica claims that it is a chronicle, that is, a historical record of facts or events arranged chronologically, it subverts its apparent intention. Not only does its achronology violate the norms of the genre; in addition, the account neglects to establish the facts that have led to Santiago Nasar's punishment for supposedly having deflowered Angela Vicario. Cronica is a redundant and temporally dislocated text whose narrative fabric is woven of numerous repetitions, conjectures, and versions - generally contradictory. For example, did it rain that fateful Monday in February when Santiago Nasar was murdered? Some townspeople say that it did; others disagree. But where most of them seem to be in agreement is in their disbelief that Santiago may have seduced Angela in spite of the woman's persistent assertions to the contrary. Santiago's guilt or innocence goes unresolved, however, a fact that seems to confirm to the reader that Cronica is not a chronicle. (Olivares, pp.483)

 

As a Journalistic Text

Marquez was a journalist by profession, and as a writer, the challenge he faced was the gap between fiction and journalism. In this light, his works can be seen as attempt to bridge this gap, by creating narratives based on real events, but still featuring fiction- paradoxically creating a fictional report. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the narrator revisits the foretold, unfortunate death of Santiago in an attempt to make sense of the sequence of events, and what happened to the people involved after them- thereby creating not a report, but a narrative. The five chapters are five different angles to what happened, which also include flashbacks, and elements of prophecy- the whole town knows that the Vicario twins are out to murder Santiago Nasar. Unexpected from a report, the characters are well-developed, and the reader gets to know what happened to them at the end- all of course, but the real perpetrator of the crime, if Santiago was innocent (in support of which the narrative drops several hints). The narrative technique is, ironically, alternatively journalistic and fictive, making the overall product not a report. Thus, the novella is, in fact, a successful attempt to blend journalism and fiction. This also proves that while not a chronicle, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is certainly, to a degree, a journalistic text. Gregory Rabassa, in his commentary on the novella, states-

 

"Chronicle of a Death Foretold" might well be the book that Garcia Marquez was projecting in his Havana interview when he said that he wanted to write the false memoirs of his own life. He is not the protagonist of the story, but he is not only the author; he is the narrator…When Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that he was abandoning literature for journalism, he probably did not realize the ambiguity of his statement, and since then, as he has done in his reportage, he has come to the conclusion that in technique at least - and possibly in many other ways as well - they are the same. (Rabassa, 50)

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