The novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Marquez is set in a Hispanic town in Columbia during the 20th century. Santiago Nasar’s murder is conducted by the Vicario twins after their sister Angela Vicario pinpointed Santiago as the man who took her virginity before her marriage. Imagery such as predator and prey and surreal imagery evokes a pejorative stab at the inhumanity that accepts the honour-seeking in a society where male privilege and obligations of machismo are normalised. The violence inherent in such society is revealed through vivid descriptions of Santiago Nasar as a hapless victim, women as subjugated individuals, and the townspeople as accomplices to the murder. Marquez uses various imagery in dismantling firmly held religious beliefs and values by unmasking the hypocritical yet self- justified bias and violence against marginalised people such as women and Nasar.
This hypocrisy is apparent in the imagery used in the depiction of women. This imagery reveals a sexually repressed Catholic society, which is deeply concerned with the regulation of female desire while venerating prostitutes as holy figures. The narrator first describes how Angela Vicario’s “brothers were brought up to be men” and “the girls [sisters] had been reared to get married” (Marquez 30). The verb “reared” is associated with animals, but by utilising it for the daughters, the resulting animal imagery immediately emphasises how daughters are inferior to the brothers. These paired phrases and sentence structure increase the expectation of similar fates for sons and daughters, but instead of being “reared” to be women, daughters simply “get married”, which emphasises the idea that marriage becomes a woman’s entire identity. This implicitly highlights how women themselves internalise and normalise the cultural norms of patriarchal society. Contrastingly, prostitutes are portrayed using divine religious imagery. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator describes his recovery from wedding night in Maria Cervantes’s “house of mercies” as he wakes in her “apostolic lap” (30). The religious imagery reinforced by the adjective “apostolic” portrays her as a messianic figure who helps the “recovering” of the narrator in her “house of mercies”, depicting the brothel as a place that absolves sins. The holy depiction of a prostitute’s sexual services in a Catholic town reveals the dichotomy in female representation, which traps women in roles that are either subservient or promiscuous, which lends more freedom to men while regulating the women. By revealing society’s double standards for women through contrasting imagery, the author highlights the deep-rooted hypocrisy embedded in the way women are perceived.
Marquez also uses imagery to portray the relationship between the sexes as one between predator and prey. This mirrors the patriarchal frame of thought that dominates the Catholic church and demands a different set of behaviour from its male and female disciples. For example, Santiago Nasar’s servant Divina Flor comes to take an empty mug from him, he grabs her by the wrist and tells her, “The time has come for you to be tamed” (8). The phrase “tamed” is connotative of entrapping and subduing a wild animal, creating the image of Santiago trying to gain full control of her by forcing submission as one would domesticate an animal. The phrase the “time has come” normalises and legitimises the sexual objectification of Divina Flor, which suggests the unchanging power dynamic between Divina Flor as a powerless younger woman and Santiago Nasar as a powerful man. Another instance is the way Divina Flor herself recalls how she “couldn’t avoid the butcher hawk hand again” as he grabs her “whole pussy” (12). A hawk in itself is a predator, but in conjunction with the “butcher” that adds the connotation of violence to Nasar’s hand, Marquez highlights how Nasar is able to exert overwhelming authority using only his single hand. The supposed regularity and inevitability of this predator-like power reinforces the idea that women, especially subordinates like Divina Flor, are the prey. This imagery also reflects the hypocrisy in patriarchal social norms which normalises sexual predatory behaviour of men while demanding submission and chastity from women.
Santiago Nasar’s murder is another example that reveals the hypocrisy rooted in a religious code of conduct that justifies violence for the sake of honour. Details of the murder are rich in romanticised and surreal imagery. The killing begins as Pedro Vicario “pulled out his knife with his slaughter’s iron wrist” (119). The “iron wrist” adds a sense of automatic, mechanical and unhesitant movement to Pedro’s actions. The imagery takes on a surreal and distorted vision during the murder when the twins’ knife does not show any blood but “kept coming out clean”, absolving and sanitising the twins of the horrific slaughter (119). Furthermore, Marquez adds a romantic tone to his depiction of murder. For instance, their actions are presented in strangely beautiful and lyrical language as they knife Santiago with “easy stabs”, as if they are “floating in the dazzling backwater” (120). The tranquillity of the “floating” motion with smooth edges, creates an image of their minds being separated from their physical bodies in a dreamy unconsciousness, which seems to bewilder the twins themselves. The oxymoronic phrase “dazzling backwater” describes this ambiguous state of their minds, emphasising the detachment and dissociation of their action from any sense of awareness, remorse, or fear. This meandering “backwater” is “dazzling” creates a dreamy and poetic atmosphere imbued with glistening light that hazes one’s conscious view. This absurdly unrealistic and romanticised imagery stays true to magical realism, creating an uneasy contrast to the violence of the murder.
Moreover, it glorifies the killing and highlights the hypocritical behaviour of a community dedicated to the Catholic faith. The lofty ideals and rigid rules expected from a Catholic community dissipate in an exaggerated manner. Phrases like “easy” and “floating” connote an image of the twins untethered from the weight of guilt. Such adjectives imply fluidity, ease and carefreeness, eliciting a feeling of nonchalance, as exemplified by the apathetic reactions of the townspeople who were aware of the impending murder. This surreal imagery epitomises how Marquez explores the truth of Nasar’s death and how the town’s acceptance of their collective crime distorts and dilutes it in an attempt to illustrate how truth is unreliable like a fantasy even in a moment where it is most evident – when a life is brutally and forcefully taken.
It is a hyperbolic embellishment of the code of honour, serving as a mockery of the honour. The imagery used to depict Nasar’s autopsy also lays bare the violence inherent in the moral code which led to his death. The autopsy is conducted by an authority of the Catholic church, reinforcing the idea that honour justifies even the most gratuitous and grotesque violence. Father Amador commences the autopsy with hardly the appropriate knowledge and tools, yet his report is acknowledged in great detail despite these details having “no legal standing”, because it lacks logical justification but only highly superficial and sensuous description of Nasar’s death, almost like a performance (75). This lack of justification of the autopsy is heightened by the vivid and brutal imagery of Father Amador rummaging through Nasar’s flesh, reducing him to nothing but meat, which is reminiscent of the “easy stab” of the twins. This serves as a significant contrast to the seemingly professional language used by Father Amador, once again revealing the hypocrisy of a society controlled by a rigid set of values.
The autopsy is presented as a serious clinical procedure reflected by the medical jargon used by Father Amador such as “thoracic cavity” and “perforations” (75). Marquez, however, utilises vivid imagery to compare it to a “massacre”, which portrays Santiago as a mass of dead victims and adds hyperbolic weight to his death, emphasising the senseless brutality of the autopsy. Santiago after the autopsy has “half of the cranium […] destroyed”, which is a result of purposeless violence during the procedure itself (76). At the end of the autopsy, Father Amador reports that Santiago had a “bright future”, which is irrelevant to an autopsy but also a jarring and ironic contrast to the depiction of the dead body as an “empty shell” (76; 77). The use of “empty shell” signifies how Santiago Nasar is both physically empty as he is a lifeless body without any intestines and also spiritually taken away his identity. The grotesque violence inflicted on the body is entirely exaggerated to provide a dehumanising effect, which once again highlights the arbitrary quality of moral codes in the society that lead to Nasar’s death.
Marquez’s treatment of truth reflects the absurd and arbitrary manner with which social norms are enforced on different groups of people. This constant use of imagery that contradicts a claim or a norm reveals how the town is full of hypocrisy, which makes truth completely lose its credence. Marquez thus exhibits the randomness, falsehood and inhumanity evident in any defined social structure to provoke a revaluation of blind faith in religion. Imagery uncovers the corrupt and self-righteous nature of authority, which targets the weak and vulnerable of a society.
- Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. London: Penguin, 2014. Print.