The coexistence of divine destiny and free will is an ancient paradox at the centre of Greek tragedy and, more recently, of the Catholic faith. However, by inevitable, I mean if there was no other possible outcome to the story because of their society and other factors, rather than divine influence. In the Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Santiago Nasar is assassinated. A case can be made for the murder to be inevitable because of the traditions of the village inhabitants or due to the free will of the characters. This raises the line of inquiry: to what extent was the death of Santiago inevitable rather than caused by actions made freely? Through an analysis of the author language, use of symbolism and his portrayal of the society, readers can recognise two perspectives. Either the protagonist was doomed to die, the concept of destiny being implied not only in the title of the book itself but also in the first sentence: ‘On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar woke up at five-thirty’ (p.1) Or Santiago’s murder was a deliberate act, perpetrated and permitted by the characters in the novel.
There are mystical elements to the murder. The narrator came back to the town 27 years later, with an obvious desire to find out rational reasons for the murder but he just couldn’t understand how it could possibly have happened: “No matter how much they tossed the story back and forth, no one could explain to me how poor Santiago Nasar ended up being involved in such a mixup.”(p.20) At first glance there are so many coincidences leading to his death that it can only be explained by fate. It is believed that a young man took Angela Vicario’s virginity. On her wedding night, Bayardo San Roman gave back his bride Angela, after discovering that she was not a virgin. Even though the twins Pablo and Pedro announced loud and clear their intention to avenge their sister’s honour by killing Santiago, no one was able to warn him in time. There are countless examples of Santiago not being warned. For example, an anonymous warning letter he did not notice, the fact that Cristo Bedoya searched Santiago on the morning of the murder to alert him of the Vicario brothers’ plan but did not find him or the fact that his mother had locked the door because she thought he was already there which left him trapped in front of his house where he was killed and many more coincidences.
Furthermore, the narrator tries to convey the mystery of the assassination with his vocabulary and use of symbolism. He repeatedly uses the words “fate” and “destiny”: “their part of the destiny that life had assigned to them” (p.84) or “ill-fated night” to support the interpretation that the tragedy was predestined. The narrator is using foreshadowing through the use of symbols like flowers about which Santiago says, they are “equal in cost to those of fourteen first-class funerals.” Furthermore, he says that the smell of flowers makes him think about death. Birds are also frequently mentioned and can be interpreted as a symbol for bad omen, as augurs and prophets read the future by watching birds in ancient Greece. Lastly, it is a coincidence that Santiago’s mother who is famous for interpreting people’s dream accurately, could not recognise anything in the “dreams of trees he’d told her about on the morning preceding his death. (p.2)
I think that the society in which they lived led to a situation, where the murder was inevitable. The novel criticizes this patriarchal society, where women cannot choose their husbands and are raised to endure suffering, but also a society where honour and reputation are extremely important. Losing one’s dignity means becoming an outcast of their society. Furthermore, it is a society in which there is a clear hierarchy, everyone has to stay at its place and this contributed to the murder, because everyone was too paralysed to take real action. Additionally, I see a critic of the society in the irony of their religious situation. The characters of the novel consider themselves religious but when the priest passes their town, he does not want to stop there, is a further critic to this society. This shows that people outside their town know that they do not stand by their religious values and morality. Furthermore, it is ironic that the report about the murder wrote “it looked like the stigma of the crucified Christ, although they brutally assassinate Santiago, with multiple cuts and he died bleeding out. The narrator writes: “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.”(p.84) Their traditions and culture are so deeply engrained that the town people see murder as their “duty” as a “grand” gesture, that will restore dignity. It is a typical case of honour killing, when the murder is committed publicly, so that other people can witness it and the murder turns himself in and is seen as a hero. In Garcià’s novel, the wife of one of the twins explicitly states she would not have married him if he had not avenged his sister’s honour. Pablo and Pedro were motivated to kill by social pressures. With the quote “so he put the knife in his hand and dragged him off almost by force in search of their sister’s lost honour. ‘There’s no way out of this,’ he told him. ‘It’s as if it had already happened’ ” (p.62), the reader understands that the twins consider the crime as their duty, imposed on them by their culture, their norms and their religion. And even though they do their best to escape them, almost surrendering at one point, they saw no other way than stabbing Santiago. Lastly, the Garcià criticizes the principles of honour killing, as he strongly implies that there is no proof of Santiago’s relationship with the bribe and that he is probably innocent. He was killed anyway, without the twins even questioning the validity of the statement, because their honour had already been damaged.
While there are many indications that Santiago’s death was inevitable, there is also the interpretation that twins and other characters were responsible for his death and that it could have been prevented. First, the Vicario brothers are not the only culprits. Without the ‘complicity’ or rather the non-response of others, Santiago would still be alive. Although some people in the community, such as Clothilde Armenta and Yamil, tried to prevent the crime, people unconsciously agreed that he had to die. They were so influenced by their cultural doctrines that no one questions the brothers’ decision to kill to restore the honour of their family. Several characters, such as Victoria Guzmán and Divina Flor, could have warned Santiago but chose not to. In addition, the interpretation of free will implies that all the characters are more or less responsible for the murder. Indeed, part of the narrator’s language supports this interpretation of the tragedy, especially his insistence on describing the murder as a ‘crime’. At other times, he even suggests that the entire community, not just the Vicario twins, is guilty. With the quotes “For the immense majority of people there was only one victim: Bayardo San Román.” (p.84) and “Fatality makes us invisible” (p.114), the author shows that the characters are oblivious of their sense of responsibility, they do not understand that they are guilty.
To conclude, Santiago’s death can be interpreted in two different ways, which paradoxically are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The author, who is Catholic, seems to indicate that the murder of the protagonist includes elements of destiny as well as culprits, who did not react ‘morally’ and have a share of responsibility in this tragedy. There is also a critic of the society and of honour killing, as Santiago was probably innocent, but characters were too paralysed in their place in the hierarchy that they did not prevent the murder. Furthermore, the author gives indications for both interpretations in his language. On the one hand, he talks non-stop about fate and destiny, using flowers and birds as symbols of bad omen. On the other hand, he calls this tragedy a ‘crime’, which implies perpetrators. And even if the coincidences seem too numerous to be chance, perhaps the norms of society have provoked this situation, where killing to regain one’s dignity is not seen as a crime.