The Role of the Narrator in Ch. 3 of Chronicle of a Death Foretold
By Sugandha Srivastav
The narrator in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is homodiegetic meaning he is a character within the story who has some level of action. The story is hence, told from ‘the inside’ making it seem more real, and the narrator, more reliable. However, the narrator is not present at the time of Santiago Nasar’s death. Nor is he narrating from the present. As such, Chronicle of a Death Foretold recounts a death twenty-seven years after its occurrence and is largely based on second-hand accounts pieced together by the narrator. This distance in terms of time and space on the one hand, allow the narrator to take on an objective tone about the death and investigate it in a solely factual manner but on the other, add to the uncertainty and unreliability of the narrative. By virtue of exploring the death twenty-seven years later, the narrator has the liberty to shift from the past to the present and add in details of what would become of the people involved.This gives a holistic account of the chronicle, its after-effects, and players. The narrative perspective, persona, mode and structure are thus, crucial to the reader’s perception of Santiago’s death and to what degree the readers consider it fated or a result of a communal pressures and expectations.
The narrative perspective is first-person homodiegetic. Hence, during the narrative there are several instances when the narrator voices his own opinions reminding the reader that he was a part of the small-town Caribbean community. He describes Maria Alejandrina Cervantes’ as “the most elegant and tender woman I have ever known…" This reveals his intimacy vis-à-vis her and later reveals how it affected his view of the chronicle. For example, when the narrator discusses where the Vicario twins went first to look for Santiago Nasar, he gives Maria’s view the most credibility by saying, “and knowing her so well, I never doubted it." This gives rise to the question whether the narrator is a truly objective raconteur since it seems that his relationship with Maria created a bias in the narrative. Additionally, the reader learns about the narrator’s own character since he uses such praising adjectives for a woman whose profession is prostitution. This creates dramatic irony since on one hand Angela’s premarital sex results in the loss of honour for the Vicario family, while on the other hand, a prostitute is described so reverently. This illustrates the double-standards of the community.
Similarly, through some of the other first-person accounts, the narrator’s relationship with Santiago Nasar and the Vicario twins is revealed showing the level of involvement the narrator had within the community. When discussing the difference between Pablo and Pedro Vicario, the narrator says, “We, their friends, had spotted it ever since grammar school." The use of first-person plural and Marquez’s syntax involving the placement of commas, stresses on the fact that the narrator, Santiago Nasar, Cristo Bedoya and Luis Enrique were the twins’ close friends. This is a significant revelation since it later helps in explaining why Vicario twins showed reluctance in killing Santiago. Cosmic irony is also evident when despite the twins’ efforts to get someone to stop them, they still managed to murder Santiago - illustrating the degree to which Santiago’s death was ‘foretold’ or fated. The narrator’s closeness to Santiago is especially evident when the narrator actually gives an example of what he once said to him: “‘A falcon who chases a warlike crane can only hope for a life of pain.’" This idiomatic piece of advice not only illustrates the intimacy between the narrator and Santiago but also shows the narrator’s own wisdom.
The narrative persona is however, on the whole visibly detached. The narrator includes gruesome details without emotion. He describes one of the knives with which Santiago is murdered as a knife “for quartering, with a strong, rusty blade twelve inches long and three inches wide…" The inclusion of such precise, minute and hair-splitting detail indicates how much the community already knew about Santiago’s death. The purely factual manner of description and the uncensorship of unpleasant details evokes a feeling of uneasiness in the reader due to the narrator’s directness. Moreover, the adjectives Marquez uses create visual and tactile imagery since the reader can not only visualize the knife but almost feel the damage it is capable of causing. This feeling induced in the reader greatly contrasts with the narrator’s impassiveness. Nevertheless, it is the latter’s blatancy in revealing the worst of details which contributes the reader’s disgust and horror. This coupled with the fact that the community was aware of the mode in which Santiago would be murdered creates judgement against the community and highlights the fact that it did consider murder to be legitimate in the case of reviving lost honour.
The detached persona helps to maintain the detective and investigative mode of narration. The narrative follows a very precise structure which illustrates the objective nature of the narrator’s inquiry. First, the narrator introduces a point of investigation. For example, he asks the butchers “whether or not the trade of slaughterer didn’t reveal a soul predisposed to killing a human being." Marquez’s diction, through the verb “predisposed" highlights that the narrator is subtly looking into the role of fate in Santiago’s death. Thereafter, the narrator allows the party in question to voice its side through the inclusion of dialogue. Thus, one butcher exclaims that ‘“when you sacrifice a steer you don’t dare look into its eyes."’ Whereas, another explains that he’d never “[sacrifice] a cow if he’d known it before…" The inclusion of multiple testimonies increases the narrator’s credibility since it indicates his thoroughness in investigation. Finally after hearing these testimonies the narrator tests their validity by “[reminding] them that the Vicario brothers sacrificed the same hogs they raised." Thus, a very clear structure can be seen in which the narrator makes a claim or an inquiry, gathers evidence to support it and finally tests the validity of the argument. This is in accordance with the detective mode of narration and as such, allows the narrator to gather reasonably reliable information about community and fate’s role in Santiago’s death..
The different narrative techniques are crucial to Chronicle of a Death Foretold as they not only affect the style of presentation but also link into important themes in the novella. The narrative perspective effectively allows the reader to look into the community’s role in the death of Santiago Nasar and consider to what extent one can be a victim of communal pressures.Contrariwise, the narrative diction and tone at times suggest an element fate was involved in Santiago’s death. Here, it comes down to the reader’s interpretation and judgement to decide which factor was greater in contributing to Santiago’s death.