Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez grew up in the tiny rural town of Aracateca, Colombia, in the hinterlands of eastern Colombia. He and his parents lived in his maternal grandparents’ large ancestral house. His grandfather, Nicolás Márquez, was a colonel who had fought in the War of 1,000 Days, a civil conflict that divided Colombia around the turn of the century, and he often regaled young Gabriel with stories from his past. When Nicolás died, the family moved to Barranquilla, a river port on the coast of the Caribbean. Márquez received a top-notch education, eventually graduating from law school. He became a journalist, reporting for various newspapers as a foreign correspondent. The work took him all over: he lived in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Bogotá, Caracas, New York City, and Mexico City. Alongside his journalistic efforts, he wrote a handful of short stories and three novels, but it wasn’t until 1967—with the publication of his masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude—that his fiction won widespread literary acclaim. That novel, a multi-generational epic that crams the entire history of Latin America into the story of Macondo, a small, fictional town, was an instant success, and inaugurated a veritable literary boom in Latin America. (This boom included authors such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Isabel Allende, and Roberto Bolaño.) After 1967 Márquez turned most of his attention to fiction writing. He went on to publish seven novels—including Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)—two short story collections, and seven nonfiction books. During this latter half of his life he lived in Spain, Mexico City, Paris, and Havana. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. He died in 2014.
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Historical Context of Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The historical event most relevant to Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the one on which the novel is based. In 1951, in the small town of Sucre, Colombia, Cayetano Gentile Chimento was murdered by two brothers, who alleged that he had deflowered their sister before her marriage to another man (the man had returned the sister to her parents after discovering, on their wedding night, that she was not a virgin). Cayetano was a friend of the Márquez family; his mother had been a godmother to Gabriel’s brother. Márquez immediately became transfixed by the story. However, at the behest of his mother, he vowed not to write about it until Cayetano’s mother died. But besides this one murder—a tiny blip in the scheme of Colombian history—there isn’t one historical event that can be singled out as crucial to understanding Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The novel’s ahistorical quality is in fact typical of Márquez’s work, whose ambiguous settings and magical elements produce a vision of Latin American history that is mythic and universal, rather than strictly factual. With that said, there are a few general historical conditions that warrant consideration. Colombia’s long history of social stratification and wealth disparity—vestiges of colonial rule—comes into full view with the arrival of Bayardo San Román, whose wealthy, urban upbringing (not to mention his conservative-war-hero father) makes him an alien to the rural townspeople. Further, the widespread influence of Catholicism in South American culture is important to remember while reading this novel.

Other Books Related to Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The stories and novels of German author Franz Kafka convinced Márquez to abandon poetry in favor of fiction, and you can certainly see Kafka’s influence in Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Santiago Nasar’s utter helplessness in the face of a fate decided by arbitrary logic—and his obliviousness to the nature of the crime he is said to have committed—is similar to the situation in which Josef K., the protagonist of Kafka’s famous novel The Trial (1925), finds himself. Márquez was also greatly influenced by Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, who some consider the first person to write “magical realism.” (In fact, Carpentier coined the term.) One of his best known works, “Journey Back to the Source” (1944), tells the life story of a man in reverse chronological order, beginning with his death and ending with his birth. Chronicle of a Death Foretold seems to borrow from this unusual structure, opening with a sentence that announces the coming death of the main character, Santiago Nasar. Postmodern detective novels like Chronicle of a Death Foretold—which is to say, novels that borrow from the conventions of detective fiction in order to subvert them—make up a veritable genre unto itself in 20th century literature, especially 20th century South American literature. Examples of works in this genre include Jorge Luis Borges’ story “Death and the Compass” (1942), Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980), and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (2004). Márquez’s own masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude (1967) has some bearing on Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The two books appear to take place in the same universe: in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the narrator fleetingly mentions one Colonel Aureliano Buendía, a legendary guerilla fighter and an opponent of Bayardo San Román’s father. This mysterious Aureliano is in fact one of the central characters of 100 Years of Solitude. Finally, Santiago Nasar’s fated murder has the quality of an ancient Greek tragedy. See Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex and Aeschylus’s Oresteia for particularly pertinent examples.
Key Facts about Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • Full Title: Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • When Written: 1981
  • Where Written: Colombia
  • When Published: 1981
  • Literary Period: Contemporary, Postmodernism
  • Genre: Detective/Crime Novel, Magical Realism
  • Setting: The Caribbean coast of Colombia
  • Climax: The Vicario twins murder Santiago Nasar at the door of his mother’s house.
  • Antagonist: Pedro and Pablo Vicario
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Legal battle. After publishing Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Márquez was sued by Miguel Reyes Palencia, on whom Márquez had (loosely) based the character of Bayardo San Román. Palencia alleged that Márquez had unlawfully misappropriated Palencia’s life. The legal dispute lasted for 17 years, with a Colombian court eventually ruling in Márquez’s favor.

Real surrealism? For many, it is impossible to describe the work of Gabriel García Márquez without uttering the words “magical realism.” But Márquez insisted that he never introduced magical elements into his fictions; rather, he wanted his fictions to remain faithful to life, and surrealism resulted from this. As he told one interviewer: “Surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.”