It is bold to assert that the central theme of any novel is merely “silence, no change”*, but Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ tragicomic novel “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” may be just such a work.
The novel begins “On the day that they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.” and it ends early the next morning with “They’ve killed me…”. In the last seconds of his life he even took care to brush off the dirt that was stuck to his guts... went into his house...and fell on his face in the kitchen.”
Little is recounted of the events between these two statements that doesn’t have a direct bearing on an incident that so overwhelms a town and yet changes nothing of its mindset.
The death of Santiago is the main event; it is inevitable; it is predictable, and while the circumstances and the blame remain contested, the townspeople remain in perpetual limbo. The reader is left wondering how such an extraordinary series of circumstances fails to change the thinking of the community or cause it to reassess the disproportionately violent response to what many might consider just a social infraction.
We are told time and again that Santiago Nasar is “fated” to die at the hands of twin brothers Pablo and Pedro, who are compelled by the dictates of tradition to restore the lost honour of their sister, without recourse to the law (which is an ancillary force to be dealt with after the fact) or even to honest inquires made before serious action is taken..
Did Santiago actually take Angela’s virginity? All evidence points to his innocence. Angela’s brothers seek no verification, they merely react to the ancient command to save face, to restore the family reputation with obligatory brute force.
Does the town ever own up to its responsibility? Everyone is sorry it happened, but it was “fated” to happen and it may well happen again: consensus is universal, hence the conclusion, ”silence, no change”.
The narrator presents testimonies (fresh from the moment and from 27 years later, when he revisits the town) and legal documents (compromised and fragmentary, many lost in the flooding of the courthouse) depicting characters who choose to remain blind to their collective guilt and, hence, unwilling to change. In “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, Garcia Marquez is asking the reader to recognise the consequences of a culture locked in an antiquated and dangerous worldview.
* L.A. Times review, 1984