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In Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, honour is presented as a force that acts upon and influences characters and the community they belong to. Márquez explores the problem of perpetuating and participating in traditions by examining the duality of upholding honour. His critique of honour is well captured in the image of Poncio Vicario sitting on a stool in the middle of a wedding celebration. This image serves as a microcosm of Márquez’s attitude towards honour as a driving force within Latin American society.
Situated in the middle of the narrative, the narrator describes the elderly Poncio Vicario, a former goldsmith who has gone blind after years of dedicated work. He sits on a stool in the midst of his daughter’s wedding festivities. His family “places him there thinking perhaps that it is the seat of honour,” yet the party guests trample over him. Poncio, in his blindness, cannot fully comprehend his position. He “nods his snow-white head in all directions” and “answers questions that are not directed at him,” content “in his circle of oblivion…”. Within this small passage, two key themes are raised: the idea and pursuit of wealth and the idea of ‘the seat of honour’ as it correlates to conceptions of sightedness and blindness. The relationship of these themes to upholding honour will be explored in the following paragraphs.
The pursuit of and obsession with wealth is a prevalent thread throughout Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Several characters express interest in the cost of events and objects, or the acquiring of wealth. The narrator is not segregated from this school of thought either, as he notes that Bayardo San Román “bought all the tickets in the raffle” to acquire an expensive music box for Angela Vicario. In this novella, there is a strong correlation between wealth and social standing. For example, when Angela Vicario expresses disinterest in marrying Bayardo San Román, her loved ones refute this idea, stating that “a family dignified by modest means has no right to disdain the prize of destiny.” Here, the obtainment of wealth is presented as a means for advancing one’s social standing. Though general character and upholding societal values may rank higher in terms of one’s reputation, wealth is also a determinant of how one is received by their community. Bayardo San Román is a prime example of this. When he arrives in Sucre, the narrator’s mother states that “he is swimming in gold.” Because of this, Bayardo San Román is viewed as a charming individual who is “capable of doing everything”. This positive communal response to him is partially due to the wealth he possesses. The linking of wealth and social standing reflects a typical Latin American conception of honour. In general, Latin Americans societies are honour-based, meaning that honour is considered a foundational ideology. Individuals in ‘honour societies’ place equal significance on their personal values and others’ perceptions of themselves. Maintaining one’s reputation is paramount in ‘honour societies,’ thus one may go to great lengths to protect their reputation or the reputations of their loved ones. Thus the character’s obsession with accumulating wealth is directly linked to upholding honour. When Angela Vicario’s family insists she marry Bayardo San Román, their insistence is fuelled by a desire to increase their social standing, thereby boosting their reputation and upholding their honour. By this logic, Angela and Bayardo’s union should be presented in a positive light, however, Márquez focuses on the fact that Angela Vicario “does not want to marry him.” (Márquez 34). Márquez believes that the pursuit of wealth, much like the reverence of honour, can only result in the detriment of the individual who seeks to do so. This idea is well demonstrated in the image of Poncio Vicario, a man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of wealth and yet receives no benefits. In fact, this pursuit of wealth, and thereby this pursuit of familial honour, has resulted in his blindness. Márquez critiques the tradition of upholding one’s honour, by way of pursuing material wealth or otherwise, by illustrating that this only works against the individual attempting to do so. This is demonstrated by Poncio Vicario’s position within the party scene. Though he has worked diligently to uphold the honour of his family and sits directly in the center of the action, he remains on the outskirts of this celebration.
Márquez also utilizes this description of Poncio Vicario to illustrate that the pursuit of the ‘seat of honour’ results in blindness, whether literal or figurative. In the aforementioned passage, Poncio Vicario is presented as an individual who is oblivious of his surroundings. His lifelong dedication to the pursuit of wealth and honour has made him blind. Contrastingly, the other characters in Chronicle of a Death Foretold are figuratively blinded by their pursuits of honour. A prime example of this is Pedro and Pablo Vicario’s motivation to kill Santiago Nasar. When the twin’s interrogate Angela Vicario about who has sullied her, they are searching for an avenue to avenge her lost honour as well as protect their own honour. Female honour largely involves the preservation of chastity, whereas male honour largely involves agency and strength. Thus this interrogation reflects the need to perpetuate societal norms of female purity and male machismo. Failure to act in this situation, meaning failing to murder Santiago Nasar for defiling Angela Vicario, would result in the twins being labelled ‘dishonourable’ by their community. Dishonour would mean reputational death for Pedro and Pablo Vicario, therefore Nasar’s death is presented as a necessary sacrifice for the preservation of honour. This idea of ‘necessary action’ is echoed when Prudencia Cotes states that she “would never have married Pedro Vicario if he hadn’t done what a man should do.” Therefore, the twins plot to murder Santiago Nasar is motivated by the belief that preserving one’s honour takes precedence, as well as a communal pressure to act. However, Márquez critiques this tradition by suggesting that Santiago Nasar is innocent. Several members of this community comfort themselves by believing that with this act “Santiago Nasar had expiated the insult, the brothers Vicario had proved their status as men, and Angela Vicario was in possession of her honour once more.” But if Santiago Nasar is innocent, Pedro and Pablo have murdered a man in cold blood while their society stood back and watched. It seems for Márquez that honour is not a feasible excuse or motivation for murder. Santiago Nasar’s death would be wrong in any case. But by positioning him as innocent, Márquez illustrates the figurative blindness of this society when it comes to upholding traditions like honour. They are so deeply entrenched in this ideology that they cannot see the event for what it was: murder. Just like Poncio Vicario, many individuals within this community are blinded by the pursuit of and participation in the preservation of honour.
In conclusion, Gabriel Garcia Márquez includes the passage about Poncio Vicario in an attempt to highlight the problems associated with upholding honour, particularly when this results in the harm of an individual. Poncio Vicario is a device used to reveal that the pursuit of honour, in any form, may have devastating consequences. Unless there is a reformation of how this ideology functions within Latin American society, the belief that the seat of honour is a necessary pursuit will persist, and honour will continue to victimize individuals.
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